Rodney M Bliss

Smack it With a Hammer

There’s an old joke about a hotel owner in Buffalo, NY whose furnace went out in the middle of the winter. He called the repairman who came over and went down into the basement. He carefully measured a certain distance down the ductwork ,then he opened his toolbox, pulled a huge hammer and smacked the side of the duct.

“Try it now.”

To the hotel owner’s amazement, the furnace came on.

Today, I also got to be amazed, except mine was with a car, not a furnace. My wife drives a 15 passenger van. (If you had 13 kids, you’d understand.) She called me from work.

“The van won’t start again.”

Now, I know three things about cars. I know how to use jumper cables. I know how to change the windshield wipers and I have my mechanic’s phone number on speed dial.

I drove our family’s small car, the Chevy Suburban, the five miles to the school where she works. Over the past few weeks the van had periodically refused to start. It wouldn’t even turn over. It would just “click.” In the past, jumper cables did the trick. Not today.

I moved on to my second troubleshooting step and checked the windshield wipers, which appeared in good working order and then pulled out my phone. My mechanic’s shop is about 25 miles away. But he’s a really, really good mechanic.

As I prepared to dial, I turned to my wife, “You know, our neighbor is pretty good with cars. Today’s his day off. Maybe he could look at it first?”

Neither one of us really wanted the time or expense with having our van towed.

So, back home and a short walk across the street and Jonathan Shaw and I were on our way back to school. Jonathan is a brilliant computer engineer, but also loves to fix cars. He checked the battery level. Listened to the “click” of the ignition. Assured me that the windshield wipers were fine and pronounced sentence:

“You need a new starter. Fortunately, we can fix that. You know, before we tow it back behind my van, let me try one more thing.”

With that, he opened his tool box and pulled out a huge hammer. Then, he climbed under the car, I assume he measured a certain distance down the ductwork, smacked the side of the starter a few times and said, “Try it now.”

Like I said, amazement.

The joke goes on to say that the furnace repairman sent a bill for $10,000. The hotel operator who had watched the entire thing was naturally upset.

“I want an itemized bill!”

The bill came back:

Hitting with the hammer………………………………..$5
KNOWING where to hit with the hammer…..$9,995

We sometimes tend to discount things that others make easy. The most common example is discussions about professional athletes. The logic goes, why should we pay them millions of dollars to play a game that most grown men would play for free?

It’s because they have a unique set of skills that makes them very, very good at what they do.

I have been interviewing with a company for a position as an Instructional Designer. An ID writes training courses. It’s something I did for many years at Microsoft and I absolutely love it. I haven’t done it for many years. The company informed me today that in looking at my career history, they just don’t think their budget can support paying the ID at a level that they assume I’ve been making.

It’s a great company and we’ll continue to work together to try to find a good fit. But, it reminded me that as much as we may enjoy doing something, a position is worth a particular amount to a company.

My neighbor did not charge me $10,000 for knowing where to hit the starter. He, and his two sons not only replaced the starter, they replaced the front brake pads, fixed the radio and found and fixed a short that was making my tail lights unusually dim; all for the cost of parts.

Yeah, good neighbors are like that.

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