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The Tristar That Got Away

Photo: Tristar Vacuum CleanerYou learn something new every day. Over the years I have grown attached to, of all things, a vacuum cleaner but not just any vacuum cleaner. I’m talking a vintage Tristar. Long story short, a number of years ago, driving through Los Angeles, I noticed a garaged door opened with hundreds of vacuum cleaner hoses on display. I pulled over and discovered what could almost be a vacuum cleaner museum and somewhere among all the hoses, vacuums, brushes and accessories—Saul Lewinson—a little old Jewish man stooped over piddling with a vacuum cleaner motor standing at his workbench. Saul was a remarkable man, pushing ninety, a retired vacuum cleaner salesman back in the day when vacuums were sold by an army of door-to-door salesmen just like Saul. And a good one, I walked away with a genuine refurbished Tristar vacuum cleaner.

You see these vacuum cleaners could survive the apocalypse and then some. These machines were made out of a heavy-duty steel construction that feels like cast-iron and the earliest models were originally made to clean aircraft in the 1940's. Saul explained the patented vacuum motor and how it continued to outperform any vacuum cleaner on the market—yesterday, today and probably tomorrow. Of course, Saul demonstrated its power like only a top salesperson can. I’ve grown to love my Tristar over the years even through an occasional repair.

[BTW, my wife thinks I’m crazy yet through thick and thin has indulged my attachment to the Tristar. It looks ancient and jet-age at the same time. It almost suggests a martini as the perfect compliment. Oh, and it’s like dragging an elephant through the house while vacuuming.]

The years have ticked by, TVs have come and gone, dishwashers rusted away, computers fossilized and telephone companies morphed into cable monopolies but the Tristar just keeps sucking along—until last week.

I vacuumed out the car no problem, turned off the Tristar and couldn’t get it to budge a couple days later—nothing. Now keep in mind, my wife has been begging me to get rid of the Tristar for years and upgrade into something a bit more 21st Century. It seemed time to let the ol' Tristar go.

That’s all back story. Here’s the point—after due diligence researching the latest online reviews I purchased a nice Miele HomeCare vacuum from a local dealer here in Pasadena who even offered to dispose of the ol' Tristar. So after close to twenty years, a new vacuum cleaner! The earth had moved.

Now Miele is a highly-regarded brand so it wasn’t the cheapest option by any stretch. I came home and my wife could hardly believe what she was looking at—a thoroughly modern, cute, mango red canister vacuum cleaner including a few bells and whistles.

But in less than a day I found myself wondering whether I had made the right move. Maybe I should call the dealer back and see what it would cost to repair the Tristar? Maybe I should hold onto it as a back-up? Maybe it just looked too cool to let slip away?

Now here’s the point about assistive technology. Thursday is the day we have Paula come to clean our house. Now while no stranger pulling the ol’ Tristar around the house, it’s Paula who really rolls up her sleeves for the heavy lifting and with the Tristar I mean heavy lifting. Paul is a tiny woman standing no more than five feet.

When I pulled out the new vacuum cleaner you should have seen Paula’s face light up. You would have thought it was Christmas morning. In that moment I realized that for so many years I had been thinking only about my experience with the Tristar and how much I’d grown attached to it. I wasn’t thinking about my wife and I certainly wasn’t thinking about Paula.

There was a valuable lesson learned that morning and I was again reminded that technology—the assistive technology, the tool, the device—is always changing and the focus must always stay on who is using the technology and for what purpose. Needs change, tools change. The Tristar had long become more a museum artifact than an efficient tool no matter how strong its suction. The new Miele is lightweight, easy to maneuver, and includes a filtration system that cleans and purifies the exhaust Paula's breathes.

I finally decided to stop thinking about the Tristar that got away and instead about the tools and people around me. I have a feeling that Paula is not going to miss the ol’ Tristar.

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