12/19/13 On a Tear

Man, oh man am I on a tear. Today, or yesterday it is or was now, I suppose, everything seemed to be rubbing me the wrong way, and I was thwarted at every turn. While it seems like everything went wrong, there were some that went right. After ranting and raving for most of the evening, I decided to put the rant down on my blog, but I don’t know where to start. There is literally no end to the things this angry white male (yes, we are an identifiable, quantifiable sub-class of people that sociologists are able to point out in hushed whispers like people used to point out women with loose morals) would like to raise mortal hell about; but I will not yield to it. I will take a valium instead, after all, that is what they make it for.

Some of the things that set me ablaze were political. Others were mechanical. Others were trying to decide how to productively manage the upcoming week where Christmas Eve falls on a Tuesday, and Christmas Day on a Wednesday. This is not such a problem for the men working local, but it is terribly inconvenient and inefficient for the men working out of town, for the company, and for the customers we serve. The following week is no better. I can’t do anything about it, but I did make a decision. I made it after consulting with the guys. Some of them were happy, others weren’t. In the end, most are happy, and I am happy. The unhappy ones were likely to be unhappy anyway. It seems that those who need to work the most are the very ones who want to be off to hunt during this deer season…but a crew is a crew. It is hard to do some of the work we do without the full crew. If the crew works, everybody on the crew works.

Rather than a general rant, though, let me just give you a specific set of circumstances, not involving controversial political aggravations, of which there are many, nor insipid reality show controversies which seem to be more about increasing press coverage than about anything else, involving sex in places where sex is not required since we must have sex, the promise of sex, the description of sex, and sexual innuendo in all of our entertainment or we seem to not really be entertained….I will write about none of that.

Instead, here is what actually happened which contributed to the overall desire to rant, because it involved me personally.

Hearing the grinding of metal on metal every time I put my foot on the brakes, knowing that sound, I looked around and determined that the rear brake pads on my Tahoe needed replacing. The Tahoe is a well used one, still in good shape, that I purchased from my mother. It has a quarter-of-a-million miles on it and it has never had the rear brake pads replaced. Actually, that’s pretty good service from a part that routinely wears out, one that wears every time you put your foot on the brakes. The front pads wear out much sooner since they do most of the work, but eventually the rear ones need replacing, too. This is not that big of a deal.

I hurried down to the auto parts store. It was very crowded. I waited in line until a clerk was free to help me. “What can we do for you today, sir?” the clerk asked me.

I need a set of rear brake pads for a 2000 Tahoe,” I said.

Yes sir,” he replied, making selections from his computer screen until he gets to the right one. He studies it for a few moments and asks, “Is that an LS, LT, Base, or Limited Edition?”

I don’t know which one it is,” I said, “But it’s right outside. I’ll go check.”

Yes sir,” said the clerk.

I hustled out the door, looked at the front quarter panels and see no indication. I went around the back and saw the LT designation. “So, it’s an LT,” I said to myself. I went back inside and saw that in that brief time I had been crowded out of the line. My clerk was now busy with someone else. I waited patiently until he was finished and then called me back over.

It’s an LT model,” I said to him.

Okay,” he said, making more selections from the screen, then asked. “Is that a 4.5 liter, 5.3 liter, or a 5.6 liter engine?”

5.3,” I replied. That’s a 327 for all you old-schoolers, like me. A 327 and a 350 are hard to beat…they’ll scoot.

Four wheel drive or two wheel drive?”

Two wheel drive,” I said.

Limited slip differential?” he asked.

I don’t know,” I said, beginning to exhibit the slightest signs of agitation. All I needed was a set of rear brake pads. Formerly, you just told them the model and the year, and that was all you needed. Now days, it requires much more information.

The clerk looked concerned as he stared at the computer screen. “Hmmmmm!” he said to himself, then declared, “It doesn’t make any difference.” This set me immediately to wondering how many of the other questions didn’t make any difference too. While I am extremely good at it myself, I dislike questions fired at me like bullets, especially ones that seem to make no difference which are later admitted by the questioner to make no difference. This seems like a reasonable way to feel to me: it did then and it still does now.

Can you just skip all the questions that don’t make a difference?” I asked, trying to sound jovial, but there was enough edge there to make him nervous.

No sir. I have to ask the questions because without the answer I cannot go to the next screen,” he explained.

You didn’t get an answer to the last question but were able to move on? How is that” I asked, which seem like a reasonable question based on his answer. I have noticed that I suffer from this tendency. Ask me an irrelevant question and pretty soon, I’ll start questioning the questioner.

While being deposed or on a witness stand, more than one attorney, and more than one judge, has admonished me for asking questions. “Mr. Sharp, it’s my job to ask the questions. Your job is to answer them,” the red-faced plaintiff’s attorney rebuked.

Well, ask me some questions that make sense so I won’t have to ask you questions to try and determine what it is that you want,” was my standard reply to the attorney.

