Overhead wires.

Recently, we made a trip to Cincinnati to visit our daughter Rachel. She got a job down there a few weeks ago so we went down to visit her.

Ohio is an interesting state to say the least. They do things differently down there. Besides having a lower speed limit on the interstate, 65, they also have a different view of life in general. For example, they have signs noting that there are overhead wires.

Now, it is not that the wires hang low enough that a tall load on a truck might hit them. On the contrary, those wires are so high that it would require a low flying plane to hit them. A truck carrying a load that high would never make it under the over passes which the wires are often right next to.

And, it is not like the wires sign are far enough back to give you adequate warning in the event that an ice storm might pull them down. No, the signs are right before you get to the wires. Certainly not enough time to stop before you hit the wires.

And, they have a sign just after the wires. I guess that is in case you just ran over the fallen wires and wondered what that snapping sound was. Or maybe it is for people who just decided to stop and back up. “Hey you! Before you back up, you should know that there are over head wires that could fall on you.”

I’ll bet that one of the governor’s won a reelection campaign based on the overhead wires issue “Can’t be too safe here in Ohio.”

I have been in Ohio for two days now and already I have a months worth of blog material.

Bell Heads; the Western Electric connection.

I was talking with a guy a while back, who worked for the phone company. He was a little shaken up because he almost lost his job.

He was in charge of the tool crib when an installer came to him looking for a new screw driver. When he went back to screw driver bin, he realized that his shipment of Western Electric tools had not arrived yet.

Feeling bad about not having a screw driver for the installer, he told him to stop back after lunch and he would have a screw driver for him. He then ran down the street during his lunch hour to the local hardware store where he purchased a screw driver for $1.00.

When he returned, he checked his Western Electric catalog for the price of a Western Electric screw driver. It was $10.00.

At first, he thought it to be a misprint. But, when he checked previous invoices, he discovered that they were, indeed, $10.00.

Concerned that the telephone company was being over charged by Western Electric, he sent a letter to his superiors. Why should the telephone company pay $10.00 for a tool that the hardware store sells for $1.00? After all, a screw driver was a screw driver.

The answer is quite simple. The telephone company is regulated as to how much money they can make. But, Western Electric, a subsidiary, is not. Therefore, Western Electric can make as much money as they want. And the money that they make translates into profits for the share holders.

So, the phone company buys everything from high priced Western Electric. And, the high priced equipment cuts into the phone company’s profits so that they are barely breaking even. And when they are barely breaking even, they show the government their books and ask for a rate increase. Meanwhile, Western Electric shows record profits.

Bell Heads, my team vs your team.

The State likes to hire retired Bell Heads and retired Bell Heads like working for the State. (Bell Heads are life long employees of the phone company.) The reason for this is that most Bell Heads do not have a college degree and therefore, can’t find a decent job in the private sector. And while the State isn’t the highest paying place, it is better than being a greeter at a Walmart.

But, in spite of their lack of education, they are highly competitive. They have to be, because their income, as a Bell Head, depends on their job performance.

The phone company is broken up into teams. And, each team is expected to perform up to and above the company standards. Unfortunately, sometimes this competition works to the detriment of the phone company as a whole. In short, they have the attitude that if I can’t make my team look good, I’ll at least make your team look bad.

First, we have the installation team. The installation team has a finite number of days to complete the orders that they receive. If they fail to complete the orders during that time period, their team looses points. And, those points determine how much money they will receive.

Next, we have the cable team. The cable team has budgeted for cable projects. These projects include replacement of old and installation of new cable. The cable team is expected to complete all of their projects at or under budget. If they fail to do this, they will loose points and money.

Then we have the repair team. The repair team is expected to all repair problems in a finite number of days. If they fail to do so, they will loose points and money.

Now, lets look at a common team vs team situation. You live out in the country, a few miles from town and you decide that you need a second phone line for your modem. So, you place an order for a second phone line and wait for it to be installed.

When the installer goes out to install your second phone, he discovers that there is not any spare cable available for your new phone line. The cable team can not run more cable into the area because it is not in their budget. If they go over budget, they will loose points and money. And while they will eventually address the problem, it will take time to adjust their budget.

Now, the installer is faced with a problem. He has a finite number of days to install the phone. If he can not install the phone on time, his installation team will loose points and money. So, to remedy the problem, he unhooks an existing phone and uses that cable for the new install. Problem solved. No loss of points.

Next, the repair team is given the problem of a dead phone. The repair team has a finite number of days to fix the dead phone.

When the repairman gets on the scene, he discovers that there is no cable available for the phone, so he disconnects another phone to fix the one that is dead. Problem solved. No loss of points.

Eventually, the cable team will get more cable installed but until that time, they play musical phones, disconnecting first one phone and then another. And while it may be inconvenient for the telephone customers, for the phone company it is a win win situation.

Bell Heads, the dummy down.

In the 18 years that I have worked for the state, I have found that they like to hire retired Bell Heads.

Bell Heads are the life long employees of the telephone company. They are called Bell Heads because they have learned how the telephone company operates and they comply with all of its rules and regulations.

