8.10.2006

Send in the Experts

Growing up I never saw a parent hold a hammer or screwdriver or stand over a running toilet fidgeting, saying, “Hmmm,” trying to fix it. The level of handy-ness in our home was my mom reaching for the phone to call a repairman.

In such an environment, I was trained to believe that each problem has its own personal guru assigned to come to the rescue. Only in fleeing home and landing in a college dorm did I see how others navigated everyday malfunctions, that regular civilians could face a gurgling toilet, adjust a few levers, and, Voila!, silence and functionality. I envied my dorm mates’ self-reliance and soon became gadget friendly, proud of what I could fix with my own hands and deductive reasoning.

Moving into my first solo post-college dwelling, a grungy yet charming beachside shed managed by a landlord with no interest in fixing anything, I was on my own. When the toilet ran and ran and refused to flush or refused to stop flushing, depending upon how you look at it, my mom nonchalantly told me to call a plumber. And I actually got angry because I hate that I was born into a home that taught me I couldn’t do-it-myself.

In an act of defiance, I lifted the lid of the tank and saw some broken piece before me. Bypassing a plumber, I went straight to the source and called the hardware store and described the problem. The man on the line told me it was an easy fix, that all I needed was a new ballcock for my tank.

“A what?” I asked.

“Ballcock,” the hardware store man repeated. At that moment I understood why women traditionally stay out of hardware stores. I hopped in my car and drove, sympathizing with men sent to buy tampons.

Years later, I now know my way around a toilet, an odd way to phrase what I’ve learned. I haven’t called a plumber in years, saving both time and money. I also now wield a hammer and screwdriver impressively, can tutor friends through computer woes, assemble furniture, spackle, prime, and paint, and connect electronics. None of this is going to earn me handyman status, but I’m doing pretty well given my early training.

However, my default is still set to believe in experts. Seeing a glitch in the system – traffic signals so poorly aligned that cars remain at a standstill cycle after cycle of changing lights, wars building with no one negotiating a peace, escalating gas prices – I automatically assume a pro is shirking responsibility. And like my mom, I want to reach for the phone.

But what do you do when the experts turn their backs on the solution?

The other night I saw the film, ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’ During the 90s, I didn’t pay attention to the electric vehicles as they hummed around my city. At best, they were a novelty, a curiosity, and their charging stations occupied prime parking spots.

But now, enlightened by the scandal revealed in ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’, I kick myself. I wish I’d been better informed. I wish I’d sought to inform myself. And as I watch politicians jockey for position in front of TV cameras to deliver sound bites on energy policy, I cringe.

If these experts are voting on our energy bills and deciding to drill in the Arctic or send soldiers to war to protect oil supplies or divert research and development funds to the hydrogen cell, they should all be escorted off stage and forced to watch ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’ They should know what we walked away from in abandoning this functioning technology. We all should. And then armed with this information, we should march on Congress or our state capitals. We should gather outside car dealerships and refuse to leave until something is done. Left to the experts, things have gotten ugly.

It’s time for each of us to recognize our ability to affect policy and demand action, to stop believing others hold the solution. We can start with energy policy or any of our personal pet peeves and passions, for we all have expert up our sleeve. We just haven’t been properly raised to see it. It was pretty empowering to enter that hardware store and ask for a ballcock with a straight face. If I could do that, imagine what we all can accomplish.

4 comments:

essgee said...

"It was pretty empowering to enter that hardware store and ask for a ballcock with a straight face. If I could do that, imagine what we all can accomplish."

That is hilarious. And such a great example of the heroism and bravery we all can show in the seemingly mundane activities of our lives. We really can accomplish great things when we set our mind to it. And, clearly, the "experts" need our help.

Anonymous said...

i once read a quote somewhere that went something like this:

"throughout my life when i saw things i didn't like or that i thought were wrong i would comment: "somebody should really do something about that." until i realized I was somebody."

ecm said...

You move so seamlessly from the ordinary to the global. This had be thinking about a college apartment when I tried to unclog the sink with a hanger and it went right through the pipe.

Indiana said...

People can affect change, but most see only the now and not beyond the next pay-check, so we vote with our wallets and so while the better options for the planet and the future remain the more expensive most people will not choose them...

...and as for people who say "I am only one person", even the biggest flood starts with a single drop of rain.

(thanks for visiting, I am just on a break and will be back)