Just the Other Day: Conveniently Inconvenient

It never ceases to amaze me, the things we will do in the name of convenience. Sometimes I wonder if we go too far? For example; our ancestors cooked over an open fire, which presumably, was outdoors. To make life easier, the woodstove was created. It served multiple purposes, two of which were cooking and heating the house. Wood fuel became a bother for cooking, so, someone invented the gas and electric range. With this modern appliance, there was no wood to cut or messy ashes to deal with, (unless you burned dinner really badly.)


Over time, the range was no longer fast enough for us, so someone invented the microwave oven. Very convenient…unless you let a bowl of oatmeal boil over, or re-heated uncovered leftover spaghetti. Have you ever seen a microwave oven after an egg exploded, or popcorn burned? In any case, it might have been faster to build a fire for cooking outdoors, than to clean the inside of the microwave.


Another great example of convenience is the television. In the old days, people would go to town for entertainment; maybe take in a show at the movie theater, if they could afford it. If not, just watching people on Main Street was entertaining enough. But we wanted more entertainment and we wanted it in our home so we didn’t have to go outside. Thus, the TV was invented.


It was a kid’s job to get up and change the channel or adjust the volume, whenever instructed to do so by Dad: the head of household, who was home from a hard day at work. But little kids grew into teenagers. As their interests changed, they were spending more time out with friends. Dad had to get up and change the channel himself. Oh, he might have tried asking his wife to change the channel, but as time went on, we demanded more conveniences, and soon it became necessary for Mom to work outside the home as well, to help pay for all of this convenience. At the end of a hard day at work, she was just as tired, if not more so, than he was. The invention of the remote control would keep peace amongst them.


The remote control was so handy with the TV, we started making remote controls for everything – and they’re great…when you can find them. With many remote controls, you also have to figure out how to use it and make sure you have the right remote control!


One day, I was trying to change the channel to find a show I wanted to watch, but every time I pushed a button, the ceiling fan came on or off; went faster or slower or reversed in direction. Obviously, I had the wrong remote. When I grabbed what I thought was the right one, it turned the lights on and off, yet another remote seemed to adjust the furnace setting, or inadvertently turn on the stereo. By the time I found the correct remote, my show was over! We have a remote for everything. Are they convenient? Sort of sometimes.


A remote controller is what we need to open and close the door on the garage, which was out behind the house at the back of the drive. When I was a boy, Dad or Mom would pull into the driveway and one of us kids would get out of the car to lift the garage door. But kids grow up to be teenagers and…


It became burdensome to get out of the car to open the overhead door, so we invented a contraption that would open and close the heavy door for us.  Still, it didn’t seem convenient walking though the elements of weather to get to our car, so we began to attach the garage to the house. The garage became a handy place to store extra stuff too, like bicycles, lawn mowers, Christmas decorations, a treadmill that no one uses anymore, an old TV that we replaced with a newer model – all kinds of stuff that we won’t get rid of because we might need it someday. The garage stall became so full of our “stuff” there wasn’t room for the car. Someone came up the idea of the two-car garage. Theoretically, for two cars, but truthfully, one stall was for a car and the other was for our stuff.


For many of us, our stuff grew, getting closer to the car’s space. One had to be quite flexible to squeeze out of the car and maneuver the narrow path between the vehicle and our stuff. As long as there was a path, there was room for more stuff and eventually it took over the second stall as well. I myself can attest, we have a two-car attached garage, both sides have automatic garage door openers. In truth, there hasn’t been room for a car in our garage since shortly after we moved here. Both sides are full of storage items and remodeling materials for the house. But I digress. Part of my next stage of remodeling will be making room in the garage to once again conveniently park our cars.


When I remodel the garage, I will put a light switch on the wall by the entry door and another by the door going into the house so we’ll never have to walk through a dark garage at night. When you can control the same light from two different places, it is called a “three-way” switch. (I’ve never understood why they didn’t call it a two-way switch, but again I digress.) It was designed for convenience, so that we wouldn’t have to walk in dark places to turn the light on or off.


I like three-way switches and I installed a lot of them when remodeling our house. I put them in the stairwell, one at both the top and bottom of the basement steps. There’s a three-way switch in the hallway, so we can turn the hall light on from the living room, or from the other end by the bedrooms. We can turn the driveway lights on from the basement garage, or from the front door when guest come and go. There’s a switch at both doorways coming into the dining room from the living room or the kitchen. There’s a light over our kitchen table, a corner booth, which can be turned on from either and of the table. The outdoor lights on the deck can be turned on from the three-seasons room, or the kitchen, since both have a door going outside.


Speaking of the kitchen: there are three ways to enter ours. From outside on the deck, from the living room, or from the dining room. I wanted to be able to turn on the kitchen light from any of the three points. Three different locations would require a four-way switch. (I don’t know why they didn’t call this a three-way switch…again, I digress) For the sake of convenience in our kitchen, I had to learn how to wire a four-way switch.


This knowledge came in handy when I wired the living room which has five entry points: The front door, the dining room, the kitchen, which is right next to the hallway, and the top of the steps from the basement.  To control the same light from four locations requires a… No, not a five-way switch – there’s no such thing – it requires a four-way switch. (Which finally makes sense to me, but doesn’t fit in with the rest of the electrical lingo program. Again, I digress.)


I wired this house for our convenience. Someday, when we sell the place, the new owner will either say, “This house is really well wired.” Or, “The guy who wired this house must have found a good deal on light switches.” My brother, who was around when I was doing the wiring, declared, “You went a bit OCD with the switches.” But, the point of this story is not how many switches I installed. It’s about things we do for convenience that sometimes aren’t so convenient – like having so many light switches.


You see, I can be a little OCD at times. One thing that drives me nuts is when the switches are in all different positions. For some reason, I like all the switches down when the light is off, and only one switch in the up position when the light is on. To make this happen, I often find myself running down the steps to turn the light off, then running up the steps in the dark, so that the switches match.


A team effort is helpful. If my wife is on the other end of the hallway, or at the top of the steps, I might ask her, “Hey, can you flip that switch for me?” If she turns the light off, I can turn it back on at my end, and then turn it off again when I get to the top of the steps.  Crazy – I know! But walking down a dark hallway is not uncommon for me, if it means the switch positions are coordinated, which will allow me to sleep better,


It’s a real thrill to find which of the three kitchen switches is “out of position.” With four switches in the living room? Well, that could be another story in itself because, it never ceases to amaze me, the things we will do in the name of convenience, that can end up being conveniently inconvenient.