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The Dog House

How to operate a mechanic
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A long, long time ago, back in the days of iron men and wooden wheels, a ritual began. It takes place when a bus driver approaches a mechanic to report some difficulty with his equipment. All mechanics seem to be aware of it, which leads to the conclusion that it's included somewhere in their training, and most are diligent in practicing it. There are drivers who refuse to recognize it as a serious professional amenity, no matter how many times they perform it, and are driven to distraction by it. Some take it personally. They get red in the face, fume and boil, and do foolish dances. Some try to take it as a joke, but it's always dead serious. Most drivers find they can't change it, and so accept it and try to practice it with some grace. The ritual is accomplished before any work is actually done on the coach.

It has four parts, and goes something like this:

1. The driver reports the problem. The mechanic says, There's nothing wrong with it."

2. The driver repeats the complaint. The mechanic replies, "It's the gauge."

3. The driver persists, plaintively. The mechanic Maintains, "They're all like that."

4. The driver, heatedly now, explains the problem carefully, enunciating carefully. The mechanic states, "I can't fix it."

After the ritual has been played through in it's entirety, serious discussion begins, and the problem is usually solved forthwith.

Like most rituals, this one has it's roots in antiquity and a basis in experience and common sense. It started back when mechanics first learned to operate drivers, and still serves a number of purposes. It's most important function is that it is a good basic diagnostic technique. Causing the driver to explain the symptoms of the problem several times in increasing detail not only saves troubleshooting time, but gives the mechanic insight into the drivers knowledge of how the machine works, and his state of mind. Every mechanic knows that if the last trip was performed at night or in bad weather, some of the problems reported are imagined, some exaggerated, and some are real. Likewise, a personal problem, especially romantic or financial, but including simple fatigue, affects a drivers perception of every little rattle and thump. There are also chronic whiners and complainers to be weeded out and dealt with. While performing the ritual, an unscrupulous mechanic can find out if the pilot can be easily intimidated. If the driver has an obvious personality disorder like prejudices, pet peeves, tender spots, or other manias, they will stick out like handles, with which he can be steered around. There is a proper way to operate a mechanic as well. Don't confuse "operating" a mechanic with "putting one in his place."

The worst and most often repeated mistake is to try to establish an "I'm the driver and you're just the mechanic" hierarchy. Although a lot of mechanics can and do drive recreationally, they give a damn about doing it for a living. Their satisfaction comes from working on complex and expensive machinery. As a driver, you are neither feared nor envied, but merely tolerated, for until they actually train monkeys to drive those things, he needs an operator to put the parts in motion so he can tell if everything is working properly. The driver who tries to put a mechanic in his "place" is headed for a fall. Sooner or later, he'll try to crank with the coach in gear. Or he will attempt operating the coach with the park brakes applied. After the brakes start smoking and the driver contacts the Maintenance Response desk, he'll see the mechanic pulling up behind him along side the road, sporting a funny little smirk. Bus mechanics are indifferent to attempts at discipline or regimentation other than the discipline of their craft. It's accepted that a good mechanic's personality should contain unpredictable mixtures of irascibility and nonchalance, and should exhibit at least some bizarre behavior.

The basic operation of a mechanic involves four steps:

1. Clean your cab. Get out a broom, and some rags, and at some strange time of day, like early morning, or when you would normally take your afternoon nap) start cleaning that cab from top to bottom, inside and out. This is guaranteed to knock even the sourest old wrench off balance. He'll be suspicious, but he'll be attracted to this strange behavior like a passing motorist to a roadside accident. He may even join in to make sure you don't break anything. Before you know it , you'll be talking to each other about the equipment while you're getting a more intimate knowledge of it. Maybe while you're mucking out the mechanics office, you'll see how rude it is to leave coffee cups, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and other trash behind to be cleaned up.

2. Do a thorough pre-trip. Most mechanics are willing to admit to themselves that they might make a mistake, and since a lot of his work must be done at night or in a hurry, a good one likes to have his work checked. Of course he'd rather have another mechanic do the checking, but a driver is better than nothing. Although they cultivate a deadpan, don't-give-a-damn attitude, mechanics have nightmares about forgetting to torque a nut or leaving tools in inlets and electric boxes. A mechanic will let little gigs slide on a machine that is never pre-tripped, not because they won't be noticed, but because he figures the driver will overlook something big someday, and the whole thing will end up in a smoking pile of rubble anyway.

3. Don't abuse the machinery. Mechanics see drivers come and go, so you won't impress one in a thousand with what you think you can make the bus do. They all know she'll lift more than max gross, and will handle ice like a sled. While the driver is confident that the tires and engine and massive frame members will take it, the mechanic knows that it's the seals and bearings and rivets deep in the guts of the machine that fail from abuse. In a driver, mechanics aren't looking for fancy clothes, flashy gizmos, tricky maneuvers, and lots of juicy stories about the girl at the back of the bus. They're looking for one who'll drive the thing so that all the components make their full service life. They also know that high maintenance costs are a good excuse to keep salaries low.

4. Do a post-trip inspection. Nothing feels more deliciously dashing than to end the day by stepping down from the cab and walking off into the sunset while the coach idles down and gets a good drink and an emptied lavatory tank. It's the stuff that beer commercials are made of. The trouble is, it leaves the driver ignorant of how the coach has fared after a hard days work, and leaves the wrench doing a slow burn. The mechanic is an engineer, not a groom, and needs some fresh, first hand information on the coaches performance if he is to have it ready to go the next day. A little end-of-the-day conference also gives you one more chance to get him in the short ribs. Tell him the thing drove great. It's been known to make them faint dead away.

As you can see, operating a bus mechanic is simple, but it is not easy. What it boils down to is that if a driver performs his driver rituals religiously in no time at all he will find the mechanic operating smoothly. ( I have not attempted to explain how to make friends with a mechanic, for that is not known.) Bus Drivers and mechanics have a strange relationship. It's a symbiotic partnership because one's job depends on the other, but it's an adversary situation too, since one's job is to provide the coach with loving care, and the other's is to provide wear and tear. Drivers will probably always regard mechanics as lazy, lecherous, intemperate swine who couldn't make it through driver training school, and mechanics will always be convinced that pilots are petulant children with pathological ego problems, a big watch, and a little whatchamacallit. Both points of view are viciously slanderous, of course, and only partly true.

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