Sometime in the early summer of 2012, I bought my first gas grill, fulfilling one of those semi-absurd goals, a supposed need that only commerce can fill and that somehow, represents adulthood. I’d been a renter in California for decades, living entirely in the temporary, which is to say, small, cheap charcoal grills.

But by 2012 I was a Mainer (again) and a homeowner and there was a Weber on my deck. The soundtrack in my head was Bruce Springsteen all the way. Born to run, and grill. Glory days for sure. Flash forward to this month, with me contemplating pushing the no-longer-functioning Weber to the curb.

My dream was broken. But this is America and my dream can be bought again. Right? By the time I’d walked back inside to order a new one from Amazon, someone more enterprising than I might have picked the dead one up for scraps. When I put my virtuously purchased “green” electric lawnmower on the street – more on that later – by the time I came back with a “Free” sign, it was gone.

Or if the Weber sat there for a few days, unwanted, I could take it to the Brunswick landfill on one of my trips to put the garden to bed and the house in order in preparation for winter. At least the metals would be recycled.

Two things stopped me. The hit to the pocketbook for starters. I made more money in 2012 then I do now, and even then,

the nearly $500 I spent on the Weber felt like a big deal. I saved up for it. I researched. I committed, to a product I’d believed would last.

Then there was the guilt factor. Not long after buying the grill, I’d started writing about sustainability, about waste, about climate change, about the need to not just push large objects to the curb.

I understand about the impermanence of things. But in a world that itself feels increasingly impermanent, I needed a happier ending to my grill story.

GUILT AND MONEY

Its ignition button stopped working by 2014, but that was an easy work-around; I just lit the thing manually. I knew the starter button to be a common gas grill problem because when I was in my fetishing-the-future-purchase phase, I’d walked around a Home Depot in California, wondering why all the floor model gas grills were missing the ignition buttons. A manager told me people steal them because that’s the first thing to go on a grill. Weber or not, my grill was no exception.

The blasted, busted ignition switch.

Consumer Reports surveyed 16,000 of its members on nine gas grill brands, and while it did not find an obvious winner, it did find that Coleman, Weber and Broil King were less repair-prone than the others. (The survey estimates that by the time a Kenmore grill is three years old, 19 percent of them will “need repair or have serious problems.” For Member’s Mark grills, the stats are even worse, 23 percent will be in the same situation by age three.) The highest ranked grill in the Consumer Reports survey was a Weber, albeit it a model that cost nearly three times what mine had. It earned a 77 on a scale of 100. The most comparable model to mine earned a 65 and for sturdiness, an “excellent.”

But about two years ago, I started having trouble getting the flame to spread smoothly along the pipes that carry the flame around the bottom of the grill. These pipes are called burner tubes by the way, and a Consumer Reports spokesman confirmed to me they are one of the most frequent and first items to fail on any gas grill. (They’re also easy to replace.) Also, the rack that holds the grease tray cracked and I stacked a few bricks in the bottom of the unit to hold it (sort of) in place.

The other big problem was the box-like thing the flames came out of, which had begun to rust and was only getting worse. It became harder and harder to keep a flame going. I wasn’t sure why. A friend advised me to undo the propane tank and blow in the hose; maybe it needed clearing. I did that, and it helped, but didn’t fix the problem.

You get the drift; the allegedly easy-to-turn-on, convenient thing that made grilling delicious burgers a cinch was no longer easy and quick.

TO TOSS OR NOT TO TOSS

I took to Facebook, as one does, looking for advice about finding a handyperson to fix the grill. I’d already asked at Hammond Lumber, where I get the propane tank filled (and where I’d gone twice to refill the tank, assuming (incorrectly) that I’d run out of fuel and that’s why the grill wasn’t starting) and asked the staffer who fills tanks if he knew anyone who could fix a gas grill. He didn’t, so he called over another guy. That guy didn’t know either. (The closest Weber service agents are in New Hampshire, 90 miles away in Exeter or Hampton Falls.)

