All Hail the Hardware Store: A Short Detour
Problem: The knob on my long-term kitchen buddy, an electric teapot, disintegrated, making it hard to reload when hot. Temporary solution: An engineer son invented a handy and quite elegant lifter, courtesy of a repurposed coat hanger. Nice, no? He said it was temporary, though, and I agreed, though I liked the elegant freeform Möbius-ness of it. I had imagined a solution from the Chevy Chase Hardware . . . maybe there are stainless steel bolts and nuts that would fare okay with steam and boiling water . . . maybe I can find something that will give me a handle to grab with a potholder if the metal is hot . . . maybe it will turn out to be industrial-cute. . . .
Without planning to be there, and without bringing the bare naked teapot lid with me, Sunday afternoon I visited the Chevy Chase Hardware. My heart lifted as I walked among the numbered, lettered, sectioned and labeled pull-out trays that organize the more than 20,000 items this locally owned business sells. Services too: "lawn mower repair, screen & window repair, lamp repair, key duplicating, glass & plexiglass cutting, and more" according to Local First Lexington, (more power to them too, while we're on that subject.)
For readers who have not had a hardware experience outside a Big Box store in recent memory, I want to underscore that I was not alone with the trays, letters and numbers. In fact, the Chevy Chase Hardware store guy who helped me was young, quick, smart, patient, knowledgeable, and encouraging. Within a minute it turned out that I would not need to invent a new knob for the teapot out of construction materials typically used for other purposes.
Not at all. Instead, one of the small chests of pull-out drawers held actual knobs! Replacement knobs for bare spots where a handy knob had worn out or burned off or otherwise gone to Knob Heaven.
I felt three things at once: foolish, happy, and a bit sad. Foolish for not having imagined that a wondrous place like the Chevy Chase Hardware would have the exact piece I needed. Happy at being in a hardware store, with a good guide, and with solutions everywhere. Sad because I didn't have any more hardware needs right then that I could solve so firmly and - I haven't mentioned this yet - for $2.19.
As we located each needed item, my cheerful guide listed them on a tiny brown bag: > 1@29¢ [The stainless steel nut] >email@example.com [The knob] >1@20¢ [The stainless steel washer]
$2.07, plus Kentucky's six percent sales tax equals $2.19.
I do love hardware stores because they are full of tools. Good hardware stores are also full of optimism. What is stuck can be unstuck. What is dry can be watered. What is dark can receive light. What is shaky and decrepit can be made sturdy and useful.
It seems almost spiritual -- the hardware store helps humans part waters, make the crooked straight and the rough places plain. It's also definitively American, a store dedicated to our finest can-do traditions.
One more thing occurred to me during this visit. Going to the Chevy Chase Hardware Store is an energizer and cheer-up strategy safer than stimulants and cheaper than therapy. On that last point, I have the tiny brown bag with its item list to prove it.