Breakdowns 1

This started out as a post about our morning routine. But like our routine yesterday morning, it changed when the coffee maker stopped working. Now it’s about stuff that breaks.

I bring Amanda’s coffee to her in bed each morning. We discovered a few years ago how much joy this provides for both of us, and it’s a cherished morning ritual. We sit in bed, she enjoys her coffee and I sip my tea, and we talk about the day. We didn’t get a chance to do that yesterday, though, because I realized about 5 minutes after turning on the Mr. Coffee at the lake that it wasn’t doing anything.

I should digress here and say that my bride is extremely particular about her coffee. She drinks it black, never with anything added, and she relishes the bracing flavor of a hot, relatively strong brew. So coffee matters to the Good Doctor. Consequently, although I am not a coffee drinker, coffee matters to me. So you can imagine my frustration when I realized the coffee maker simply wasn’t doing anything. Plenty of water, plenty of coffee and filter in place. Clearly getting power, because the little light was glowing. The only thing it wasn’t doing is the only thing we needed it to do: MAKE COFFEE.

So we did what any normal American couple would do when an important appliance breaks. We bought a new one. Actually, that’s not true. The FIRST thing we did was to cobble together a cup of coffee for Amanda by boiling water and stirring coffee into it, then pouring it through a strainer. She kindly said it was “not too bad; not bad at all.”

Neither Amanda nor I gave any thought to trying to fix the coffee maker. Didn’t even take the cover off. First, neither of us has the expertise to look at the inside of a coffee maker and tell how it works, let alone what part of a malfunctioning unit is the part that’s not working. But even if we did, we suspect we would have opted to buy a new one, because there was a high likelihood that some part in the old coffee maker (several years old, as a matter of fact) is broken, and the chances of our (a) identifying the defective part, (b) finding its replacement, (c) finding someone who would sell that replacement to us, (d) getting the replacement delivered, and (e) getting it satisfactorily installed so that it worked and restored the coffee maker to functionality, are so infinitesimally small as to be not worth calculating.

Amanda says the coffee tastes just fine.

Amanda says the coffee tastes just fine.

So now the family lake place is the proud owner of a brand new Mr. Coffee 12-cup programmable coffee maker, on sale at Target for $24.95. Yesterday was a day for shopping in the city, so the timing, at least, was good. We set it up last night, and it’s supposed to be making a cup of coffee beginning in just a few minutes. And this is an unrelated point, but we have developed extraordinarily high confidence that a new machine we buy will work smoothly and well. I would be shocked if the new coffee maker doesn’t work well. That was not the case when I was growing up, when products were more often defective and had to be returned. But it is today.

In the years to come when we can’t buy cheap coffee makers at Target, we may have to learn to fix things like the old coffee maker. No, let’s get realistic; that’s not going to happen. We’re going to be busy learning to grow food, so I seriously doubt we will make coffee maker repair technique a priority. For this one issue, the solution is that we won’t depend on an automatic coffee maker. Amanda has always enjoyed the taste of coffee from a café tierre, a simple device that requires no power to operate other than some way to heat the water you pour into it. So our assumption is that we will use it at the farm and keep the coffee maker in a box for special occasions.

We’re also likely to substitute the hand-crank coffee grinder Amanda’s mother found for the little electric one Amanda has been using in the past. Yes, Amanda grinds her own, and she likes it fresh. Both Mama and I remember hearing our grandmothers grinding coffee in the morning on wall-mounted grinders. I have no idea how their coffee tasted, but I bet it was good.

For other devices, I suspect we will begin to place a higher value again on serviceability, the ease with which one can diagnose problems with a product and find and replace its parts. As we value serviceability more, I suspect we will value innovation and novelty less. Some wily, visionary entrepreneur is going to develop a juggernaut business making simple household machines for years at the time without changing them, so that they keep working reliably and can easily be fixed when one of their components fails.

Take it from someone who’s just been on the front lines of the struggle with a failed appliance. That sleek stainless steel look, the thermal carafe, and the sophisticated timer that operates through a power failure all mean nothing if the thing won’t make coffee.

Ah, there it is, right on schedule at 6:30 am, the sound of the new coffee maker turning on. Let us end.

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One thought on “Breakdowns

  • James

    Curiosity will take you far. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you can actually fix it, just go ahead and take it apart – you’d basically resigned to replacing it anyway so there’s certainly no harm. Who knows…if you can’t fix it you may still figure out how it works, and might find some useful bits inside. Heater plate still work? Strip it out and use it to keep things warm. Probably some tubing in there that could be handy….