Sunday, November 19, 2006

In Search of a Microwave

In this day and age, you would think that purchasing a microwave would be a straightforward, and even mundane, task. Leave it to hubby and I to turn a simple shopping trip into a quest of "Lord of the Rings" proportions.

Those who read my previous blog entry know the background of the Microwave Trauma. While cooking frozen lasagna, the microwave fritzed out and the electrical outlet melted down like a nuclear tower on Three Mile Island. An electrician removed the scorched and twisted remains of the outlet box, snipping off the microwave plug which had fused itself to the melted mess. She warned us that the outlet had not been installed properly; one of the connections had never been tightened, so over time we were building up to the catastrophic failure that finally occurred.

She checked our breaker box and found several loose connections in there, too, as well as a stripped circuit breaker that couldn't be tightened at all! Perhaps not coincidentally, the stripped breaker was for the master bedroom, where we've had a plethora of electrical problems. Between the current mess, the loose neutral when we moved in, and various outlet problems over the first year of residency in Duloc Manor, I theororize that the original electrician was either drunk as a skunk or nursing one hell of a hangover. Either way, his mind was clearly not on this work.

Once our happy home was in an electrically safe condition, we shifted our focus to replacing the microwave. Technically, the existing microwave could be repaired. At the very least, it needs a new plug; it's even possible that's all it needs. It's covered under our extended warranty, so we'd pony up a $50 co-pay to get it back into working order.

As soon as the electrician was done, I called the warranty company to arrange for an appliance repair person. Warranty work is a slow process, especially when you call on a Friday afternoon. They fax a work order to the selected repair facility, who then calls to make an appointment on the next business day (in this case, Monday). However, when I hung up the phone, I realized that I'd been given the name of a company that doesn't service the Celebration/Kissimmee area because they are out in Oviedo. We'd been given the same company when our dishwasher died a few weeks ago, and it added an inordinate amount of time to the whole muddled mess.

I didn't really care with the dishwasher, since we only use it sporadically. But losing the microwave is nearly akin to losing a limb! My husband is the chef in our home, and while he does a lot of stovetop cooking, he relies on the microwave for plenty of small tasks. Both of us depend on it to heat up our lunches, warm up leftovers, etc. It was utterly pathetic to see the poor man heating up coffee in a saucepan on the stove this morning before church (if he makes it the night before, he will drink it the next day rather than brew up a whole new pot).

Besides the trauma an extended wait for repairs would cause us, hubby was leery of our trusty old microwave. According to the electrician, the outlet had been malfunctioning for a while, so he was suspicious that the oven's innards might have sustained some non-apparent damage. I was willing to take the chance, as my Premonition of Danger meter is close to zero. But my husband's attitude was to start from scratch; the identical microwave (albeit a newer version) is $199, and he felt that $149 wasn't an unreasonable price to pay for peace of mind.

I agreed to retire our current unit to Nuker Heaven and get a new one. He located the GE Spacemaker at both Home Depot and Appliance Direct (if you live in central FL, you are more than familiar with AD's hyperkinectic commercials from hell, but they really do save you a few dollars...$12 in the case of the microwave). AP said it would have to be ordered, while the Kissimmee Depot assured us that it was in stock. Thus we hopped into Canyonero (our Aztek) for what we believed would be a simple, unchallenging mission.

The first hint of a possibility that we were laboring under a Gypsy curse occurred when we arrived at Depot and were told the oven was out of stock. Wielding his printout of the store phone number and location, hubby determined that we were indeed at the right location. The sales associate had no explanation (although I picture some guy passing through the appliance department and picking up the phone on a lark, saying "Yeah, yeah, sure we have that!" while snickering into his hand).

But the associate assured us that he could get what we wanted from the warehouse by next week; better yet, there was a delivery charge rebate going on, so we could get it delivered for free and have it installed by the delivery person for only $20. My husband wasn't looking forward to the prospect of installing it himself, so we readily agreed.

After tapping on the computer for an inordinate amount of time, the associate excused himself with a look of worried confusion. When he returned, he broke the bad news: The free delivery option was only available for items of $299 and up. Since we didn't want to pop an additional $55, we decided to take our chances elsewhere. Since Depot had claimed it was in stock and it wasn't, maybe the opposite was true at Appliance Direct. They weren't all that far away, so it was worth a shot.

