On Sunday afternoon, I went to pull our mower from the garage to attack the jungle growing in our yard. Apparently while pulling a car into the garage at some point, I had managed to snag the mower's grass catcher between the car's wheel and a garage support post. The end result was a mangled piece of metal that more resembled avant-garde sculpture than it did a grass catcher. I borrowed the neighbor's mower for the day, which solved the problem in the short term. But long term, I was in need of a new frame and grass catching bag.
With the power of a time machine, here's how that task would have gone 30 years ago, and how it went on Sunday…
Thirty years ago
Flip through until you find the part reference section. Try to find the part numbers for the grass catcher frame and bag. Jot them down somewhere.
Get out the Yellow Pages (pre-internet version seen at right), and look in both Hardware Stores and Lawnmower Repair sections (or maybe Machine Repair or who knows what) for authorized dealers for the mower.
Pick up the phone, and start calling and asking if anyone stocks the parts. Exhaust all 15 sources, and find none in stock. Choose the vendor that annoyed you the least, and call them back to order the parts. Hear that it'll take two to three weeks, and they'll call you when the parts arrive.
Three weeks pass, and nobody has called; call them back to hear that yes, your parts arrived 10 days ago. Drive to dealer, pay, and pick up parts. (Possible bonus task: Find out parts aren't exactly right for your mower, return them, and start the process all over again!)
If you were having a good day, this process might take an hour or so. On a bad day, you might be on the phone for a couple hours, frustrated and pissed off by the time you were done. Then, of course, you had to wait for the parts, borrowing your neighbor's machine for possibly weeks.
Take phone (or tablet) to garage. Open a web search engine. Tap in your search terms, something like grass catcher frame for Honda mower, though with the model number (which I already don't remember).
Browse the results, click a couple until you find a price and delivery date you like. Add to cart, check out and pay. Wait two days, then the parts arrive at your door.
Total time required, in the real world for me in this case, was roughly three minutes. I ordered on Sunday afternoon, and the parts will arrive today (free shipping, too). I feel for local vendors trying to compete with the internet on orders such as this one—a few minutes with my phone vs. time on the phone and a trip in the car.
You kids really don't know how good you have it today!