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Monday, January 30, 2012

Circuitry, Clarinets and More Guns

I’m proud to say that I’m the only one who got all of the circuitry questions right on our homework assignment from last week! At least for one night, it went from “Holly? You have a funny look on your face. Do you understand?” to “Holly, why don’t you tell everyone the answers.” And while I’m really happy that I understand the concepts of voltage, amperage and resistors, I’m not counting my chickens or anything. I still don’t know how a car works--what happens when you put the key in the ignition. But the circuitry works for me. I understand the formulas used to work the problems and it’s a matter of plugging in numbers where they belong.

I understand it like I understood playing the clarinet in middle and high school: I was good at it--I knew how to sight-read and where to put my fingers and how long to hold each note. But what I couldn’t do is make my own music without notes on paper to show me how--to create music from scratch. The jump from notes to art just didn’t work. In doing my circuitry homework over the weekend, there’s a fault somewhere in my jump from drawings on paper to questions like: “A vehicle has four parking lights all connected in parallel and one of the bulbs burns out. Technician A says that this could cause the parking light circuit fuse to blow (open). Technician B says that it would decrease the current in the circuit. Which technician is correct?” These questions require me to transfer something I’m confident of on paper into a weird, unknown universe where I’m not sure what I’m doing.

So, darlings, I got a lot more to learn.

More conversations in the classroom
The Mumbler: “Here comes Holly with her favorite sweater.”
Me: “Hey -- I made this sweater!” I’m very proud of my sweater.
The Mumbler: “I would never have the patience to do something like that.”
All-American: “What’s that?”
Me: “Knitting?”
All-American: “No, patience. What’s patience?”
Jiffy: “Patience is not getting frustrated and getting out your shotgun when you’re fishing.”

I can’t make this stuff up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Conversations in class

Me: “Hey All-American – whatcha reading?”
All-American: “The Proto Industrial Tools Catalog, a/k/a AWESOME.”

Jiffy: “What’s your favorite time of day?”
Me: “Well, it used to be 5:00 but then I had to start coming here. What’s yours?”
Jiffy: “12:51 because it’s a mirror of itself.”
Me: “Seriously? THAT’S the reason it’s your favorite time of day?”
Jiffy: “Yeah – that’s cool.”

Boom Box: “Yeah, my uncle has the old pure nitrous oxide. Not that crap they make now. He’s got the illegal stuff and a big huge tank of it.”
Jiffy: “Man, I’m jealous. I wish my uncles were cool like that. One’s a rocket scientist and the other’s a naval officer.”

Mr. Shado: “Women want to know why guys do things. Men don’t really care, but women do care. They want to know why because they care. Isn’t that right, Holly?”
Me: “I just want to know why you didn’t do it the way I told you to do it the first time.”
Mr. Shado: “Well, there is that, I guess.”
Sleepy: “You need to keep record of when you’re right so you can rub it in her face later.”
Mr. Shado (married for 45 years): “No, no… no… um… I don’t think that’s a good idea… no.”
Pitbull (married for 9 years): “Boy, he’s got a lot to learn.”
Me: “Indeed he does.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Auto Mechanics, Gaming and Guns

I’ve had two classes since my last update. Last Thursday night’s class went more in depth on circuits and it got a lot more confusing. Series circuits and parallel circuits and series-parallel circuits and figuring out the voltage, amps and ohms throughout them all. Though I wasn’t the only student whose eyes appeared to be glazed over, I did begin to feel a bit guilty when Mr. Shoda looked directly at me and said “What about you, Holly? You get that?” every time he introduced a new topic. Ugh.

I did a lot of homework over the weekend and I’m confident that either I understand it very well or I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’ll know which it is after tonight’s class. ThatGuy checked my homework last night and gave his seal of approval, which is comforting. He’s smart like that.

Last night’s class was the first in my Intro to Auto Tech course so we met a new teacher and introduced ourselves to him, which was interesting because I got to find out a little bit more about my classmates. Mr. Forrest is younger than Mr. Shoda and has a very diverse background (from forklifts to cars to trucks to airplanes, instructing in all of those areas as well). He’s a soft-spoken avid outdoorsman and I can already see some problems with him trying to compete for the class’s attention against Jiffy and Boom Box.

Since we did another round of introductions, let me introduce a few more characters to you as well. We sit alphabetically so I’ll start with the beginning of my row.