The court reporter would give a controlled snicker, or the gavel would then bang on the bench. “The witness will answer the question,” the judge would say, always with a glint in his eye that let me know that he enjoyed my dig at the attorney but I’d better not go too far with it. More than once I even had a judge suggest to the plaintiff’s attorney, “Counselor, you might try rephrasing that question,” as he shook his head indicating that he did not understand it either. I’d never be disrespectful to a sitting judge in his own courtroom; that just about as foolish a thing as a human being can do. But I digress.

The clerk was doing his dead level best to help me. He did not know, nor could I reasonably expect him to know just which rear brake pads fit my Tahoe, but he continued his venture into dangerous territory. “Do you have two piston or single piston calipers?”

I did not know such a thing existed. “Beats me. I have the VIN number. Can’t you tell which ones I need with that?”

No, sir. The VIN does not distinguish which ones are required,” he replied. I know how this works. If I walk in with the old brake pads and say that I want some just like these, they still will have to ask me all the questions, but usually will require the VIN number before going to look through all the different boxes of various brake pads that fit your particular vehicle. I was suspicious about his response to the VIN, but all he knew was what was on his computer screen.

I think I’ll be able to look at the rear calipers and tell whether they are single piston or dual piston,” I said, but not too excited about having to crawl under the Tahoe in the O’Reilly parking lot. It was a beautiful day, so, I just thought I’d go look. “I’ll be right back,” I said. I went out the door, crawled under the Tahoe as far as I could get, placed my hand on the caliper and felt around. I was able to trace out two cylindrical shapes. Having seen many single piston calipers, and having no experience with dual piston calipers, I reasoned that the double cylindrical shapes were evidence of the dual pistons. I was satisfied with this. I squirmed out from under the Tahoe, dusted myself off and returned to the counter in the store. I had lost my place in line again. This was a little bit aggravating, but not unreasonable. I waited patiently. After a time, which seemed much longer than the few minutes it actually was, my clerk called me back up again.

Dual pistons,” I said.

Good job,” the clerk said. I think I was supposed to feel like a puppy must feel when it has successfully peed on the newspaper and been patted on the head. The puppy may like this but I find it a bit tedious. If I had thought it would have helped, I’d have asked the clerk to just point out where he wanted me to pee. All I wanted was the brake pads. He was trying to help me, and we seemed to be getting closer, but so far, no cigar.

Do you want the standard ones, the metallic ones, or the ones with the lifetime warranty? The prices are $20, $35, and $80.” he said.

The $20 ones will be fine,” I replied, thinking that the Tahoe already had 250,000 miles on the OEM brake pads…if the cheap ones lasted a fifth that long they would be the only thing left on the Tahoe that was worth anything when it went to the auto-recycling heaven where all good autos go when they die.

We have them in stock,” he said. I was beginning to feel good about all this now, then he said, “Just one more question.”

I love the phrase, “Just one more question”, though I have come to painfully understand that that is just about as honest as, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.” Excuse me if I am a bit of a skeptic.

The clerk swung the computer screen around so I could look at it. He pointed to two different types of brake pads. “Do yours look like this one?” he asked, pointing to the ones on the left of the screen, “Or this one?” he asked, pointing to the ones on the right side of the screen. It was obvious that they were not interchangeable.

I don’t know,” I said, a bit exasperated, knowing that I could not tell this by crawling back under the Tahoe. The calipers would have to come off. The clerk knew this, too. He dared not say so, giving me a minute to let this sink in, then added, “The left one we have in the standard. The other we only have in stock in the lifetime warranty version.” Murphy’s law says that the one I need will be the lifetime warranty version. Likely, the other one fits no Tahoe ever made and just sits on the shelf so that they can sell the lifetime warranty version. My cynicism had escaped its regular confines by then, and I was in a punishing mood, especially since the next thing that popped in to my mind was, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”

I said nothing though, just thought silently to myself, when the clerk made a helpful suggestion. “You can go and remove them and come back with them so we can be sure and sell you the right ones.” This seems reasonable until you stop and consider that at that moment, if I removed the wheels, brake calipers, and pads, just how was I going to drive back to the store to get the correct brake pads? At that point, I had no other options. I was dead in the water. I did not bother to explain this to the clerk, I just turned around and walked out of the store without saying a word, leaving the other couple of items I had selected from the shelves right there on the counter. It might seem rude to you for me to have left without another word, but I assure you it was the most gracious thing I was capable of at the moment.

I went back to my office, getting more aggravated every time I put my foot on the brake and heard the gr-rr-rrr-rrr-rrrowl of the metal to metal from the worn out brake pad contacting the brake disc, knowing that each touch of the brake was damaging the disc even further. I packed up my stuff at the office and drove home, intending on removing the brake pads there and obtaining the right ones this morning. No problem…the Tahoe could stay on jack stands in the driveway and I would drive my pickup truck back to town to get the brake pads the next day.

