We now know that “The Good Old Days” were mostly a time of unbridled sexual harassment and racism. Nostalgia is often a lie, which is plainly spelled out whenever someone tries to explain why things where better in a time of segregated restrooms. That said, there is no excuse for failing to learn from history. This can sometimes mean looking back on certain innovations and acknowledging them as superior to what we have today.
This doesn’t actually happen very often. However! There was a time when you could give your blender an oil change, and that facet of consumer life from a bygone era was just better.
Americans hate maintenance. We desire maintenance-free everything. We don’t want to mess with changing fluids or consumables on our cars, so like hell we want to do the same with our appliances. We complain when tires don’t last a hundred thousand miles and forget the idea of regular service intervals on anything other than engine oil.
This attitude is killing us. Yes, in the old days cars broke down all the time and needed to be highly serviceable. Short, wasteful service intervals are a thing of the past and we’re better off for it. Today’s synthetic engine oil will last in excess of three times longer than the ye-olde 3,000 miles standard. Modern tech has simply resulted in longer-lasting wear components in general. On the other hand, “lifetime” fluids are a joke and there are plenty of other features of modern cars which fail to heed the wisdom of our automotive forebears.
This is even more true for appliances. Modern electric tools of both domestic and professional varieties are just pathetically flimsy compared to their grand-pappies. Even in just the past few years, the move to AC brushless electric motors has resulted in tools with “equal” performance to their predecessors that are, in reality, far less rugged and serviceable:
While I understand that there’s no need for everything to be hewn from solid chrome as it once was, these classic appliances made many nods to practicality and long service life. Those values are rapidly disappearing from consumer goods, including cars, and we consumers should be pissed.
It’s costing us a ton of money; money almost all of us have less of.
While there are countless offenders at which to point fingers, I’d like to offer up my blender as an example.
Second-hand blenders are a shit-show. I’m a broke-ass misanthrope, so I’ve never had the cash for any kind of brand-new kitchen appliance. Despite this, I enjoy a milkshake or margarita as much as the next guy. This has led a number of used blenders to pass through my kitchen. Disappointingly, they’ve all led lives that could easily be measured in minutes. The general theme of failure always seems to be of the bearing variety. The motor wants to turn, but everything which helps it rotate smoothly has failed.
So too seemed to be the case with yet another second-hand blender that I very nearly didn’t buy. I found it at the comically-themed Indy Y’arrrd Sale event and asked the owner if I could plug it in. The motor sounded like a pack of rabid chipmunks coughing up bran flakes. I intended to walk away from it, but then noticed this:
Huh. An oiling port. Weird.
I’d seen little oiling ports like this in the past, generally on hefty electric motors. Seeing one on a consumer-grade kitchen appliance piqued my curiosity. After I suggested that it sounded like crap, the blender’s previous owner was willing to part with it for a grand total of two United States Cash Federal Dollars.
I’d like to say that I took it straight home and set to work on it, but in reality it rolled around in my trunk for a month. It would be in a truly desperate moment that I dug the blender back out and pressed it into service.
Three small children were in my house and they had been promised ice-cream for dessert. Those with child-rearing experience will know the sheer panic that filled my body when I opened the carton of promised frozen confection only to discover two paltry scoops’ worth stuck to the bottom.
Quick side note: as a kid I was a sneaky, scheming, fraudulent little bastard. I half grew out of it and half learned to use it to my advantage. This strategy has yielded mixed results, but when it comes to parenting there are few better qualifications to have.
Two scoops of ice cream and a handful of strawberries would yield a milkshake which I could easily split three ways. They’d never know the difference! Muwhahahaha!
The catch in this plan was that I would need a blender, and I was far from certain that the one I had was serviceable. So while the kids destroyed some unrelated part of the house, I set to work.
There wasn’t time to go full AvE and tear the thing open. My only hope was to drip in some quality lubricant and cross my fingers. I reached for an open bottle of modern, synthetic oil and dabbed it on there. The motor needs to be running for little oiling ports like this to work correctly. Easiest thing to do is fire it up and let a drop of oil fall on the port. If it works correctly you should see the displaced air bubble up through the port as it ‘drinks’ its fill of oil.