First, in his right and proper place in the world, there’s All-American. Blond, dimples, perfect cheerleader teeth, smiles a lot, easy-going personality.

Jiffy. My mentor.


Brooklyn to my left. I’m going to drag a little more information out of him soon.

Low-Pants. If he wore a ballcap, I’m sure it would sit sideways on his head. From Detroit but been here for 10 years. Quiet.

The Mumbler. Wants to become a mechanic so he can fix people’s brakes in his front yard. Currently unemployed.

Then we have a row of boys that don’t talk all that much, ending with Sleepy who you’ve already met. He hasn’t slept since that first class so maybe I should rename him, but I like calling him Sleepy. During one of our breaks, I happen to find myself walking out with him and saw his right hand was all wrapped up in an Ace bandage. When I asked him about it, he shrugged (these kids like to shrug a lot) and said, “qualifying round in a gaming competition.” He’s serious about his gaming.

On the far wall, we have:

Boom Box. He and Jiffy get in a lot of discussions across the room about cars. And guns.

The Ex. Used working on cars as a means of therapy through his divorce and found out he really enjoyed it.

The Kid. Just graduated from a technical high school. Hasn’t said a single word the entire time and keeps his head down.

Pitbull. Been married for 9 years and has a 19-year-old stepdaughter who is also in college. Shows American Terriers.

There are several others and I’ll introduce you to them a little later.

Overall, I think I’m becoming the class pet, or at least Jiffy’s pet, which I’m completely cool with. When Mr. Forrest asked if everyone knew what something-or-other was, Jiffy would turn to me and raise his eyebrows as a gentle inquiry on whether I needed further instruction. I generally did. At one point I whispered over to him “What’s a hemi?” and he promptly drew a technical diagram to show me the differences between a hemi cylinder and a regular cylinder. He’s very helpful.

Before class, in discussions with All-American, Jiffy, The Mumbler and Boom Box, I found out that:

1. Jiffy just ordered a C-93 which is the Spanish equivalent of the AK-47 assault rifle, but the AK-47 isn’t technically an assault rifle -- it’s a battle rifle because of the size of the bullets. The C-93 is an assault rifle.

2. Eggs and apples make for great target practice. All-American pointed out that honeydews also make great targets, but they're expensive and taste really good so you should probably just eat them instead. Jiffy's more of a cantaloupe guy. For eating, that is.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Class Lesson:In class yesterday, we went over the basics of electricity: protons, electrons, conductors, insulators, series circuit, Ohm’s Law (E=IR, one volt pushes one amp through one ohm), volts, amps, ohms, watts, etc. Mr. Shado said that no one really understands how electricity works, to which Sleepy (the kid who fell asleep in the previous class) piped up with “like women.” Mr. Shado said he’s been married for 45 years and still doesn’t understand women. A nod in my direction and I confirmed that, indeed, I don’t understand men so we’re basically even.

We had to sit alphabetically, which put me next to 19-year-old Jiffy (so named because he works at, you probably guessed it, Jiffy Lube). Now, Jiffy is a smart kid. He’s been working on cars for pretty much his whole life. He’s “car smart” (can wax poetic on the slight tint differences in the various shades of red paint that Chevrolet uses) as well as “useless information smart” (the origination of the word “fob”), although you could argue that the first example is really better assigned to the latter category. But he’s 19 and still a little socially ignorant. Let’s go back to class.

The flow of electricity is the movement of electrons over atoms. A basic series circuit has the following parts: battery, fuse, switch, and resistor. Fuses are coded with how many amps they can take and the codes are based on a color system where the colors represent specific numbers. The colors are (in order): black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, white. Mr. Shoda said he thought there was a mnemonic device out there to help remember the colors and Jiffy piped up with:

“Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly.”

Seriously? Now, I could get on my feminist soapbox here about how men in power don’t see anything wrong with the word “rape” in a mnemonic device, or how a word that can bring potent fear into the hearts of women doesn’t even hit a blip on the insensitivity meter for men, or even how poor Violet gets a bad rap, but I don’t think I need to. When I scoffed at Jiffy, he simply shrugged and said “well, that’s how I learned it.” I told Nanook about this last night and her response:

“Welcome to the boy’s club. Just wait until you get to the pin-up calendars.”


