I am helping renovate my father’s condominium in Fairfield, Connecticut. It has been neglected over the years, since he lives elsewhere and the unit sits empty. Pipes have frozen, security systems have failed. The garage door openers are twitchy and nobody knows where the clickers are.
I have enlisted the help of a fellow architect who lives in Fairfield, and she has been a pleasure to work with. I hired the contractor she recommended. She has been great at visiting the site and watching over the work. She reported the contractor was having trouble identifying a firm that could fix the garage doors. She concluded by saying, “the difference between Maine and Fairfield County is that Mainers fix things. People here replace things.”
It is probably a sign of how far I have gone native that her insight seemed…insightful. Having grown up in Fairfield County, I know its culture. There is wealth there. There is also, apparently, a shortage of people who know how to fix things.
As the great recession took force here a few years ago, my wife told me about her trip to the shoe repair place in Bangor. She said they were so busy it would take two months for them to work on her shoes. Of course, it was the recession, and we were just as interested in saving money by repairing a worn heel as anybody. Nevertheless, I think Mainers do have a predilection to fix things first, and replace as a last resort.
Much of this fix-it bent comes from the lack of those few buckets of cash lying around the house that seem to be more prevalent elsewhere. Some of it also comes from the distance one must travel to find a store that might sell a replacement. The fix-it bent has created an aesthetic sensibility that does not rely on the newness of one’s widgets. Because Mainers fix things, Mainers are walking and driving around with jury-rigged trucks, shoes, Roto-tillers, barbecue grills, knapsacks, lawnmowers, you name it.
The fix-it bent has also created a culture that wants to understand the black box. If the way something works is incomprehensible, one has little recourse than to replace it. If I want to fix something, I need to know how it works. I need to be able to take it apart, figure out what Widget A is for, why Slot B exists.
The urge to understand in order to fix is the tinkerer’s advantage. It is what drives innovation.