As Facebook friends often do, they neglected the question and instead chimed in with comments such as “Buy a new one” and “It is probably cheaper to buy a new one.”

Another friend wrote, “I have nothing to add here… I do feel sad that there doesn’t seem to be a good answer… speaks volumes for our world right now.”

She was so right. We live in a disposable culture, which contributes mightily to our environmental problems. Sometimes it is true that it is technically cheaper to replace, but then, how long does the replacement last? Gas grills, broken weed whackers – we’ve all seen these discarded items by the side of the road.

I was getting more sure that I didn’t want to contribute, even on a small personal level, to that rubble, not until it was absolutely necessary. Because what is the larger cost, to a world busy churning out short-lived products? Is it even possible that we could someday be “set” with the last version of X, Y or Z we need? It should be. It can be. I still have my father’s shovel from at least 50 years ago.

Then there was the lawnmower I bought my first summer back in Maine, a highly rated electric Worx. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t particularly good, but I could be smug about my contribution to society. Then the battery began refusing to take a charge. When I priced replacement batteries for the now discontinued model, they cost $275 and were six months back-ordered. That was close to the cost of the original mower. Which I rolled to the curb and replaced with a gas mower.

Agren Appliances in Topsham, where I’ve purchased most of my appliances, although not the grill, recommended an independent handyman who was qualified to work with gas appliances.

Bob Masciolla listened to my saga and then asked the question others had put to me.

“Was it a very expensive grill?” he said. “Because what I don’t want you to do is end up putting a lot money into it if you could spend like $150 more and get a new grill.”

He said he’s repaired grills of his own but also let some go, like the one that “basically rusted out” after four years. But he’s still sad about his Vermont Castings grill that lasted nine years and then was no longer feasible to fix.

“I hear you,” Masciolla said. “I hate throwing things out.”

For $98, he’d come for a service visit and figure out exactly what the grill needed. I could order the parts and he’d put them in. But by our estimation, I’d be looking at upwards of $200. He had one more suggestion. “Have you called Weber?” he said.

It sounded to him like there more wrong with my grill than there should be after only six years. He thought it was worth a call, even though I had no original sales receipt, because Weber typically stands behind their products.

“I have been doing this 26 years,” Masciolla said. “And the people who are firm seem to get helped. Some people are very good arguers.”

That would be me.

“All they can do is say no,” he added.

TWO RINGIE DINGIES

Shelley answered the phone at Weber’s call center in Wisconsin. First she walked me through identifying the precise model of the grill. She said it was manufactured in 2008 or 2009. I countered that I didn’t move to Maine until late 2010 and that the earliest I could have bought the grill was 2011 (photo evidence puts the grill’s first appearance at my house in 2012). I prepared to argue, but there was no need. Shelley searched the system for a record of my purchase, but I’d never registered it. I guess I was too eager to get grilling. No problem. I gave her the serial number, and she created an account for me.

I told her everything. Or almost everything. We walked through the schematics of the grill together and picked out the parts I needed, one by one. She thought my propane tank needed a new O-ring (which would cost me pennies). The burner tubes were under a 10-year warranty from Weber. The ignition chamber (that box I was attempting to identify) was not covered. Nor was the rack that held the grease trap on place. The grand total, with free shipping, was $41.57. The parts would arrive in 7 to 10 days.

While I was welcome to use YouTube videos or a handyman to install them, Shelley felt confident in my ability to do it all myself – “if you can work a screwdriver you can do this,” she said,

If I got into trouble, she said I should call and Weber would talk me through it. “It helps to have a buddy on the other end of the phone,” she said.

Shelley was L.L. Beanworthy, in terms of customer service. So was the colleague she put me through to after I confessed to having to use a fire extinguisher on the grill after a grease fire on its last outing. (“I haven’t been trained in thermal events,” Shelley said.) All told, I spent 45 minutes on the phone with Weber and in the process, learned a lot about proper maintenance for the future. I also heard about Shelley’s colleague’s 31-year-old grill. Now I really have something to aspire to.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

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