22 November, 2014

Guilty Pleasure


As with any business that caters to the public at large, I have to deal with the occasional jerk.  One pompous ass specifically.  This particular customer is running under another person's authority and thinks he's God's gift to trucking.  This person also owes us (the shop) a shit-ton of money.  He's making regular payments, but it's akin to spitting on a five alarm fire.  Any other shop would have flat-out told this guy to go fuck himself before doing any additional work or, at the extreme, gone to the extreme of imposing a mechanics' lien on the truck and locked it up until the balance had been paid in full.  Not us.  Someone up on high has allowed Napoleon to continue stacking up debt.  The worst part?  Napoleon still thinks he's priority number one.  He calls and expects us to drop everything to serve him.  Whenever I see him or hear his voice on the phone the only thing in my mind is "Go fuck yourself!"  So, when he showed up last night expecting a starter to be replaced, I reminded him that his balance was going to be much higher than before.  I also kidded that his truck would look pretty good with the shop's logo on the door.  Hinting at the fact he should pay up before we take his shit away from him.  So, it was with much glee that I removed his starter only to find that the replacement starter he had shipped to us... was wrong.  It was 02:00.  I called the "customer", which is an inaccurate term.  Customers pay for services rendered, this guy is more of a moocher.  Anyway, I called, got voice mail, left a message that, in polite terms, said "You're fucked!" and hung up.  The truck is OOS, basically, until Monday.  And I enjoyed every second of letting him know it.  Karma is a mean bitch, isn't it, Napoleon?  Pay up or fuck off!  Your truck can rot in the shop for all I care.  I'll spend my precious time on customers who actually pay their bills.  We're a business, not a fucking charity organization.  Put out or get out, you pompous ass.


11 November, 2014

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

It's Veteran's Day.  It's also (originally was) Armistice Day.  The day "The guns fell silent."  You'll see flags flying, parades, the "support our troops" stickers etc.  I think we all know what a Veteran is. But how well do you know the conflicts these people were a part of? Do you know the things they gave up in order to serve their country? Are you aware that combat Veteran's never really “get over it”? Are you aware that the dwindling number of living WWII Veterans are still sometimes haunted by “their” war almost eighty years after it ended? Have you thought about our peace-time Veterans and the things they gave up to serve their country? Regardless of whether they saw combat or not, they all sacrificed their youth to serve. They didn't get to see their families, didn't get to see their children born by the wives they didn't get to see. They didn't get to see their siblings graduate high school or college. They missed their pets. A vinyl “support our troops” sticker is a hollow gesture if the veterans as a whole are not considered.

Want to know how bad this lack of understanding is? Years ago, on Veteran's Day, I had a brief conversation with a young lady at my local convenience store. She asked me if I would be interested in purchasing one of the “support our troops” stickers. I politely declined. She mumbled something about being unpatriotic (we knew each other fairly well as I was a regular at that store) and I turned to leave, starting to feel a little ashamed of myself. Then, something in my head snapped. I turned back towards her and asked “When did WWI end?” She gave me a blank stare. I then said “It's an easy question to answer. The answer is staring you in the face.” Blank stare. “WWI ended on this day in 1918. Do you happen to know what Veteran's Day was originally called? Armistice Day. WWI ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.” She was beginning to regret her unpatriotic comment towards me. “I'm sorry, that was a bit unfair. Here's an easier question for you. After all, we're both products of the same school system. Where is the WWI memorial (in our town) located?
She replied “In the park with all the others.” Credit to her for, at least, knowing where to find some memorials. “That is incorrect. The WWI memorial is downtown. You've driven by it countless times but, like most people, never see it.” She was, clearly, pissed at me. Probably thought I was trying to be a dick. I was polite during all of this, I was not trying to belittle her at all. I ended with “Veteran's Day is not only about the 'current' conflict. One is not required to display their patriotism and maybe you might read a book or two before you start accusing people of being unpatriotic. I'll see you tomorrow.”

My first experience with a Veteran was my neighbor. He died when I was very young so my memories are limited. Pat was a WWI veteran who saw combat. He was gassed and was in a hospital when his unit returned home. He was left to find his own way back to the US. There was no Veteran's Administration at that time. He got married, had a son and then had to suffer the Great Depression. Then, WWII started and his only son joined the Navy. His son was killed. Went down with his destroyer in the Mediterranean. I'm sure it was heart breaking for Mr. and Mrs N. When my family moved in next door to them, they treated us all like family. Mr. and Mrs. N loved my older siblings and I as if we were their own children. As I mentioned previously, my memories of them are few as I was just a toddler, but I do remember one specific thing. Going next door to visit Mr. N. (his wife had passed away previously) and seeing him sitting in his favorite chair (a green one which eventually ended up in our house), reading his paper and smoking his pipe. Slightly balding gray hair, glasses and slippers. The only other memory I have of him is visiting him in a nursing home, most likely just before he died. He had saved the orange from his lunch so he could give it to me. What a wonderful man. He had seen and experienced some horrible, horrible things, but yet he loved every day.

