We've got a dripping faucet in the kitchen, and it has given me a chance to formulate a useful economic indicator for our times. This indicator is:
"What Is The Right Question For The Guy At The Hardware Store?"
Stop 1: Suburban Home Depot.
Go to the plumbing area, act confused, wait for someone to say "Can I help you?". Takes about 15 minutes, giving me ample time to check the use-by dates on plumbing tape and such. Finally a guy comes up and hits me with the question. He's about my age. Grey, sallow complexion, appears to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. I spend a few minutes chatting him up, at which time the Right Question becomes clear:
"What would be the best way to normalize a database of all the part number in my kitchen faucet, assuming a modest sized network and a corporate commitment to Oracle?"
Dude was a 20-year veteran of corporate database administration, and obviously still carried the stunned look of "How the hell did I lose my job?". Asked me if I knew anything available, at which point I pretended I only understood the Dutch language. IT job networking, when you have a "HI, MY NAME IS BOB" badge on your chest is NOT a good idea.
Economic Indicator Reading: It is a real bad time to be a non-specialized IT guy.
Stop 2: Large Ace Hardware
Go to the plumbing area, act confused, wait for someone to say "Can I help you?". Takes about 4 minutes, giving my kids time to find the economy-sized boxes of Nerds near the cash registers. About 5 years older than me, also with a grey, sallow complexion. Also appears to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. After about five minutes of chat, the Right Question becomes clear:
"What is the percentage of customers to your store that are deferring complete kitchen overhauls, preferring instead to replace the 49-cent washer in their faucet?"
The owner of the store is working the floor, but is close to pulling his fingers free of his knuckles from dread. It's clear that this independently-owned store was seeing Death By Small Purchases, as everyone in line in front of me was ringing up orders totaling under $5.
Economic Indicator Reading: People have their purse-strings pulled tight right now, making the retail business a nightmare.
Stop 3: Little mountain-side Ace Hardware
Go to the plumbing area, act confused, wait for someone to say "Can I help you?". Takes about 2 minutes, giving Kristin time to add 15 things to her list of crap to buy. About 10 years younger than me, fit and well-tanned, seeming to hold the world in his palm. After a few minutes, the Right Question became clear:
"You got one of these washers?"
He found it and sent me on my way in about 20 seconds. He had plenty of other people that wanted his help, and he kept it all under control through some secret Jedi Mind Manipulation. People waited quietly for their turn, then got them on their way, too. It was clear that he'd been doing this for 10 years, knew the answer to everything, and was up for a Left Hand Brew as soon as work was done. He didn't hold any expectations, preferring instead to be helpful - and to save his worry for that wicked section of the mountain bike trail that had been kicking his butt for the last two weeks. Saving it up for snowboarding season. No worries.
Economic Indicator: If your life isn't about worry, than now is no better time to worry than any other...
A radical thought.