In many respects, the telephone company operates like the military. And, like the military, there is the right way, the wrong way and the military way. Or, in this case, the Bell way.

The first thing to be noted about the telephone company is that they prefer that you are not highly educated. A college degree is highly frowned upon.

First of all, a college degree means that you have a quantified education and a quantified educations means that you are a commodity in the job market. In short, a degree in Engineering from MIT says a whole lot more than a non-degree with 10 years of engineering experience with the phone company. The degree is quantifiable. The experience is not.

Second, because a degree is quantifiable, you could end up having more education than your boss and that is not good. The last thing that a Bell Head boss wants is for his employees to be smarter than he is. After all, if the employee is smarter than his boss then maybe the employee should be the boss.

In an effort to dummy down their employees, the phone company restricts the amount of education that you get for doing your job. Instead of giving you an Ohm Meter and showing you how to measure resistance on a cable, they give you meter A and tell you that the cable has to read between 7 and 10.

You don’t have to know what you are measuring, all you have to know is that if the reading is between 7 and 10, the cable is good. Knowing how to use an Ohm meter is a skill not needed for the job and a skill that will make you more valuable to another employer.

Now, this is not to say that the phone company won’t hire someone with a degree. Obviously, they do need some people with college degrees. It is just that the vast majority of their staff do not have college degrees and the phone company prefers it that way.

In short, the phone company wants their employees to be totally dependent on the phone company for their jobs. A college degree means independence.

An alarming situation!

The fire alarm system in the Hieminga Hall/library complex at Calvin College was one of the oldest systems on the campus. Parts were obsolete and hard to obtain. It had been retrofitted several times and rewired continuously. And as such, it didn’t always work.

In particular, the pull stations that hang on the walls, were not reliable. But, this didn’t concern the college too much.  The main thing was giving the appearance of a fire alarm system in the building.  After all, the school had relatively few fires and the fire marshal never actually tested the systems.  In fact, there was always some question as to who had jurisdiction; the city or the state.

But, as luck would have it, a new fire marshal came around and this fire marshal was going clean up the town, er campus.  Inparticular, he wanted to test the fire alarm system in the Hieminga Hall/library complex and this is where I came on to the scene.

Fortunately for the college, the fire marshal gave them advanced warning of his intentions.  And knowing that fire marshal was going to test a system that may or may not work, I was stationed, with a two way radio, in the basement of the building by the fire alarm panel.

On the fire alarm panel was a manual alarm switch and when that switch was activated, the building alarms would sound.  So, the plan was quite simple.  When he got on the radio to notify the staff that he was now going to pull the alarm, I was to flip the manual alarm switch.

And so it came to pass.  He got on the radio and notified the staff that the fire alarm was going to sound.  And on cue, I flipped the switch and the alarms sounded.

Unfortunately, I was a little too quick on the switch.  Nerves I guess.  Anyway, I flipped the switch before he could pull the alarm station. Fortunately, the fire marshal was too interested in the fact that the alarms were sounding to notice that the alarms sounded about a second before the station got pulled.  Details, details, details.

The fire marshal was impressed and the college passed.  Since the plan worked relatively easily, I was regularly called into service for the alarm inspections as that was not the only flaky system on the campus.

Fortunately, the campus had few fires.

Praise the Lord! I’ve been hit!

A few years ago, I was in a minor auto accident. It was no big deal. Some kid pulled out of a parking lot and broadsided me. We were both probable only going 20 MPH and neither of us were hurt.

What was so unusual about the accident was the way that I responded. Instead of being angry, or upset or even annoyed, I was filled with love and compassion and forgiveness, the kind of stuff that comes from God.

Clearly he was at fault so he was all apologetic about the accident. I told him not to worry about it. After all, neither of us were injured.

I am sure the cop must have thought my reaction to be very strange as first, but when he commented on my Calvin Alumni sticker on my windshield, I am sure that it all made sense.

Once the cop finished the paper work, he told us we could leave. We both shook hands and went our separate ways. I never knew the name of the cop or the other guy but I am sure that every one involved will always remember that accident.

It still brings warm feelings to my heart. In a world filled with so much hate and pain, I got to show God’s love to a total stranger.

Members of my former church.

From time to time, I run into members of my former church. And, depending on my frame of mind and the member, I either approach them or avoid them. Such is the way of transition.

Usually, the members of my former church that I like, I approach. And, of course, they ask where we are now attending and why we left.

Where as, members of my former church that I don’t particularly care for, I try to avoid. And even though they ask the same questions, it is difficult to keep from saying that they are a part of the reason that we left. And such was the case that other day at Meijers. (regional grocery chain)

When I walked into the store, I spotted her. She was about 50 feet in front of me, headed for the back of the store. Since that is what I would normally do, I hung around in the front of the store and gave her a good head start. Then, I proceeded carefully on my way.

Now, this person is extremely opinionated, outspoken and ‘in your face’ aggressive. While the first two traits are tolerable, the aggressiveness is a thorough turn off. It is her way or the highway.

In fact, there are several women in my former church that fall into that category. I often refer to them as the roller derby queens or the biker club.

