Before moving here, I visited friends who own the quintessential St. Helena home surrounded by vineyards with a lovely blue swimming pool. Sitting poolside sipping chardonnay, I noticed a bucket swarming with yellowjackets. On closer inspection, I observed that the bucket was filled with soapy water and had a chunk of beef floating inside, suspended on a string.

I asked the host whether this was some new pre-barbecue marinade from Sunset Magazine. He explained that it was a homespun solution to the yellowjacket problem suggested by the folks at Steves Hardware. He recounted presenting his yellowjacket issue to Steves’ staff, whereupon some heated debate ensued regarding the superiority of traps versus sprays, the group eventually landing on the soapy-roast-on-a-rope solution.

He apparently worried at the time that this might be a local hazing procedure: “Let’s tell the city guy to dangle his meat in a bucket and see if he’ll do it.” But of course, like most solutions proposed by Steves, it worked.

The only downside, my friend mentioned, was that a visit to Steves could take what seemed like hours while the various experts conferred, argued, and assembled the moving parts needed to address the problem at hand.

After moving here, I had many similar experiences with the guys at Steves tending to my countrified needs — my favorite of which was when my well started to run dry and the plumbers wanted to run a camera through it for  $1,000, Steves sold me one half-inch metal washer (29 cents) and a long piece of string (complimentary with the purchase of the aforementioned washer), which I dangled into the well until it hit the bottom, then measured the amount of wet string to see how much water remained. Brilliant.

Now at the risk of being accused of living in the past and denigrating the present, which could get my column banished to the back of the classified section where it will run every other Groundhog Day, I have to admit that Steves has become much more speedy and efficient than it used to be. Sure, maybe I’ve slowed down to a St. Helena pace, and what once seemed an eternity is now just a St. Helena Minute, which is measured, by the way, in the amount of time you spend sitting at the intersection waiting for the Wine Train to pass and for that super-slo-mo gate to raise up again.

But it does seem that the days of the guys at the hardware store standing around, scratching their whiskers and pondering the best way to fill a square hole with a round plug, chicken wire and some duct tape, have gone the way of handwritten sales slips.

Still, I would happily spend hours at Steves in order to avoid visiting certain parts of Central Valley Hardware. Don’t get me wrong: I regularly shop

Central Valley and find it indispensable, plus it just seems to get better all the time. But spending time there is, I imagine, what it must be like when you die and approach St. Peter’s Gate.

On one side is Heaven, typified by Central Valley’s garden section, where helpful, happy, knowledgeable workers give thoughtful advice, lift heavy objects for you, and generally fill your world with fruit, flowers and fragrance.

Then there is the Purgatory of Central Valley: the main indoor section of the store. Shopping here, for me, can either be quick, efficient and satisfying, or a bewildering maze where I wander lost and alone, beckoned forward by the inviting scent of freshly popped popcorn that never actually materializes.

And then there is the dreaded Back Yard. Exiting through those two swinging back doors I feel I should be wearing a hospital gown with my backside exposed, as some humiliation inevitably waits on the other side. It’s not that they’re unhelpful; they’ll fill your propane tank and load it into your car. But I always feel I don’t belong back there, not being a contractor, not being a male, and clearly having been profiled by the employees as one of those unwary customers most likely to step in front of a crane or get hit upside the head with a two-by-four.

On the plus side, the Yard definitely moves at the slower St. Helena pace formerly featured at Steves, and offers the scent of freshly cut lumber and of sweaty men working with their hands. So if this is what Hell turns out to look like, it might not be so bad after all.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna on Main Street, a resident of St. Helena, a former attorney and Broadway theatrical producer and an author and columnist.)