Later at home, I got the floor jack and the jack stands out. I jacked the Tahoe up and placed it safely on the stands. I then removed the center wheel covers and the wheels. I went to fetch some wrenches. I felt around on the inside of the calipers for the two bolts that hold each one on. “11/16, maybe ¾,” I said to myself. I am a pretty good gauge of such things. I fetched the sockets, and extension and a ratchet. The 11/16 was too small. The ¾ was too big. “Ahhhh! 17mm, 18mm, or 19mm,” aggravated that they use metric bolts on an American auto, but this has been an increasing trend over the years and not a real problem. I went back to my tool bag that had all my sockets. I easily found a 17mm and a 19mm socket, in various configurations, multiples and duplicates. I could not locate an 18mm. Not to worry, though, since I was fairly certain that the 19mm was the one I needed. Lots of 17mm and 19mm bolts are enountered. I could never recall an instance where I needed an 18mm socket.

Murphy! Remember Murphy? Here was Murphy again. 17mm was too small. 19mm was too large. I went back to my tool bag. I rambled through bound and determined to find an 18mm socket. I looked harder. I looked more desperately. Soon, I looked for one like Stanley looked for Dr. Livingstone. Dr. Stanley had more luck though not without great effort. Thus inspired, I renewed my search with great effort. I had not exhausted all my possibilities. Down at the barn, in my master tool box, were lots of sockets, many of them metric. I’d just go down there and get an 18mm. I hopped in the pickup truck and hauled ass down to the barn. I went straight to the drawer with the sockets. 17mm, 19mm, another 17mm, another 19mm. A 17mm six point deep socket. A 19mm six point deep impact socket. A 1/2” drive 19mm twelve-point socket. Not a single 18mm socket. I raced through every drawer of the tool box. There are lots of drawers. I found an errant 17mm that had made its way into the chisel drawer. I found a ratchet, extension, and 15mm socket in the hammer drawer. Surely, somewhere in all this there was a single, solitary 18mm socket. I began to look for one like Amelia Earhart looked for Howland Island as she watched her fuel gauge. I had just about as much luck. Well, I admit that that is a stretch for an analogy since Amelia’s plans were thwarted with fatal consequences and I am merely inconvenienced. There is an 18mm socket somewhere, but so is Howland Island somewhere. I only need it when I need it. Right now I needed it and it was nowhere to be found, but neither was Howland Island.

As you might expect, I used some rather bad language, slightly worse than mildly bad but I kept it to myself…well, mostly I kept it to myself. As I let a few bits of foulness slip through my lips, I said to myself, “This will save families $2,500 per year on their health insurance costs,” then I quickly decided that the less I thought about that, the better. I went inside, I washed my hands. I was defeated…at least for the day. Having exhausted myself in a fit of near apoplexy, I just went to bed. This morning I will go to get me an 18mm socket from the shop at the office. Then I will do some paperwork. Then I will come back home and take the brake pads off the Tahoe using the 18mm socket. I have lived and learned along the way. I will bring home TWO 18mm sockets.

Have you ever had a socket break? I have. Sharp’s Corollary to Murphy’s law says that the only socket you ever break is the one you only have one of. If both sockets break, there will likelburned tahoey be medium calibre bullet holes found in the sheet metal of the remains of the burnt Tahoe. Before that happens, I will take the bulldozer and drag it with the wheels off into the middle of the pasture next to the barn. I expect I would be able to feel my blood pressure come down as I watched it burn. If I burned it, I want you to know that there would be no insurance fraud, since I only have liability. Who would have comprehensive and collision in a 14 year old vehicle with 250,000 miles on it? Maybe that’s what the IPAB board will tell me one day…“Mr. Sharp, you are too old and have too many miles on you to underwrite your comprehensive health care insurance any longer. If you want to trade all your earthly assets to receive medical treatment, then sign here,” the IPAB Appeals Clerk might say, “And if your assets are more important to you than your medical care, then, here’s the hospice phone number.” No…I don’t want to think about that, either.

When I get the calipers off, and the brake pads removed to match them with the new ones, then I will pick up some when I go to Philadelphia, Mississippi, this evening to the funeral home there for the visitation of the young employee who so tragically lost his life in an auto accident on the way to work Monday. It wouldn’t surprise me if the auto parts places in Philadelphia told me that they would be able to order them for me since they are out of stock. If they do, I will take it with a grain of salt and think of setting the Tahoe on fire as I drive all the way back to Meridian to buy the $80 brake pads, and think of how petty and foolish I am to be hindered and bothered by such things as I think of others who would love the chance to deal with deal with something so small and insignificant as brake pads on an old Tahoe and mysteriously elusive 18mm sockets.

I ranted. Now I repent and am thankful for all the things I wanted to rant about but didn’t; well, I’m not really thankful about the rantable things, but thankful for the ability to exhibit rantlessness in the face of mounting rantability. Most of them I can’t do anything about except rant. The brake pads? I will succeed, famously, or we will have the most deliciously gasoline, oil, and rubber flavored marshmallows roasted by the bright flaming glow of the burning Tahoe.

Updated: 12/19/13 7:50AM

Not one, but TWO no longer elusive 18mm sockets!

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