On the way out, we picked up an outlet tester; in view of our experience, I've decided that they should be standard issue to anyone buying a home in Florida (ours is not the only case of builder negligence that I know of...another Celebration resident even had a nasty house fire because of a similar problem with a loose neutral).

Well, in theory Appliance Direct wasn't all that far. In practice, we hadn't brought their address, so a spirited debate ensued over whether they were located on John Young Parkway or Orange Blossom Trail. Turns out it was OBT, but we had a heck of a time finding it because it goes by the name of Main Street where it meets 192.

Apparently the frenzied ads are successful, as Appliance Direct was jam-packed with fridge and stove-hungry customers fighting over the limited sales staff. We did a quick reconnaissance mission and located a GE Spacemaker on display in the exact model that we wanted...except that it was black rather than white. There was a white one in a box, but it was marked "Sold." Still, that was a good sign, as it meant that they actually stocked what we wanted.

We milled around for half an hour, stalking the sales staff like a hunter stalks a deer. It's pretty sad when you're competing with a dozen other people for the privilege of giving your money away. Eventually we corralled someone, but she broke the bad news: There was nothing in stock; it could be ordered, but it would take even more time than Depot and the installation charge was ridiculous.

We politely declined and headed back to Canyonero. To add insult to injury, hubby begged a quarter from me to buy M & M Peanuts from a neglected-looking gumball machine at the door. I wrinkled my nose and warned him, "It doesn't look like anyone has patronized that thing in a while." In blind optimism, he plugged in the quarter and held out his hand. Into his palm dropped several broken fragments and a couple of intact but dusty pieces. Ugh! He quickly deposited the unappetizing mess into the nearest garbage bin.

We debated the merits of searching for the Appliance Direct by Florida Mall, where we'd purchased our washer and dryer, vs. checking out Best Buy. AD won out, despite the fact that we had no idea where it was. Back when we had first shopping there, we didn't know our way around and relied entirely on maps. Thus, while we knew it was near the mall and located on a street beginning with "L," we were pretty much in the dark.

After a futile search, including crossing the Railroad Tracks of Doom into some sort of deserted alternate universe, we decided to head for Best Buy. By this time, hours had literally passed and my bladder was clamoring for attention. At the very least, Best Buy would have a restroom, even if the Coveted Microwave continued to elude us.

We rolled into the parking lot, not daring to let a shard of hope slip into our exhausted minds. We located the appliances, poked around a bit, and suddenly a chorus of angels broke out in song as a heavenly light shown down upon the display. There it was! A white GE Spacemaker in all its glory!

Still, we weren't going to be drawn in so easily. Seeing it on display is not the same as actually having a boxed model in your hot little hands. We looked up at the stock, which was stacked above the displays, and lo and behold...not one, not two, but half a dozen of the suckers were up there!

We weren't out of the woods yet. Like an insidious video game in which you complete one challenge, only to find yourself facing yet another, we realized that we would have to locate a salesperson. I left hubby guarding the microwaves while I went in search of The One Who Has Power to Take Down Stock. After two unsuccessful circuits of the area, I was ready to admit defeat. But after toying with me all day, God apparently decided to show me some mercy...a sales person suddenly materialized with a cheery chorus of, "Can I help you with something today?" ringing on his lips.

I nearly tackled the poor guy and dragged him to the microwave display. Hubby looked as though he might be seeing a mirage before he finally dared to believe that our quest was over. At this point, we had decided to worry about installation later; all we wanted was to know that the replacement oven was in our possession.

FINALLY! The journey was over, or so we thought...but there was one final, inexplicable complication. Hubby's charge card was declined, even though he had used it mere hours before to pay for lunch (and it worked fine the next day). I whipped out my card to complete the transaction and we rushed out the door with our precious booty before any other disasters could befall us.

The microwave is now resting safely in the frontroom, awaiting the installer who is coming tomorrow morning (we called the same person who fixed the ceiling hole resulting from our last builder incompetence disaster, i.e. the air conditioner leak). Meanwhile, we're still living like heathens, eating meals cooked (gasp!) entirely via stovetop. Tomorrow we'll have to have a little celebration as we press the button of Spacemaker II for the very first time and return to the wonders of irradiated food.

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