Saturday, August 31, 2013

There's A Mouse in the Garage

I wonder if Americans realize the important of their garage? To many people the garage is a place to store junk, a place out of sight and out of mind. Something no longer worthy to be in their living space is relegated to a space where the objects don’t have to be viewed on a day-to-day basis.
 My garage has too much stuff but from October to June, it has enough open space for my car. On cold fall and winter mornings, it’s relatively warm, dry and I can commute to my train station for the short ride to Manhattan. The rest of the year I am lazy so my car sits outside and the garage becomes a collector of stuff. Right now I am moving enough stuff around so that one of my sailboat can be moved in and car garage becomes “dry dock.”
But returning to the idea of the American importance of the garage, I present you with this thought. The most amazing things have come out of American garages. Music, for instance, rock and roll specifically. Frank Sinatra did not start out crooning in his garage although he did do his share of summer pool parties, a practice he continued nearly just before becoming a national and then international sensation. Some rock and roll bands start in garages and then move on to pool parties, private parties, roller rinks, bowling allies, and some make it to the rounds of summer fetes, and small town park gazebos. Where would popular music be without the garage band? Think no Buddy Holly, no Bruce Springsteen, Beach Boys, Credence Clearwater Revival and many others too numerous to name here. Rock and roll is American’s gift to the world, a truly unique idea along with America’s invention of jazz.
American garages supplied the world with an aspect of entertainment. I guess it is also fitting that garages are an offshoot of America’s romance and adulation of the automobile. Apparently we were affluent to the point of building structures for our cars. With the wide open spaces of a developing land, we made sure there was enough space for a house and garage. Worldwide, some people are lucky enough to have a roof over their heads and here people don’t appreciate how well-off they are, having a separate structure to house their car, let alone extraneous stuff.
The garage is a place where you can work on your car while it’s raining or snowing. Few people, percentage wise, use a garage to work on their cars. Pop the hood and you’ll notice the engine has been augmented by a confusing tangle of wires and hoses far beyond the simple VW bug, popular in the 60s—fuel injection systems, anti-pollution devises, and power drake fluid tanks. Henry Ford, or rather Charles Duryea, would be astounded by today’s machines.
As if music and the automobile were not the most important and amazing things to come out of a garage, also remember that two teenagers started out conquering the world from the garage: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. There are those detractors who explain, with tinges of extreme envy in their voice, that they borrowed ideas from other people. Agreed. But they synthesized ideas that worked far beyond the individual parts but offering us a more complete whole. You can disparage Apple and Microsoft, but as garage start-ups, they need to be admired, embraced and imitated or used for inspiration.
Personally, my grandfather, Clarence Bowers started building car batteries in his garage. He became universally recognized for his innovations in the early, developmental years of batteries. Eventually, East Penn Manufacturing Company—known as “Deka”—became the largest independent battery manufacturer in the world, and it, too, started in a small abandoned place, in this case a creamery. The idea of starting in a garage inspired Delight Breidegam to use what was at hand, a creamery. He was helped by my grandfather in those formative days. Without Bowers Battery, there might not have been a Deka.

Delight's Deka Creamery

Labor Day in America marks an end to the “mythical” summer. People return from their summer vacations, children go back to school if they aren't already there by now, and the fall cycle of activities start. Once your children are grown up a wonderful thing happens—summer extends to the end of September. Some of the nicest weather is in September in this latitude of North America.
This Labor Day weekend I did probably one of the most iconic of American labors—I painted an antique (built in the 1850s) barn the color red. Think about it—I painted an American barn, barn red. Does it get any more American than that? 
Maybe it is in my blood. The Pennsylvania Dutch built barns to last but more than sturdy structures they were the anchor of their prosperity. As the initial surge of English farmers moved west after depleting a farm's soil, the Germans followed behind, picking up homesteads at rock bottom prices. The first thing they did was build a barn to house their livestock because the livestock was precious to them and vital to their success. The barn was sacred to them. The garage is the modern day barn.
For people who work in garages on their personal project, the heat or cold is immaterial. Great ideas come from there and always will.  Think about this—somewhere in America some kid in a garage is tinkering with the next generation of a detached cursor button—a “mouse.” That may not have been unusual—to have a mouse in a garage—but it may have been the most important mouse.

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