After my neighbor, I learned of my Father's and multiple Uncle's service in different branches of the military. A large portion of the teachers I had were veterans as well. WWII, Korea and Vietnam. One of them, Mr. Bill, stood out. I was lucky to have him as a teacher not once, but twice. No, I didn't flunk a grade. Mr. Bill switched from teaching fourth grade to teaching fifth grade. I didn't learn of his time in Vietnam until fifth grade. That was the year the Vietnam Memorial Wall was opened in Washington. It was also the time when most of his male students were becoming interested in guns, tanks, planes and war in general. As the callow youth we were, we had no clue what war actually was. The John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” mentality was still predominant, even in the early '80s. As a grown man, I look back on that time and feel ashamed at how ignorant I was. Mr. Bill, being the great human he is, took it in stride. He even showed my how to roll up my sleeves in proper Marine Corps fashion. He told us, as a class, that he would be gone for a week so he could visit the Wall with another teacher from our school, Mr. M. After Mr. Bill's week-long absence he sat us down as a class and explained (briefly, we were young and dumb) the Vietnam war and his participation in it. He shared canned peanut butter with us, showed us some photographs... He even had a Q&A sessions with us. The only question I can remember came from Stacy. She had a speech impediment (regardless, she was a great girl) she asked “So, didju, didju shoot anyone?” An innocent question from a kid who, like the rest of us, was quite clueless. I guess I knew enough about war to think “NOOOOO!!!! You don't ask that sort of thing!!” You see, Mr. Bill and Mr. M were kinda known to the students as having short tempers. You didn't fuck with either of them. Period. So, I was fully expecting Mr. Bill to be sending her to the Principal's office. But, he didn't. He politely declined to answer the question and moved on. He told us about sleeping with his rifle, how he was a machine gunner, about the troubles he had adjusting back to the “real world”, how he was only able to sleep on the floor for months after he came home, how his parents had to learn not to just barge into his room to wake him. I suppose his visit to the Wall, as with many Vietnam veterans, gave him some semblance of inner peace. Enough that he was able to share some of it with his students. To this day he is, hands down, my favorite teacher. And he also remembers the names of every single student he ever had. In my early twenties I had gone to the county fair and found Mr. Bill doing ticket duty at the gate. “Hi Mr. Bill. Good to see you.” “Good to see you too. Don't get into trouble in there, Tim.” “Yes sir.” In junior high I had Mr. Luck, a history teacher. He was fond of saying “War is hell. I know, I've been there!” We used to joke about him saying he was in both the European and Pacific theaters... Goes to show how little I knew. I never learned specifics about Mr. Luck, but I did know he was air crew of some sort. I should look into that...

In more recent times an old friend of mine did a few tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's suffering PTSD, but is learning to cope with it. A few other close friends served, though not in combat. In my mind there is no difference. I remember my Father taking me down to the post office to register for the selective service (I went Navy because that's where Dad served). I never, ever expected to drafted. I remember the start of the first Gulf war. Chad came bursting into the milk cooler at the grocery store and hollered “Pack your bags, we're going to war!” I can hear you chuckling. Yes, it's okay in hindsight, but at that time it hit me right in the core. Before the doors of that milk cooler stopped swinging, I had already figured out what to do with my stuff before I got sent off to the middle east. I kid you not, I was fully expecting to get a letter from Uncle Sam. Cut me some slack, I was 18/19 and very na├»ve. Then came 11 September, 2001. Again, I was expecting a letter from Uncle Sam. “Well, the apartment's on a month to month lease so that can just run out. I can put all of my stuff and my truck at Mom's house....”

I've written about the veterans I've met at that time and since already, so no need to do it again. These days I have a much, much better understanding of war and the things those who fight wars go through. Tip of the hat to the public library and the many veterans I've known throughout the years. Veteran's Day is not about a silly sticker on your SUV or the whole “Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the 'ol oak tree...” nonsense. It's about the people. The people who have sacrificed their lives, their limbs, their mental stability and their family life. All so the rest of us can be free. That's why we honor our veterans on this day.