We discussed real-life examples of wiring problems, but we still haven’t touched an actual car. Mr. Shado promised that we’ll get an in-class lab to play with circuits tonight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mr. Shado

Class: M-R, 5:50-10:30 pm; 20 students

I walked in at 5:45 to a small, silent room filled with lounging boys avoiding eye contact with each other around a U-shaped table. My instructor came in shortly after that and introduced himself. “My name is Mr. Shado. You may call me Mr. Shado. Or Sir.” It didn’t take him long to acknowledge the token female (yours truly) as “the girl.” After roll call (we have an Earl, a Jeffrey, Brandon, Robert, Paul, David, and even two Jameses -- names will be changed later once I get to know them a little bit), he told us a little about himself (for, like, 30 minutes). He’s an old Detroit car guy who asked me if it was alright if he said “you guys” instead of “y’all” and I assured him that it did not offend. He reminds me a lot of my father.

During our introductions, I conceded the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing and I’ll just be happy if I can keep up with everyone else.

Mr. Shado: “Did you ever take stuff apart when you were a kid?”
Me: “Well, um, sometimes.” I lied.
Mr. Shado: “Did you get it to work after you took it apart?”
Me: “Um, well, most of the time.” I lied.

We proceeded to go through the 6-page syllabus line by line, commentary interspersed throughout (“I remember when...” “Is anyone familiar with...” “When I worked on the F-series...,” etc.). He asked if everyone knew what a carberator is and everyone (except me, of course) nodded. I reached over to my 1700-page, 92-lb text book and looked in the index. Carberator... carberator... carberator... NO CARBERATOR! I have since come to understand that it’s actually spelled “carbUrEtor” and they aren’t used in cars anymore (hence, no mention in the index). I’d still feel better if I understood it, though. Must do some research. Anyone got an easy explanation?

Overall, a lot of words I didn’t understand (throttle, alternator, 3-phase AC generation, plus many more that I have already forgotten). I’m in a little over my head. But that’s OK. It was fun and kept my attention (unlike the kid in the back of the class who fell asleep after the first 45 minutes).

We never touched an actual car.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How This Works

I know nothing about cars. Nothing. Never changed my oil or fixed a flat. I get a different reading every time I check the air pressure in my tires, which makes me think I’m even doing that wrong. My biggest success is changing the headlights. (Never mind that I bought the wrong ones in the first place. That was a fluke--I forgot the model year of my car.) I was bound and determined to change my own brake pads (did all kinds of research online about it and we all know you can learn anything from strangers online), but glad I decided not to in the end. Turns out that cars have back brakes too. Huh. Who knew? I would have changed the front brakes.

My first class is next Tuesday night, January 17, 2012. If all goes according to plan, I’ll have a diploma in Automotive Fundamentals by May 2013. I don’t know where I’ll go from there. I’m just taking it one step at a time. There’s a fine line between giving up too easily and pushing yourself to do something you despise and I have no idea how I’ll feel about it.

If it doesn’t work out, I think I’ll try horticulture next.
Or welding.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Why in the world would you want to be a mechanic? That’s the question I get from everyone. The answer I give depends on the audience. At work, I say "Don't worry - I don't think I'll quit my job to fix cars. It's just a curiosity. Something to get me outside my comfort zone a little bit. Nothing should change.” I want to make sure my bosses don’t think I’m less engaged in my current job. Nothing like a little fear of replacement to help downplay the new schooling.

I also downplay it to my parents and brother. Fear of being the family laughing-stock helps me downplay it here. I’m convinced they think I don’t have the ability to do it. And my fear of exactly that convinces me to downplay it to my family. And my dear grandmother wants me to forget about it because little Rain “needs me at home.”

To my friends, I can tell more of the truth. I’m tired of sitting behind a desk all day. All I do is follow directions. I’m good at it and find no fault with the system. The fault lies with my burn out--I’m not making a difference to anyone or anything. I want to fix some problems, solve some puzzles, get off my ass and get my hands dirty for once. Will becoming a mechanic make a difference in the world? Probably not. All I know is that I’m not doing it now. Perhaps simply learning a new trade will help me become more satisfied in my current job. Maybe it’ll show me that I’m good at being a secretary for a reason and the blue grass on the other side of the collar really isn’t my color. You never know until you try.

Why? In short, my answer is “Why not?”