I feel like a kid in a candy store when I go to my community hardware store, Dale Hardware in Fremont– I may be in the middle of a project and realize that I broke a drill bit, need a different wrench, a bolt, a sack of grout… There is no need to dress up when I go – mud on the knees – OK, dressed in my old red flannel shirt with holes in the elbows– OK - …
gone in with a rusty piece of plumbing that I don't know how to fix – so me and
the pipe go right in – dirty hands and all…
And when I go to the Hardware I almost always run into friends … it is a
place to catch up – tell stories – laugh at jokes… It is a social institution
that cuts across the whole community.
|Dale Hardware - Fremont|
But I warn you if you go to the hardware without being able to ‘talk the language’ you will feel like an outsider… I go in and ask for 5 pounds of 10-penny nails, 4 three quarter inch machine bolts with 30 threads per inch… a metric box wrench for an 8 mm hex head… A pint of undercoat and some 0000 steel wool, 3/16 round rat-tail file to sharpen my chain saw… I mean if you can't talk the talk you are in danger of getting the ‘look’ and that patient smile used with ignorant people.
Hardware stores and me go way back – in my hometown Delia Kansas we had Macha’s hardware a one-room store (across from Wehner’s Grocery) with shelves and bins lining the walls – they had real ‘hardware” products – metal gate hinges, hoes, rakes, and post hole diggers… log splitting wedges, tight rolls of yellow binder twine, nails, fence wire, barbed wire, harness wax, large curved needles to sew up burlap bags of grain… all the hardware products you might need on the farm.
|Internet photo - but it catches the flavor|
The place smelled of oil and wax, or rope and kerosene, of old unpainted wood and a certain mustiness built up over the years… I remember how the accumulation of cigar smoke adding to the blend of aromas. During the long winter months, there stood a black oil-burning stove, in the middle of the floor (vented through a stove pipe to the ceiling). Just like my hardware today it was a place to linger – to share stories and share a good laugh.
But now my modern hardware has evolved into a whole “different kind of beast” It is the old maxim of modern capitalism – “Get bigger or get out”…I’m not complaining – it’s oh so convenient and comfortable…Now when I walk in I am greeted by a friendly young woman at the information desk… Heck, they even offer a free cup of coffee while I shop. Then I can choose a vast array of aisles and shelves – with sections for Plumbing – Paint – Fasteners (nails, screws) - garden furniture – nursery – tools – Sheet metal products – Rope, Wire, Cables - Lumber… and in each section knowledgeable people await; who can locate specific products solve problems my problems. And no cigar smoke.
“My dogs have learned how to work open the sliding door –I need some way to shut the door so that they can’t get it open”… “I’m putting in a new clothes dryer and I have to figure out how to vent to the outside.” I didn't have quite enough paint to finish the whole room – how close can you match up the color in another can of paint?” “ I have a huge gopher problem and I need your help – what works?" " I’m worried that my Aunt Sophie’s vase will crash to the floor in the next earthquake – do you have any suggestions?" "My neighbor’s kid just hit a baseball through my window and I have to replace it (His dad offered to pay)." "Help! My 3 year old tried flushing a jar of cosmetics – now its jammed into the toilet and it wont budge… "These are all real cases that either happened to my friends or me.
I measure the difficulty of a job by how many trips to Dale Hardware I have to make. Plumbing often ends up being a 3-trip job, electrical too… Wood projects are usually in the 2-trip range. The clerks are patient and when. I return we laugh a lot and I tell them my problems – and they send me off with a better solution. Now they even offer micro courses in everything from planting spring bulbs to fixing common household plumbing problems – they will accept and recycle used fluorescent bulbs, take an item back if I got the wrong size - they practice the rule "The customer is always right"...
I have been to the big chain building-supply stores – and they are cold and impersonal by comparison – nobody to help me find things – nobody to answer questions – nobody to help me load heavy items… plus the whole social thing in missing…
Every now and then when I visit a small old town I find old time hardware stores – they still exist - these places often feel like they are in a kind of time warp… few changes over the decades, the same mustiness and cigar smoke… But whether I am in a small town in northern California or hardware in Oaxaca I can count of the easy camaraderie of people with time to tell their stories and to enjoy each other’s company with a good laugh.