Thursday, January 29, 2009

The View From Outside

So here I am standing on the side of a Pennsylvania superhighway in a snowstorm, with 18-wheeler’s whizzing by just inches from my car. Sure, it sounds fun, but actually it’s a little nerve-wracking. I’m out here parked on the apron because my windshield wiper is falling off. My fingers are showing signs of frostbite as I fumble with a broken "refill". Snow turns to sleet, then freezing rain, as I frantically try to shove those limp rubber sleeves back into the wiper arm. It’s a losing effort, and those tractor trailers are getting closer by the minute.

Bet you didn’t know that when cars were first invented, drivers had to crank the wipers by hand. Either that or they just drove along, blindly, hoping they would somehow get to their destination safely. If they were lucky, they’d hit something non-vital; a cow, a moose or perhaps a member of Congress.

Ah, but progress came quickly. Car travel became much safer with the advent of automatic windshield wipers. An unfortunate side effect: the number of Congress members began to rebound. Automatic windshield wipers were invented in 1921. They were originally called "Folberths". No joke. Many people believe the device was named after its inventors, Fred and William Folberth. But in fact, the term "Folberth" is derived from the ancient Moldavian “Fol-broke-ee”. This term was used to describe something that frequently went haywire. "Folberth's" were not especially reliable.

Inventor Robert Kearns patented intermittent wipers in 1967. Kearns later sued some of the major carmakers for using his device and won a bazillion dollar settlement. This eventually led to financial ruin for the Big Three, GM, Ford, and Delta. Kearns’ financial windfall was such a tremendous financial blow to corporate America it eventually triggered the present day "Wall Street Meltdown". So when you look at your dwindling 401k you can thank Robert Kearns. And who can blame you for feeling a little "Fol-broke-ee" when you see your plunging bottom line.

Modern windshield wipers work very well. On the rare occasion they would wear out, you just bought “refill blades" at any auto parts store for a couple of dollars. What a money saver for consumers!

But those bankrupt Automakers were having none of it. They started selling a bewildering variety of windshield "refills". There were so many different sizes and shapes that consumers would often buy two or three pairs before finding the right ones. This produced some impressive financial gains. But it wasn’t enough. The Automakers needed more. And they got it, thanks to Automotive Engineer, Stanley Imgwanna Robbublind. Robbublind designed an entirely new windshield wiper arm pre-loaded with the "refill" wiper blade. So now, when you, Joe Driver, go to the store to buy refills, it ain't gonna happen. Instead of buying a couple of "refills", now you gotta buy the entire windshield wiper apparatus. The whole mushugana! And it costs like $5 to $10 per Wiper Arm! Even more if you drive a luxury car. You Lexus and Mercedes owners might want to bring some collateral and a loan officer.

I resisted buying the entire pre-loaded windshield wiper arm assembly for a couple of years. I'd been sneaking around, buying wiper "refills" on the black market. But it's getting harder and harder to find wiper "refills" that work.

All of this information was pinballing through my subconscious as I stood next to that highway, in the snow, desperately trying to re-install my ruptured wiper refills. That's when I caved in like the stock market. I went to the store, ponied up $4.63 and bought the entire wiper arm complete with the pre-loaded "refill" blade. Now, can somebody please explain how to attach this thing to my car?

Copyright 2009

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No part can be reprinted or reused in any way without express written permission from the author.

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