Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Gotta Get It!

People tell you that you have to have certain things.  Do you?

Walking around our island, we have a chance to talk with each other and discuss things.  And one thing that puzzles us is how people feel they need to buy certain things due to peer pressure.  I'll give you an example.

When we moved to the island, we met a few people and we had them over for drinks.  Someone said, "You have to go to Sears and get these TV snack tables - they are handy when you have company over!" And everyone nodded in agreement.  When I went to their houses they all had the exact same set of TV snack trays from Sears - in sort of an oak stain, with a stand.

So, off to Sears we went - they were still in business at the time - and we found the exact same set of snack trays and bought them because that was what one did.  And they were pretty useful I guess, but looking back we wonder why we were so easily influenced.  What's more, when we go to estate sales on the island, we see these sets of TV snack trays for sale and nod our heads - the relics of an earlier era, as slowly the "old guard" is moving off the island, often feet-first, and the new blood has no idea about TV snack trays and Sears is no more!

It gets weirder.  A house sold down the street for about $600,000 in original condition.  That means original kitchen and appliances from 1970 - yes, 30 years old (take that! Weibull curve!).  In the garage was a "red bug" GEM electric car which used to be rented on the island (they rent golf carts now, as they are cheaper and more reliable).   The folks who lived there barely visited the island more than once every other month and stayed for maybe a few days, if that.  But they "had to have" a "buggy" because that is what one does.

It is funny, but like the snack trays, so many people have gone out and bought golf carts or NEVs, often spending $10,000 or more on these and then never using them.  The GEM electric down the street was sold for a thousand dollars or so - it had dead batteries and needed work just from sitting for so long.  Once the batteries went dead, the owner stopped using it, and it just cluttered up the garage.  And the GEM guy wanted $2000 for new batteries!  (They are $600 a set at the wholesale club and take about a half-hour to install yourself).

But that is typical - we see dozens of friends with golf carts who never use them.  Meanwhile, we drive our $300 ratted-out "buggy" about everywhere.   Many folks get nervous that "the batteries will go dead" so they stop using them.   And heterosexual men have this phobia about replacing batteries in their cars - or golf carts - so the "batteries going dead" deal becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You have to replace them about every five years in golf carts.  Fortunately, newer carts have lithium-ion batteries that will last a decade or more - perhaps far more.

Most every couple on the island has two cars as well.  Why two cars?  "Well that one is hers, and this one is mine!" they say.  Then they ask us whose car the hamster "belongs" to - and get mystified when we say it is both of ours.  Again, a normative cue - you have to have your own car, your own cell phone, your own computer and today, your own television.  No one wants to do things together anymore, even ride in a car that seats nine people.

What I have learned - the hard way - over time is that while cars are fun and all, they are a huge hole in your budget.  Having an extra car is really pointless, particularly in retirement, particularly when you both go to the same places together, particularly when you already own a golf cart as well, particularly when you never leave the island but once a week at best.

Then again, driving all over hell's half-acre is another normative cue.  We knew a couple (the folks who told us to buy the snack trays, actually) who left the island once a day, driving 30 miles round-trip into town to "run errands" - go shopping, buy groceries, buy liquor, stop at a restaurant, and so on and so forth. They complained their credit card debt was creeping up but could not figure out why.  And the darn car kept breaking down, too!  I wonder why?

We try to plan our town trips a week in advance - making lists of places to go and what to buy.  Often, we figure out it is easier and cheaper to order online, as the prices are better, selection better, and the cost of driving into town is more than shipping costs - if there even are any.  But our friends were conditioned, though years of long habit, of driving into town every day for jobs, for shopping, for socialization.  It was a habit they could not break.

I was fortunate that two decades before "work from home" became a thing, I was working from home.  And initially, I used to drive to the Patent Office to file documents once a day or every other day.  But over time, I found it easier, cheaper, and more reliable to file online, as that service became available (we could file by fax before then, and did).  So I stopped leaving the house, which was weird at first, but over time I got used to it and realized it was a better deal.  I got back two hours of my life from commuting.  I could spend my "lunch hour" playing with the dog in a deserted local park, while having a sandwich that cost me little to make.  And once you're off the leash, it is darn hard to go back.

So what's the point of all of this?  Well, again, normative cues rear their ugly head.  We like to think we are unique and different, but like that oddly-dressed teenager "just trying to express themselves" they are doing so in a manner nearly identical to every other teenager.  And it doesn't end with the teenage years - we all try to "fit in" and when confronted with new surroundings, we look around to see what everyone else is doing, and copy that.

And that is how we ended up with TV snack trays.