By Trent Rentsch
I’ve come to realize that popping the hood of my car automatically drops my I.Q. at least 50 points. While certain of my friends drool over a turbo-charged, 5 or 38 horse-powered V-something or other engine, I drool because I’m a total idiot when it comes to cars and have no idea if I’m looking at a piston or the place where you put windshield wiper fluid. That’s been especially frustrating lately, as this signal keeps beeping, “You’re almost out of windshield wiper fluid, you moron!” It doesn’t really talk, but if it did I’m sure it would also have some rude response when I wonder out loud where to put it. I’ve been wondering that out loud for nearly three months now. Barring a blinding mudslide or threat of divorce from my wife, my fear of a visual lobotomy will keep me wondering until my next oil change. I really must find out if 32,431 miles is too soon for that.
Well-meaning friends have tried to raise my car consciousness. I remember a former mechanic friend spent a Saturday afternoon attempting to enlighten me. It went something like this:
“Okay, the hood is up. Open your eyes and tell me what you see.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“You might try taking your hands away from your eyes too…”
“And then you OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE?”
“No, that would be the engine.”
“Yes, engine. Now stay with me. The engine drives the car.”
“Me thought me drive car…”
“No, I mean the engine powers the car.”
“Engine good, engine friend.”
“Ah, yeah. Anyway, that round metal thing on top of the engine is where your air filter goes. Let me show you…”
“NO!! NO TAKE OFF ENGINE’S HEAD!!!”
My friend bravely went on for another 5 minutes until it became clear that I wasn’t faking my ignorance of motorized vehicles, and that he needed several shots of whiskey.
He also felt the need to leave the state without a forwarding number, so I was in serious trouble when the, “The left rear blinker is out, Moron” signal started beeping at me. After discovering that several other mechanically able friends now had unlisted numbers, I decided to make a new friend at this mysterious place I had heard about, the auto parts store.
I am proud to say that I had all the information the guy behind the counter needed (translation: I pulled him out to the lot and showed him my car). He handed me a small package that held a light bulb, and gave me a look as if to say, “Here you go.” I gave him a look like, “What, this doesn’t come assembled?” Sensing my panic (maybe it was the quivering bottom lip), he explained that clear instructions were included, and then had the nerve to act as if he was finished with me. Hustled out the door, I stared at the bulb, then my car. Now I was faced with two choices: continue to only make right turns for as long as I owned the car or tough it out and try to install it myself.
I am happy to report that I am now an expert at replacing left rear blinker bulbs. The instructions were clear, complete with pictures, and step by step I navigated the complicated procedure of opening my trunk, turning the little socket thingy and pulling it out, then pulling out the old bulb and sticking in the new one. I was even able to pull off the maneuver in reverse to put the whole thing back together again. Never again will I fear being without the power to turn left in my car. Let’s just see if the warning beeper dares signal that the RIGHT blinker is out!
I try to remember all of this when someone comes in the production room and plays dumb about the equipment. On the surface it seems ridiculous that people who have been in the business forever don’t know how to operate some of the gear, forcing me to take time away from my own work to assist them with theirs. How can they possibly forget everything I showed them just the day before… and the day before that?! Of course they are not THAT stupid! All they want is someone to do all their work for them. Bunch of slackers!
There really might be others reasons than sheer laziness. Just as I didn’t get the “cars-are-very-cool-and-can-be-re-built-blindfolded” gene, some people don’t have the “computers-are-the-best-toys-invented-gimme-more-software-to-learn” gene. Heck, I even know Creatives that don’t have that gene, but what they do have going for them is working on the equipment constantly, learning what it takes to make the equipment sing by necessity. Some people at the station may only have to approach the production room once or twice a week, and even if they’ve been shown what each of the 80 gazillion buttons does, they can’t possibly be expected to remember them from one time to the next. So, I do have sympathy for them… but not to the point of doing all their work for them.
The answer is some sort of reference material, like the left blinker light bulb company supplied me. Of course, if you’ve braved the material that comes with most audio equipment and software packages, you know that most are written so poorly that they could make the most techno-geeky gearhead beg for turntables and cart machines.
For me, it’s come down to writing my own instructions or sentencing myself to an eternity of emailing MP3s. My first stab at it came when the first computer editing system appeared in the production room of KELO a lifetime ago. I had been spending so much time pouring over the ads about Session 8 that I could do a pretty decent mix down right out of the box, but many of my colleagues had yet to touch the aging 1/2-inch 4-track reel-to-reel. As the GM expected me to teach “everybody” how to use it, and knowing that I didn’t want to spend more than 23 hours of the day at the station, I made a list of the most basic functions, the ones the average user would need to do their work. From that list I created a step-by-step list of how those functions worked, and surprised myself at how many steps it took to do some things. No wonder some people thought it was complicated! The good news is that it worked, and since that time I have written basic instructions for many different systems and procedures, saving my co-workers a lot of frustration, and in the long run saving myself a lot of time.
Everything comes with instructions, but not all of them are helpful. Sometimes things just need to be simplified. Like windshield wiper fluid. Maybe if I pour a little into every spout under the hood…