As the quality lubricant whirled around in the bearing the harshness of the noise started to soften. When I picked the motor up to check for airflow out the bottom, I noticed this as well:
Another oiling port! This baby had oilers for both motor bearings. Unbelievable. I’ve seen five thousand dollar power tools with less serviceability than this crappy little kitchen appliance. I quickly dabbed on some more oil and let the motor spin again.
My freshly serviced blender worked well. So well in fact, that it was able to pulverize a handful of strawberries (and a frozen Twinkie!) into a milkshake fine enough to pass muster amid a panel of three discerning grade-schoolers.
Allowing even the smallest solid chunk of strawberry into a pint of liquid dessert should be punishable by death as far as this crowd was concerned. The real-deal strawberries needed to be crushed to a consistency that was indistinguishable from fake-ass strawberry syrup. The elderly Hamilton Beach passed with flying colors, cruising across the finish line like it was a brand-new, $100 appliance.
I was gob-smacked. More than that, I was profoundly irritated with modern kitchen tools. An oiling port is an absolutely trivial feature to add to an appliance from a manufacturing point of view. It costs almost nothing. Yet this minor addition allowed an ancient blender to live through a lifetime’s worth of frequent use, roll around in my trunk for a month, and then spring right back into service; ready for another hard life of abuse.
This simply isn’t about manufacturing cost. Yes, my old Hamilton Beach blender would have been a top-of-the-line unit when it was new. Cheaper blenders from the same era would not have lasted so well. However, that argument falls apart as soon as you start to examine the modern equivalents. Even the most expensive consumer-grade blenders made today feature zero serviceability. They may last a long time, but there’s no way they’ll have the tremendous longevity of their ancestors.
So here we are. It’s 2016 and our lives are filled with plastic trash that we’ll be lucky to see five years of use from. These days, when kids grow up and leave home they don’t take their parents’ hand-me-down kitchen gadgets with them. That stuff blew up decades ago, so they buy cheap garbage from Wal-Mart instead. Failing to inherit quality appliances, or never even being exposed to any, means those kids never develop an eye for quality. They think it’s perfectly normal to buy a new coffee-maker every year and a new vacuum cleaner every two.
Those kids have now grown up into so-called Millennials. While many of them are mired in ignorance, more and more of us are starting to realize something:
Understanding that something is bullshit is always the first step towards improvement. Much trickier is the second step, in which you must resist the fake reality which the bullshit presents. In this case, that means forgoing almost all modern manufactured conveniences; a tall order indeed.
Nobody could be expected to do this, and nobody wants to be such an insufferable hipster that they’ll only buy vintage appliances.
What’s needed is a cultural change. We need to start acknowledging all the fake, empty, plastic garbage that fills our lives and calling it out for what it really is. You can keep using your crappy Wal-Mart blender, just be sure to tell jokes at its expense and leave a snarky message on Black and Decker’s twitter feed when it inevitably bites the dust.
Despite much grumbling from our elders, Millennials are the smartest, most resourceful generation the world has ever seen. Without doubt, we are set to face problems of epic proportions. There won’t be any simple solutions. However, one of the most straightforward things we can do is demand a return to quality. Our runaway consumerist culture of disposable appliances, cars, and even homes is doing nothing to aid us. It is poisoning our minds just as much as it is destroying our planet.
We need to go back to being OK with owning old things; proud, even. I mean look at that old blender again. It’s magnificent. All polished metal and hammered paint. Its patina tells a story; whispers of gin-soaked parties and wild hook-ups long since past. It is a mathematical certainty that, at some point in its long career, this blender helped someone get laid.
So how is that not cooler than even the sleekest new kitchen gadget!? Being a wing-man is cool. It will never not be cool. Everyone could use a good wing-man in their life.
Let go of your insecurities, America. Nobody important is judging you for still using your Grandma’s waffle-iron. If they are, that person’s opinion is worthless anyway. Refuse to buy into the lie that is disposability. Resist, and discover your own little piece of what once made our tools so great.