When I was eighteen, I was given an MG – a black MG-A. It was a wonderful car. It ran like a charm, seldom needed any work. (The electrical system acted up now and then, that was all.)
One summer day I was driving home from Massachusetts. I can’t remember what I’d been doing there. Tanglewood, perhaps, but I was alone, and usually I went to Tanglewood with friends. Whatever. I stopped for gas at a service station in Connecticut
The young guy pumping gas was a car nut and was thrilled by my MG. He knew more about the car than I did. Although I loved my car, I never got involved with its mechanics. I knew how to check the oil and water, and that was about it. Checking the oil and water was something that gas pumpers automatically offered to do back then, so I said sure. I had checked them myself, recently, but I knew he was eager to look under the hood.
After he had done so, he said, “You need a new radiator cap.”
I was surprised. I hadn’t been having any problems. He showed me how the radiator cap – which was the one that had come with the car – had grown a little loose. He explained that with a loose radiator cap, not only would my water level drop more quickly, but there would not be enough pressure to send sufficient water into the engine’s cooling system.
Oh, well, what did I know? It sounded sensible. He happened to have exactly the right radiator cap. It would cost two bucks. Why not?
Why not? That’s the progressive’s question. The conservative’s question is “Why?”
A few weeks after he screwed on the new radiator cap, one of the rubber hoses that ran from the radiator to the engine burst. I had my hoses replaced. A few months after that, the radiator cracked. My regular garage guy put some kind of sealant in my radiator to stop the leaks. A few months after that, with a tight radiator cap, new rubber hoses and a leak-proof radiator, my engine block burst. And that was the end of my MG.
It was obvious to me – then, finally, too late – that the car had aged as an organic unit. The radiator cap, the radiator, the hoses, the engine – after six years, they weren’t like new, of course, but they still functioned because they had weakened in tandem, with their weaknesses compensating for one other. If I hadn’t replaced the radiator cap the car might have run without a major overhaul for another ten years.
From then on, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it became my First Commandment.
Last week, I broke a Cuisinart food processor which we had owned for about thirty years. It was my fault. I tried to julienne some pieces of butternut squash. If you’ve ever cut up uncooked butternut squash you know that it is extremely hard, a two-handed job, with one hand pressing down on the spine of the knife. The squash was too much for the processor and I cracked the spindle attached to the motor.
Over the years, I’d had to replace some of the plastic parts of the processor – the last time was fairly recently in fact. But now I knew that I would have to get a new food processor.
I’d grown attached to our old machine. I become emotionally attached to things simply because I’ve owned them a long time. For Anna Livia Plurabelle, it’s different. Although she is emotionally attached to more things than I am, her attachment resides in objects which have been in her family since at least before she was born. A thirty-year old machine with no added sentimental value did not elicit any sympathy from her whatsoever. In fact, even if it had been still working perfectly well, its age alone would have been an inducement, in her opinion, to get a new one.
We went to a nearby kitchen supply shop. They showed us the latest Cuisinart food processor. It looked an awful lot like the one we already had. We went home and brought in the parts to our old one, the disks, the chopping blade, the covers, the pushers. They all fit. It was pretty much the same machine.
Thirty years! Bravo Cuisinart! I would have expected a cheaply made, lightweight, computerized piece of 21st century junk with an array of useless and complicated hard-to-press LED-lit buttons. Instead, thirty years later, we were able to buy the same machine. We even could use the set of extra cutting disks that we had bought along with the first machine.
There are three changes that have been made, as far as I can see: two of them are minor and sensible, the other – a new accessory – is one of those things that make you wonder why they hadn’t thought of that in the first place.
I don’t know who the people are who run Cuisinart. And I’m not going to Google to find out. There must have been quite a bit of pressure on them to change the design, to make it look more up-to-date, to computerize it, to try and appeal, with esoteric functions, to the foodie craze. But they didn’t. They knew they had a good thing. They didn’t change it. I like to imagine someone there at Cuisinart saying, “Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”