by Joseph Picard
2001, late summer. High noon. I stood in the shop with my fellow I.T. professional, Brian. Business was slow, but we were paid by the hour. Brian was newer at the shop than me, but he was the superior technician by a good measure. I was okay, I could get things done, but Brian had a lot more training. Not that training always matters. Both he and I had training that we could have taught. Just that his was much better than mine. I couldn’t teach the classes he took, but at the same time he respected my opinions.
We both had the same amount of time at the front lines of I.T. We’ve both had the aunt who thinks we can fix the VCR, the cousin who doesn’t listen to virus advice, the stranger in a lineup who thinks we can tell them in half a minute how to fix some ungodly problem that they don’t have the vocabulary to describe.
Brothers in arms against the BSOD, the machines, and those who abused them.
Many a tale are told of PEBKAC errors, (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair) and when you’ve heard and lived them all, it become almost ritual to trade the tired stories. The cup holder that slides out of the front of the box, AKA the modem where the screen plugs in, the screen saver behind the pictures that open the boxes, and every 10 minutes things disappear, and OMG I BROKE IT HELP HELP!!! “Wiggle the mouse.” “OH! It’s all back! Thank you so much!” “Ma’am, we’re professionals.”
One kindly old lady asked us, after we showed her how to plug things in, “So what do I need a computer for anyway? My pharmacist gave it to me, and I don’t really know what I want it for.” She ended up quite pleased when we showed her that it could play card games. We charged her for an hour after spending half a day with her, and the next day, she left us a card and a plate of adorable little cakes.
But today would not be about sweet old ladies. Today we met a new type of PEBKAC. The saloon doors swung open as the stout, black hatted desperado hauled his desktop machine in, his lanky son following with the monitor.
The man had a trace of an accent. Maybe. Maybe it was just the accent of grump. He had very little love for his machine, and it had very little love for him. It was on strike. After plunking it on the work bench, and trying to boot it up with no response, we cracked the case. Yup, there was the issue. One of the sticks of ram had popped loose. Click. Happy.
The machine was happy, the man was not. “How does this happen??” He asked, as if we had snuck into his house and dislodged it.
“Chip creep” Brian said.
“What is this? Chip creep?”
“Well, over time, some parts can slip loose, especially if it gets bumped a lot, or you live next to train tracks even, or whatever. It doesn’t cause problems often, but hey, at least your hardware doesn’t need anything replaced.”
The man wasn’t pleased. Maybe because we were charging him the minimum hour for ten minutes of work. His combative attitude wasn’t winning him any sympathy from either Brian or I. The man’s son remained silent in the background, unfazed. Beanpole was born with this guy as a father, and was doubtlessly used to it. The man paid, and carted his machine out. His son picked up the monitor and gave us a sheepish smile. “Thanks, guys.” The kid had learned good manners, seemingly to compensate for his father.
Enough time passed for them to get home, attempt to turn the machine on, and drive right back. The man was pissed. The son was keeping his mouth shut, looking visibly embarrassed by his old man’s behaviour.
“What did you do to it?”
“We refitted your ram. You saw it working after. What’s it doing now?”
“Nothing! Is this what you do? You break it so you can fix it again for another ‘hour’ of money?”
For the record, Brian and I aren’t like that. We appreciate the machine, we want it to work, and live a happy life. Old machines, new machines, beloved ancient machines. Suggesting we were in it for the money was… well it was insulting. It grated against an unspoken nerdly creed. The near-yelling, the frustration with the machine, I could handle. But to question our motives?
Just to get it over with, Brian said “Well, let’s have another look. Free. I know how frustrating it can be, we’ll call it part of the hour you already paid for.”
The man wasn’t really hearing it, not from us. The subsequent blithering of half accusations was only stopped by his son re-stating what we’d just told him. He finally let us take it back to the workbench, but kept ranting.
We were fixing it for the kid. