This whole past year has given us a steady diet of bad news about supply chain issues, with hungry factories, tight inventories, shipping bottlenecks, resource shortages and thousands of people who don’t seem to care if they go back to work again anytime soon. It makes a person uneasy and anxious, which is not healthy at my age. I have been told to avoid stress and keep my blood pressure down, which is a tall order if a person dares to venture out into the marketplace to buy or repair anything like a barbecue or a washing machine.
This fall, as part of my continuing campaign to be self-sufficient in everything, I tried to order myself a new charcoal kettle barbecue, just like the one my new son- in-law and I bonded over when we finally met in September in Calgary. He uses it to smoke everything from bacon and hams to sh and game. When I got home to Ontario I phoned around the hardware stores and found that none were to be had for love or money. You had to order one online, pay for it and get placed on a waiting list. Supply chain issues again.
Time went by and finally the good news came that my turn had come – the thing was in the mail … or courier that is. Then the phone calls started. We have three different addresses, one for the post office, one for the credit card and one for Google. None of them agree with each other. Any courier who has been greeted by the dogs and the pet sheep at our place usually files the directions in memory, but new guys have to call me to get talked into the farm by phone.
This package was in the hands of a new guy and he made three separate tries to get the box to the door when I wasn’t here. He returned discouraged to the warehouse each day. When the thing finally arrived, it had been dropped on its head so many times the handles were both broken and the bowl was dented badly enough that the lid wouldn’t close over it. The company advised that I could return the whole thing and go back on the waiting list which was now showing next spring as the delivery date. Or, I could accept it as is, glue it back together, pound out the dent and repaint it and get a discount.
“What kind of a discount?” I asked. “Ten per cent,” was the reply. Really? Knowing that the package would go straight to landfill from the warehouse, I lugged it into the UPS office in town and slapped the mailing label on the counter.
“You shouldn’t be eating a lot of smoked meat anyway,” scolded Marj, the UPS clerk. “You need to eat more vegetables.”
She was right. I gave up on the barbecue and went back to using online orders only for absolute essentials like snowblower and washing machine parts.
The washing machine quit the day the broken barbecue landed. The company-appointed appliance technician near us diagnosed the problem over the phone.
“It will be the brushes for the motor,” he said. “One hundred and eighty dollars for the parts, then there’s the service call and the time he spends on it.”
Really? The on-line parts site I was looking at in Atlanta, Georgia, showed the brushes cost only $11 each. The washer itself was $800 new in 2018. I balked at the idea of paying half again for it after only three years.
Then I got into a long chatroom discussion with a scary looking guy named Buck from somewhere in Georgia who not only popped the brushes in the mail for me and referred me to his installation video but took a whole lot of time to explain how to smoke a side of bacon properly using a garbage can. He told me to drop in anytime I’m going by and he’ll show me his own hand-built smoker.
The washing machine is running again. It makes me think that this may be the best way out of our supply chain issues. Let’s use the Internet for what it does best. Forget about the bottlenecks, the lost couriers, the traffic jam in the Suez Canal and go straight to the guy in Georgia who can make a two-stroke engine out of tin cans and a cream separator and has a pipeline for (probably hot) appliance parts.
And I should probably eat more vegetables, too.
Dan Needles is the author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays. He lives on a small farm near Collingwood, Ont. His website is www.danneedles.ca