I have a life-long history of learning everything the hard way. I’ve even mentioned it in conversation with a perverse sense of pride. Dozens of times. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song, “The Hard Way” from her album “Come on Come on” was my anthem for about a decade. But this morning brought a new appreciation for taking the time to read the instruction manual once in a while before embarking into new territory.
The “new territory” herein would be trying to install new wiper blade “inserts” on my Honda Fit. The first time the wipers wore out, I took it to the dealership where some guy in a mechanic’s jumpsuit chivalrously installed the skinny little rubber inserts for me. I remember it was a lovely, warm and sunny day. I watched closely, convinced that when the next time came around, I could do this myself. It didn’t seem all that hard.
The “next time” came in mid-winter, and to save time and aggravation, I just drove to the local auto shop down the street and bought some entire windshield wipers, no fussing around needed. I still kept the original blade assembly that came with the car, however. Never know when that might come in handy. Plus, I’ve affectionately been called a pack rat, with ample justification.
Fast forward to a third try, a little further along still in the self-reliance game. Cordless drill in the basement, chain saw in the garage, firewood cut by yours truly stacked by the fireplace, a few turns at cutting concrete pavers with a chop saw. Heck, I was sure I could do this. It couldn’t be rocket science. When the wiper blades quit doing their job, I called up the car dealership again, ordered the inserts, and picked them up on “Ladies Day,” which means I got to take my parts home along with a long-stemmed pink rose and a gender-discriminatory discount.
I set to making the switch in the warmth of my kitchen, dinner ready on the stove for the man in my life at the time, logs blazing in the fireplace, coffee pot loaded for next morning. I cheerfully pulled out the old rubber inserts and their metal reinforcements, and started shoving the longest of the new rubber inserts into the assembly. It budged a few inches, but quit going in halfway down the two-foot length of the blade. I pushed and pushed, removed and pushed back in. When my guy walked in bearing an armload of flowers and a vaporous wreath of pipe smoke, my hands were black from handling the balky rubber.
He refilled his pipe, poured another drink, and took over the job. An hour later, his hands were black with rubber dust, the dinner needed to be rewarmed in the microwave, and his patience was wearing thin. And he was a very patient man. We were both ready to pitch the whole lot out the back door. What evil genius of sabotage and mayhen had designed this system?
Why on earth, he wondered, had I just not gone to the local car parts store and bought new wiper blades? Well, I countered, I was trying to be frugal, generate less waste, spend less money, make something that already existed work a little longer. Great in theory. A cause dear to his heart, even.
The night came and went, and the smell of coffee woke us up. Neither one of us mentioned the wiper blades and the limp rubber inserts sitting on the counter near the coffee maker. After he left, I Googled how to install the darn things, hoping that someone could make a difficult job simpler. What I found were a many people who had either never tried this maneuver in the first place, or tried it and swore it would be their last time.
Then, while returning from a trip to the veterinarian with Lucky, I started calibrating the rest of my day and figuring out just when I could make a run to WalMart for new blades. Two for the front, one for the rear window wiper.
Still, I’m an optimist at heart. And frugal. And so I decided I try to make the switch on one of the shorter wipers. The old one came out, the new one slid in like magic. Hmmm. I walked the old-but-now-improved wiper out to the car and tested it out. Nary a streak as it squeegeed the wiper fluid off the glass. I reached into the glove box for the owner’s manual. The index directed me to the section marked “how to change wiper blades.” I read with fascination. Apparently the blade inserts were designed to go on only one way. One tiny end was rounded and grooved to make inserting them easier, the other was not.
I went back to the kitchen counter, examined the stubborn part in the bright glare of daylight, and “got” the difference immediately. Took one last stab at making this work…and the blade slid into place like butter.
Part of me felt like an idiot for not looking at the directions first. Annother other part just laughed! And part of me said, well I learned a little something about rushing in to new territory without looking at the guide book! As for the boyfriend, later that winter he nearly burned his house down when he didn’t follow the instructions for storing used rags soaked with solvents, and the spontaneous combustion caused the rags burst into flame in his kitchen.
I expect he’ll pay more attention to reading the instructions first too.