Thursday, March 13, 2014

Watching and learning.

It's a curse.

Everywhere I go I see systems in action. I can't not see them.

The keystone of my intellectual life has been my awareness of the connectedness of the world. Even before I knew I was aware of it.

A childhood memory: my mother once lived with a man who was passionate about automobile mechanics. I've no idea what he did for a paying job, but he and I spent hours in the garage on White Drive in Hayward, California taking apart and rebuilding the engine of an old Ford, something from the 1930s.


I was maybe seven years old and had never so much as peered under the hood of a car. I'd just met and moved in with Goldie, and I was living in a new neighborhood with no friends yet. So I hung out with him.

Not that I had any idea what we he was doing. But I watched closely, no doubt peppering him with questions as he worked. "Hand me the 3/4 wrench," he'd say to his GoFer. "What are you doing with it?" GoFer would say back.

Before long he was telling me about generators, spark plugs, radiator hoses. Then we got to the carburetor. Beautiful little world all its own. I loved it.

Goldie was a good teacher, patient, loved to talk about what he was doing and could do so in words that made sense to me. Didn't take long for him to have me taking the carburetor apart, cleaning the parts in solvent, putting it back together. "Why's it need a needle valve?" "What's it do?" "How does it do that?" "Where does this wire come from?" "What's that have to do with making the wheels go?" Great puzzle.

Within a few weeks I had a pretty good understanding of the way that little engine worked, how the pistons drove the crankshaft, into the transmission, turning the wheels, which went faster when I stepped on the gas pedal. Oh yeah, he'd set me on a paint can behind the steering wheel and we'd go down the country road a mile or two at a time.

To this day I count that as the foundation of my appreciation for a set of good tools. It also formed the basis for my understanding of the fleet of cars and trucks I've owned and cared for through the years.


I only knew Goldie for a year or so. He thought he was teaching a kid about a Ford.

But he was also showing the power of passion, the magic of patience, the excitement of learning.

And I was seeing in all its glory the miracle of these many separate parts working together in beautiful harmony.

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