Hot coffee, cooler cars
I own a cappuccino maker. It’s an impressive-looking thing. Along with the substantial space it occupies on the kitchen counter, it occupies an inordinate amount of my time each morning as I coax it methodically to produce its caffeinated derivative.It’s a machine so large and mysteriously complex that you sip its coffee (after all, it is just coffee) and can’t help saying to yourself, “my, this is the finest cup of café latte that I have ever tasted!” whether it’s true or not. I would go so far as to say that anyone who owns a contraption like this, and wrestles with it each morning as I do, knows the absolute bargain a Starbucks version of the same concoction is at $5.25 per cup, plus a generous tip.And yet, spending copious amounts of time with it each morning is only half the labor required to froth doll-size pitchers of nonfat milk. At precisely every 200 cups brewed, the face of this thing lights up with green and red flashing lights, nagging me to “de-scale’ it.The process of doing this does not much lack the precision that was required to program an early version, room-sized, main-frame computer to add and subtract numbers using “Basic” code. The instructions claim it takes 25 minutes, but one must consider that this is from an owners’ manual that was originally written in French and later translated into English by someone in Taiwan.As this device can loosely be described as mechanical, and since I am the “man” of the house, it is left to me to perform this “simple” cleaning operation. Somehow, my knowledge of tools and their usage qualifies me to press coffee maker buttons in proper sequence. I exaggerate not a bit when I tell you that I began the “de-scaling” operation at 8:30 a.m. and am working on it still as I write these lines at 9 p.m. Pressing the wrong button at the wrong time has forced me to begin the process all over several times. Mercilessly, some steps take an agonizing 30 minutes, despite what the owners’ manual says. Rather than wait, staring vacantly at the gyrating apparatus, I chose to use the breaks to accomplish other tasks: I wiped crumbs from the counter, swept the floor, took a bicycle ride to alleviate the stress. These were mistakes. Each distraction caused me to lose my concentration, and invariably I pushed a button out of order.My God! How have things become so maddeningly complicated? This process insults my very manhood! Intelligence is useless in deciphering these instructions. Any strength and dexterity I have are taxed in pressing tiny black buttons!I would rather be working on my car. But, I’ve looked there. There is no succor under the hood. I’ve been fairly warned that something so simple as my hand at changing the oil will void the dubious warranty that the vehicle came with. I can’t even find the spark plugs or the air cleaner. My hands are tied, and my wrenches remain shiny.It strikes me in a pitifully funny way that I used these stainless steel symbols of manhood more in my youth. By this measure, I was more of a man when I was a mere boy!At Aspen High School in the late ’70s, the vehicle of choice was the Jeep. I owned a ’48 Willys and my best friend John had a ’53 CJ. They were the perfect cars. With their low gear ratios and high ground clearance they could go anywhere in the mountains. As to where Highway 82 ended up out beyond the golf course we had only a vague notion and little curiosity about, so we never tested rumors of the Jeep’s poor handling at high speeds. Best of all, the Jeeps back then were easy to service and fix.The straight-fours were simpler than most lawnmower motors today, the transmissions more basic than a modern racing bicycle derailleur, and the drum breaks you couldn’t beat. Still, I was surprised when I went over to John’s garage one evening to pump a little iron (in those days we were so naïve that, instead of a personal trainer, we believed that simply lifting weights made you stronger). There was iron scattered all over the garage floor all right, but it was mostly made up of parts from John’s Jeep!The pistons and rings were spread out on a sheet. The fenders and radiator leaned against a wall. The disassembled carburetor in the middle left no doubt as to the devastation in our midst.I looked at John unable to speak, completely stunned! I felt like I imagined I would if I should ever stumble across a Barnaby Jones murder scene accidentally. Somebody had obviously gone mad. It was the most horrific devastation I had ever witnessed. A car that I had cruised through town in just the night before was now dead, just like that! “It was burning a little oil,” he said nonchalantly.”So you destroyed it?! What’s your dad gonna say?!”Well, it turned out that John had discussed the situation with his dad, explained that he knew all about Jeeps from shop class (and experimenting with hotwiring our other friend Jeff’s Jeep Wagoneer). What he didn’t know he could figure out from the Chilton manual he got at the library. And guess what. He was right! He fixed that thing, and it ran better than ever. It’s still alive today. There were very few pieces left over, to boot! It was one of those unaccountably gratifying projects of idle youth.Staring at my gizmo again, I realize that as a society we are so efficient and productive that we are able to produce all kinds of amazing and complex products that are affordable to the masses. Yet, this leaves us with fewer satisfying things that we can do for ourselves. We have become comfortably dependent.I’ll ponder this more in the morning over a cup of coffee – black.Roger Marolt is usually brewing something up at email@example.com
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Sean Beckwith is taking advantage of his column space this week to inform the public of the Best in Jest.