Everything I know I learned at a hardware store.
Okay, that's somewhat of an exaggeration—on two counts. First, the statement implies that I know a lot of cool stuff. I don't. Second, it discounts all the stuff I've learned from school, work, mistakes, and the odd relative. There's a lot of stuff there, especially from the mistakes.
Still, hardware stores have been a great source of information and inspiration for me and for countless others. Remember your first solo trip to a hardware store? I remember mine. I was about 10 and my grandfather had sent me to the neighborhood hardware store to get some nails. He was replacing some roof shingles on a garage. I didn't know there were special roofing nails. I got the ones that said "finishing nails" because I figured he was finishing the roofing job. He explained the difference when I presented the nails to him, and so did the hardware clerk when I went back to the store to make the exchange. The latter was not known for his patience. Of all the lectures I've had in high school, college, and graduate school, his is the one that stands out in my mind—probably as much for the decibels as anything else.
I've attended school, so to speak, at hardware stores hundreds of times since then. And I think I've become an expert of sorts on the value of those places as campuses for eager learners. The first thing you have to know is when to go there for the best classes. It's Saturday mornings.
Saturdays are for hardware stores. That's when scores of weekend handyman warriors poke through the shelves for the supplies for whatever project they or their spouses have set for them. Except for municipal dumps (also great meeting places on Saturdays), there are few better places to spend a Saturday morning.
The latest thing I've learned is the most popular tool on the shelves. It's the cordless power tool. I know this because of extra research I was prompted to do as a result of one of my visits.
I had been browsing on a recent Saturday morning and noticed the power tools section had the largest crowd in the store. The clerk told me that several people were interested in cordless drills. Like any good student, I did extra research to verify that statement: I called the corporate offices of Sears and Home Depot, who told me that in their stores cordless drills were the biggest sellers.
Cordless tools have come a long way since they first debuted in the mid '70s. Then, they operated on about 3.2V and, says Sears Craftsman Spokesman Mike Mangan, they weren't very reliable. Cordless lawnmowers were the biggest disappointments of all. If you had a decent-size yard, say about a quarter of an acre, you couldn't get the whole lawn cut before you lost power. It would take the rest of the day to charge it up. I've always thought that the only thing more boring than watching grass grow is cutting it back. Stretching that chore over two days could kill brain cells—unless you mow cartoon characters into your lawn, in which case your neighbors kill you.
Now, my research hasn't convinced me to invest in a cordless drill—yet. And why should it? Did your college studies in fluid dynamics lead you to invest in a wind tunnel? Not until you need one. But it has prompted me to explore this cordless arena more. I'll do that next Saturday at the hardware store. Maybe I'll see you there.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.