08 November, 2014

Thoughts of A Mechanic

Me with my first car.  Was during my first "career job" at the time.
Almost daily I ask myself "Did I make the right career choice?"  To which I have no definite answer.  I often think that I should have stayed in school so I might have had a better choice of career.  Ya know what?  I don't think it really matters all that much.  Whatever it is you do day to day, it's still a job.  Should I have continued with a more music oriented path?  Should I have followed the machinist route?  What about art or photography?  I'm a creative type of person so any of those paths would suit me.  Still, choosing your career is like choosing which child you will sacrifice.  I liked working on cars in my youth so I made it my career choice.  It didn't take but ten years (about six professionally) to kill that enthusiasm.  The last thing I want to do, when not at work, is fix anything with an engine.  My lawn mower starts and spins a blade that, mostly, cuts grass.  If an issue doesn't prevent me from cutting grass, it doesn't get fixed.  That age-old line of "The car belonged to a mechanic..." is, despite what you may think, not desirable. A mechanic spends his/her days fixing other peoples' shit.  They don't want to do it at home.  But it's not all about fixing things.

A good mechanic is, generally, an all around problem solver.  It doesn't matter what is in need of repair.  A typewriter, water heater, squeaky recliner, an unsolved crossword puzzle, a broken heart... When something isn't as it should be, a mechanic wants to know why.  Is the problem related to neglect, shitty design, stress failure etc.  The mechanic then thinks about how to solve that problem.  Not just repair it, but prevent it from happening again.  The difference between a mechanic and everyone else can be illustrated by this situation.  A person driving down the road notices their vehicle overheating.  A "fixer" would open the hood and see (fictitious situation here) that the serp belt is broken and/or missing.  The "fixer" would get a belt, throw it on and start moving again.  Only to have that new belt break or get thrown off.  Another new belt, same problem....  A mechanic will see that belt missing and wonder why it's missing.  A mechanic knows that it's very rare for a serp belt to simply break due to failure.  The mechanic would reach into the engine compartment and spin all of the pulleys by hand in order to see if anything has seized or has become sloppy.  Duct tape around a radiator hose is only going to last so long.  Sure, it will get you off the road, but it's not the solution.

I apologize for getting off track.  Long story short, I believe I have made the right choice as career is concerned.  I enjoy solving problems.  Sure, my main goal at the start of every shift is to complete the shift and go home, but I still get caught up in things.  This past Friday I was at shop for fourteen hours.  Why?  See it?  I'm so analytical that I have to figure out why I was at work for fourteen hours!  LOL!  It's a combination of things, not necessarily because I'm a mechanic, but because I'm a product of my parents.  My parents instilled within me an attitude of "Do what needs to be done" and "Do the right thing."  I had a job that (Goddammit!) wasn't going to get the best of me and, also, a long "to do" list.  The public me was brushing off some stuff that wasn't "important enough" to warrant a long shift.  The real me knew (Goddammit!) that I was going to get everything done because it's the right thing to do.  My years at this truck shop have revealed to me just how many people don't give a shit and are willing to pack up and leave at the end of their eight hours.  No thought given to the driver who is half a country away from home, the deadlines that have to be met, the driver's lost income due to the down time etc.  I may have to put in a few more hours, but if it gets that truck rolling again I'm okay with it.  My skills, the skills learned and honed over two decades, are put to good use.  And I get paid for it.  I, occasionally, get tips for my service.  I don't accept them.  I'm just doing my job.  If the customer is adamant about giving me a tip, I'll accept it, then I'll try and slip it back in their truck when they're not looking.  If that's not possible, I'll buy pop, donuts or something else for the shop with that tip.  My pay isn't the greatest, but it's enough to run a single income household with just a shade extra.  I'm doin' okay.

It's when a customer tries to tip me that I know I made the right career choice.  To me, it means I'm doing a good job.  I'm "Using my skills for good, not evil!" as I am wont to say.  I also realize that my skills go beyond the "mechanic" role.  I have a larger vocabulary and a better understanding of writing in general, than the average mechanic.  I also have a tad more creativity overall than the average mechanic.  Not being high brow, just being honest.  My parents, and some really good teachers over the years, have given (and fostered) those skill to me.  My punctuation and grammar are atrocious to a properly educated writer, but I don't think I'm doing too bad when it comes to expressing myself via text.  What do you think?

In conclusion (cheesy closer, I know...) you should follow your instincts.  You should also be aware that the things you may want to make a career out of, may end up being the last thing you want to do.  "Never turn a hobby into a career" comes to mind.  The difficult part is not choosing a career, but making sure you pick the right career for you.  I got mine (as with most things) by dumb luck.  Your experience may differ.

p.s. Thank you so much to the people sent me a note in response to my last post.  I stated right from the beginning that this blog is about me having a way to get things off my chest.  Still, it's nice to know that other people find my (often drunken) ramblings useful.  Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read my blog.  It means a lot to this old S.O.B.