I thought I had managed to avoid her in the store, but as I was checking out, she got in line right behind me. Rats! And, as expected, she asked the usual questions and I gave her the standard answers.

She told me that the ministers sermons were getting much better and that she really wanted us to come back. She said that she really missed us and that the church really needed us. I told her that the ministers sermons were not the reason that we left. And her mouth fell open when I told her that we have been planning on leaving for about 5 years.

When she asked why we had left, I told her that the church was dying because it refused to change with the times. And I pointed out that all of the young adult couples have left for live and active churches.

It was at this point that she raised the hackles on her neck and clinched her fists. She told me that she has been attending that church for over 30 years and that no one was going to change the way that she worshiped. I told her that I understood what she was saying but pointed out that her style of worship was the reason that the young couples were leaving.

As she went into a tirade, I made my exit. I guess when she said that she missed us, I really think she meant that she missed our money which helps support her style of worship. Oh well.

The death of Bucky.

One of my carpoolers has a Bucky or should I say, had a Bucky. For those of you who do not know what a Bucky is, it is a horseshoe shaped device that you wear around your neck. It provides support for your head so that you can sleep.

Since my carpooler is always sleeping in the car, he keeps his Bucky with him at all times. But, from time to time, he forgets to take it with him when he gets out of the car at the end of the day. When this happens, he frantically looks for his Bucky in the morning.

Well, the other night, when he got out of the car, he sat his Bucky on the trunk of his car while he put his stuff in the back seat. Then, he forgot that Bucky was on the trunk and drove off. We saw him drive off down the road with Bucky still on his trunk, but there was nothing that we could do about it.

I knew that Bucky would not survive the drive home. With the force of the winds at highway speeds, it would only be a matter of time before he slid off the back and onto the road.

Sure enough, when I arrived at the carpool lot this morning, my carpooler jumped out of his car and asked me if Bucky was in my car. That is when I had to break the bad news to him that Bucky was gone.

“Bucky’s gone?” he said. “How?” I explained to him how he had put Bucky on the trunk of the car and driven off.

He seemed to be in a state of shock and asked me to explain it to him again. When I told him again, he said that it was hard to believe. He then went on to talk about all of the places they had been to together and all of the things that they had done.

I tried to comfort him at his loss. I told him that he could always get another Bucky. I even offered to buy him a new one but he told me that it just wouldn’t be the same.

He then told me that when we get back to the carpool lot, he plans to cruise the roads looking for Bucky. I told him that Bucky could have been run over by hundreds of cars and truck, and that he might not even recognize Bucky. But he said that he would scrap up his remains and take him back home. He felt that Bucky deserved better than to be left for scrap on some cold and wet road.

For those of us who knew Bucky, we will always remember him. My carpooler plans to put a cross on the side of the road.  RIP Bucky.

Authentic Mexican food.

While visiting Las Vegas a while back, we went to a restaurant that advertised authentic Mexican food. The waiters barely spoke English and the cook spoke only Spanish so I guess that makes it authentic.

While we were there eating, I noticed that there was a middle aged man in a suit and tie standing out side. Besides being over dressed for a place like this, he seemed not to be interested in dining. In stead, it seemed like he was waiting for someone.

Sure enough, after a few minutes, another middle aged man in a suit showed up. They chatted for a few minutes and made a few phone calls but did not enter the restaurant. They stood around like they were waiting for someone else to show up.

Finally, a police car arrived and the men came into the restaurant. They identified themselves as INS agents and entered the kitchen. A few minutes later, they came back out by themselves.

I surmised that they were looking for illegal immigrants. If so, they didn’t find any. Of course, they stood around outside for almost 20 minutes so they would easily have been spotted by any illegals working there. I suspect that all the illegals went out the back door as soon as the INS pulled into the parking lot.

Talk about authentic Mexican food.

My Cardiologist

I got a letter the other day from West Michigan Heart. They told me that my cardiologist, Dr. Maharishi Shandra is leave the practice and moving to Washington DC.

I am a little surprised at the sudden change and can’t imagine what there is for him in Washington DC. Maybe he doesn’t like the weather here in Michigan.

I have mixed feelings about this move. He seemed OK as a doctor though I had a hard time understanding him since his English was so poor. So, maybe someone who speaks better English would be a step forward. But, he has been my cardiologist for almost 4 years.

I also have mixed feelings about the new cardiologist that has been assigned to me. The first thing that bothers me is that his first name happens to be Jihad.

Now, I realize that he did not choose that name. The name was given to him by his parents. But, I still wonder what kind of people name there child Jihad? And with a name like that, you have to wonder what kind of an environment he grew up in.

He got a BS from Wayne State which in its self is good. But it also means that he probably grew up in the Muslim district of Detroit which might not be so good.

Next, he went to medical school at St. George University in Granada. Hum. This might not be good. St. George University isn’t really a high ranking medical school.

I would have felt better if he had gone to Johns Hopkins. But, unless the man wanted to go to school at some place warm, it would appear that the medial schools here in the states rejected him for some reason.

Finally, he studied cardiology at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. Again, I would have felt better if he had studied a some place like the Cleveland Institute.

Well, fortunately, my heart condition is not that serious and the man is board certified.