Saturday, 27 July 2013

Tinkerers

I can remember when a guy would walk along the street pulling a cart that had a sharpening stone along with an assortment of tools. He would ring a bell to announce his presence and the house wives would bring out their knives, scissors, axes and anything else that needed to be sharpened. He would also perform small repairs. If it was too complicated to do on the street, he would take it with him, repair it and return a day or two later. These guys knew a lot about the fix it business.
 
Almost every neighbourhood had a corner garage that would sell gas, cigarettes, tires, head lights, fuses and any number of other goods and services that pertain to the automobile. If you had a particular problem with your car, the corner mechanics would repair it. If you couldn’t afford to buy something new, they would jury rig a fix that could take you and your car another thousand miles or so. Minor body work could be done and even some small upholstery repairs. You became the garages staunchest supporter and it would never occur to you to go elsewhere. I always bought my cokes from the machine in the corner station.

The years have passed, and our population has grown to the degree that corner stations couldn’t make a living any more. It doesn’t make sense, but over the years those corner stations stopped repairing cars and stuck to selling smokes and gas. I suppose that it is more economical to have places that specialize in oil changes, transmissions, tires, windshield replacement, gas and detailing. Detailing? WTF? I don’t fault the individual owners, but I do miss them. These guys were miracle workers and they worked pretty cheap.

Recently, I have been looking for people who think outside of the box for a few different applications. They are not easy to find. It seems that in most fields, people have become specialists, knowing a lot about one thing and virtually nothing about anything else. This is due to economics of course. I took a computer in for repair, and the girl at the service desk told me that by the time I paid $80 to take it in and the $100/hour service charge, not to mention the cost of the parts, I would be better off just buying a new computer. Not only that, but the new computer would have more memory, better graphics…yadda, yadda, yadda. Why does a tinkerer get $100/ hour?
 
My buddy took his watch in for repairs and got the same song and dance. People just aren’t learning how to repair things any more. Why bother? It is cheaper to buy new from China and have it shipped over here rather than fix the one you already have.
 
Part of the problem is that we don’t have people who are interested in many different things. Sometimes a carpenter should know how the electrician does his job and the electrician should know how a plumber does his job and the plumber should know how to fix his own tools. We just don’t cross those lines any more. It is partly the fault of the unions, partly the fault of the employer and partly the fault of the employee. The union has the job so quantified, that you don’t dare do anything else for fear of doing someone else’s job. The employer wants the employee to do one job and do it very well. The employee is just happy to get a check and get through the day without having to think.

Yes, very simplistic, but we need to start making things in our own country, fixing the things we make and we need to learn the names of those people who do work for us. We need to become a nation of tinkerers, not specialists. It will never happen, but it would be nice if instead of someone at the store saying “ No…we don’t have anything like that.”, they would say “You know, if you took a geegah and ground down the one end so it would fit this jimshaw, you just might be able to get it working again.”
 

Yeah that would be nice!

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