Saturday, March 28, 2009

Enough with civility: confronting line cutters and queue jumpers

Last Saturday, Sophia and I went to Disneyland to celebrate my birthday and to spend some time together, since our work schedules haven't really overlapped favorably in recent weeks.

We were in line for the Matterhorn, and as decent, upstanding Disneyland patrons, we took our places at the back of the snaking line.

It was a long line, but it was what one would expect for a Saturday at Disneyland. It was moving at a good clip — faster than the 405 near Santa Monica during rush hour, anyway.

About halfway through, a suspicious looking Asian guy wearing sunglasses sidled up next to me from out of nowhere. For a good three seconds, he stood there without saying a word. I thought that he was expecting to be recognized, but upon closer inspection I could recall no previous association with him.

When he finally said something, he said, "Hey man, you mind if I get behind you? The line is really long and I don't want to wait in the back."

Flabbergasted at the audacity of the request, my verbal faculties sputtered, and the first thing to come up was, "No."

As I realized that I had actually issued an unintentionally affirmative and welcoming response, I stepped in to clarify. "I mean, yes, I do mind. And I mean that no, it is not fine with me if you get behind me."

He responded, "Oh, come on. Why not?"

"Because we began at the back of the line, like everyone else, and so should you," I said with an annoyed and furrowed brow. (At this point, it was only one brow. That's how annoyed I was: unibrow annoyed.) I gestured to the very back of the line. "You should start heading over there. You shouldn't be here."

He kept a straight face. "Oh, alright." And that was that.

Or so I thought. I turned around five minutes later, and he was just standing there — right behind me!

I looked at the people right behind him to see if they were upset in any way. It was a wholesome-looking white American family, and they didn't seem bothered by anything at all. It looked like they were having a good time.

I am certain that the scumbag probably chose to ask me because white people would be more likely to think we were together since we were Asian — which is a reasonable assumption to make. But the guy was alone, and I felt a little sorry for him; maybe someone close to him died. You never know what the story is with people, I figured, so I decided to forget about it.

But five minutes later, the scumbag's wench joined him. At this point, I was fuming, and was very close to causing a scene. Sophia told me to just forget about it since we were there to have a good time, and I knew that anger tends to make me act irrationally, so I just fumed for a while and hoped it would pass.

It has been a week, and it has not passed.

While writing this up, I found out that queue jumpers get away with it most of the time. In the future, please do everyone a favor and cause a scene, and I will do the same.

Now, I understand that it may be difficult to think quickly of what to do. If you need some ideas, here are a few things you can do to people who cut in line.

Wait until you get to the front of the line and then tell the people in charge. Make the cutters return to the back of the line all over again.

Loudly and clearly proclaim to everyone behind the cutters of what they have done. Populist outrage is a powerful force, and public humiliation is a long neglected tool. Put them together and you've got a great combination.

Take a picture of the cutters. If they cut in pretending to know you, why not play along? Say loudly, "Oh, hey, what does your new driver's license picture look like?" Remember their names, and then post their names, their pictures, and what they did, so that employers can find them when they perform background checks. (Make the page SEO friendly so these dirtbags are easier to find.)

Get physical. The line cutters don't belong there, so you're just righting a wrong and putting things back as they should be. A simple shove should do the trick, but be prepared for some pugilism should you go this route. This is particularly well-suited for those of you who don't resort to violence — because it's your first choice, not a last resort.

It's about time these scoundrels get what they deserve. If it helps, just bottle up whatever road rage you have, and instead dish it out to someone who actually deserves it. Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but happiness will remain incomplete as long as we remain complacent about people who blithely dismiss the ideals of justice and fairness.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Vision and chaos

Among the key elements of my father's network of enterprises are the fixer-upper houses which he rents out. As soon as my brother and I were old enough to be of use on these construction sites, Dad would take us along.

I hated the messiness of the building process. The floor would typically be littered with drywall chunks. Shattered roof tiles sat in piles on the front yard, and sawdust was sprinkled over everything.

When it was all done, though, with everything cleaned up, I felt accomplished for having been a part of bringing about the final outcome. It was more than easy to forget the messy process that brought about the end result: forgetting was automatic. It actually took me conscious effort to remember what it took to get there.

While I was in the thick of it, it was discouraging to see the mess in front of me, because it just didn't seem possible that everything could be made right again. All I saw was a seemingly intractable mess. My father, on the other hand, never seemed fazed by it. His vision of the end result was not clouded by temporary worry because he was certain of what we were working toward. He saw things not as they were, but as they should be.

Over the years, I learned to embrace the temporary mess, provided there was a plan and a vision for building something beautiful from it. Still, this sort of unflinching confidence doesn't just come at the flip of a switch. It took many messes and subsequent turnarounds to deeply ingrain this kind of optimism in myself. Even now, I need a conscious and intentional self-reminder not to be overwhelmed when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable task.

The boy knows he is a man when he can see not only what is in front of him, but what he's going to make of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My automobile's cooling system and its plastic parts

I've learned a lot about my car's cooling system over the past couple of weeks. There's nothing like the prospect of a melted engine to focus the mind. Typically, I would be content to leave it to the mechanic, but the cooling system has many moving parts, and I'm the one who sees firsthand all the symptoms when driving it in various situations.

At the very least, anyone in my position would have to take careful note of which circumstances triggered certain events. Such diagnostic tips can help the mechanic narrow things down so that he won't charge you as much for diagnosing the problem. Ideally, we'd also prefer that he fix everything that's wrong with a component as vital as the cooling system.

I've had to watch the reading on the temperature sensor, for one. The key is to never let the needle hit the red zone at the top of the temperature gauge. If it does, your engine's head gasket and other crucial parts are in critical danger of melting, distorting, or breaking. The repairs for those problems are much more expensive than those to the cooling system.

When I went to the mechanic this morning, I took in various observations that would help him narrow down the problem and know where to look. I noticed that the fans were going full speed because of the higher running temperature, so I told him that the fans were extremely loud after a short drive. From various sources online, I made sure to observe any difference between city driving and high speed freeway driving, but there was none, so this meant there was one less option to consider.

With the cooling system in my car, things have been failing left and right in a sort of chain reaction as the increased running temperature of the car's engine puts a lot of parts under extra stress. Whatever parts failed and needed replacing were just worn out and should have been replaced long ago. Rubber rings had become as hard as plastic. One plastic pipe had become so brittle from age that it broke off; I had to re-fasten the hose clamp just to keep the engine running cool enough to drive to the mechanic. Metal parts such as the thermostat housing and the water pump showed signs of corrosion; in the case of the thermostat, it wouldn't open to let coolant flow as it should.

The mechanic told me some interesting tidbits while we were ruminating aloud on the absurdity of car makers — including Daimler and BMW — using so many plastic parts all over the cooling system. According to him, the move towards plastic parts is justified by lower cost of materials and making the car lighter so the engine doesn't have to pull as much weight. One thing he observed was the increasing failure rate of newer cars — and he said it wasn't unusual for people with new cars still under warranty to come to his shop with worn out plastic parts.

Suffice it to say, that made me very hesitant about paying a premium for a newer model Mercedes-Benz or a BMW. If I end up buying a new car soon, it may well be a Hyundai, a Honda, or a Toyota. If everyone's using plastic parts, I may as well pay less.

In any case, I'm surprised that my old car has lasted this long, considering the long distances I drive on a regular basis. It's a 1996 Mercedes-Benz C220. I've been very fortunate to have the car running within its prescribed temperature limits, despite all the hand-wringing and pulling over to the side of the road, fraught with worry.