Some of you may know that I fix things for a living. For those of you who don’t – I fix things for a living. What they do is not terribly important for the purposes of this particular rant, and the technical details would probably make your eyes glaze over before you got to the good part. Instead, I’m going to employ a literary device known as a simile. It might even evolve into a metaphor, but I’m certainly not ambitious enough to make it an allegory.
What I’m going to do is compare the thing I work on – which none of you will be familiar with – to something most of you should be at least casually familiar with: The family car.
Let’s say that I worked on cars for a living. I didn’t really do it for the general public – I got the cars the other mechanics couldn’t figure out how to fix. They would drop them off at my shop, I would do my magic, and they would be happy. I would be remunerated for my services and they could go back to changing oil and replacing spark plugs. Sometimes it’s a time-consuming job they don’t want to tackle. Sometimes it’s a part they don’t stock.
Sometimes it’s just stupid.
I don’t get to see these “cars” operating out on the streets, and I don’t talk directly to the owners to get an idea what the problem is. Instead, I have asked the people who send them to me to include a note outlining the problems they have observed. I thought the result would be obvious – I would get a cogent, detailed technical summary of what the problem was and what steps had already been tried. Nope. I got a large number of “cars” with notes that said “broken” or “not working”. Gee, thanks. Now, I can troubleshoot, but I might miss something if it’s not obvious. Let’s say your car stalls when you have the left blinker on and make a right turn – I’m not likely to test that particular scenario on a whim.
So, I asked for more detailed explanations on my repairs.
I will put what happened today into automotive terms. All names have been changed to protect the innocent. I received a “car” along with a note that said, in effect, “please change all four tires”. I looked at the tires and they were in very bad shape. I hauled out my jack and my lug wrench, and I changed the tires. This seemed to me like something any ordinary mechanic could handle, but who am I to turn away business? Maybe he didn’t have any tires. Now, I like to be sure my work is done right, so I hop in to test drive the “car”. Huh. It won’t start. Looks like the battery is dead. So, I haul out a new battery and change that out, then try it again. It still won’t start. Several diagnostic steps later, I determine that the “car” has a blown engine. And a bad transmission. And there’s a hole in the radiator. And the lights don’t work.
I can only conclude from this that the prior troubleshooting went as follows: Car not go. Round things make car go. Round things must be bad. Need new round things.
Now I understand those faces my mechanic makes when I drop off my car. I’m a bit of a hobbyist auto mechanic, and I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for before I drop the car off. I might tell him: “It’s idling rough. I already replaced the IAC and tested the Mass Airflow sensor. I think it might be a vacuum leak.” He then scrunches up one side of his mouth and squints at me, as if saying “Yeah, sure, buddy. Why don’t you leave the car repairs to the grown-ups, OK?” To which I feel like screaming “Look, buddy, I’ve changed the oil cooler in a 2.8 liter SAAB V6, so don’t talk to me like I don’t know what I’m doing, OK?!” “I’ve seen the elephant. I’ve been there and done that. The reason I’m here is because you have a lift, it’s twenty degrees outside, and I don’t feel like busting my knuckles again to change out a stupid oxygen sensor.”
But I wouldn’t do that, because that would be snarky.
I think next time I drop off my car, I’ll just leave a note:
My car is making a noise like this – Wooooooooommmmmmm…clunk. Please fix it.
Let him figure it out. That’s his job.