Friday, March 7, 2008

Microwave good buy

It’s inevitable: If there’s a difficult or expensive way to learn a lesson, that’s the route I’ll take.

Say, for instance, our microwave oven.

We’d had the $450 unit for more than a decade. The sleek black-faced oven had survived the usual slings and arrows of appliance life — a couple of blown fuses that needed to be replaced, a chip out of its glass turntable, a bag of micro-popcorn left to pop on high far too long.

But we liked the microwave. It was a favorite cousin in the kitchen family. Familiar, friendly. Easy to use, even at 5 a.m. when my synapses hadn’t yet started synapping.

We knew how the oven worked, how it chimed when it was done, how long it took to perfectly reheat coffee in husband Richard’s favorite mug.

Besides, the countertop unit fit perfectly into its cubbyhole in the cabinet.

So, when the microwave suddenly stopped, we did what we’ve always done. We called for appliance repair. Through the decades, John of John’s Appliance Repair had patched up and glued back together various pieces of equipment in our original house.

For a time after we rebuilt following the fire in 1994, we hadn’t needed John’s services for a time – everything was under warranty. But this seemed a good time to enlist his aid again.

John looked at the oven and said, “Gee, if I’d known it wasn’t one of the over-the-stove microwaves, I could have saved you some money. You can buy a new countertop microwave for about what my service call costs, not counting repair parts.”

Bless his heart, he felt so guilty at not being able to fix the oven, he spent the rest of his service call checking out our other appliances.

Are microwave ovens really that cheap these days? To say we were skeptical would be vastly understating the case, rather like calling August weather in Palm Springs pleasantly warm.

After hitting the Internet and the phone, we were open-mouth astonished.

While the cost of other kitchen appliances had skyrocketed since we rebuilt the house — just try replacing a Sub-Zero refrigerator, buying a front-loading clothes washer or getting a dishwasher that runs quietly — we could buy a new microwave for under $100, although some were priced at more than a thousand bucks.

We headed into the shopping fray, tape measure in hand, to discover that not only were the ovens much less costly, they came with new features and accessories that had only been hinted at a decade ago.

There were convection cycles, to produce nicely browned surfaces, or “keep warm” features so your entrée doesn’t turn into a hockey puck.

(I wonder what happens to popcorn on a “warm” cycle?)

One unit even had a built-in toaster!

Eventually, my head began to swim the way it does when I go to a big box store during the week before Christmas, or try shopping for an entire afternoon at a gazillion-square-foot antique mall.
It was TMI — way too much information, when all we really wanted was our old microwave, or as close to it as we could get.

In the end, we paid about $150 for a new oven, plus the service charge for John’s helpful advice. The microwave fit in the cabinet and works just fine.

But it’s like having a bossy new dog in the house.

This oven chides me on a rolling screen of green print, reminding me I haven’t yet set the clock or told the microwave how much chicken I want to cook.

And the new unit nags. It beeps three times when the cycle’s done (the old one beeped once). Then, if you don’t open the door after a minute or so, the microwave beeps again. And again. And again.

But I will be strong. I will not take a sledge hammer to the new microwave, no matter how irritating it is.

I don’t want to have to go through this again. I’ve learned my lesson, the hard, expensive way. As usual.

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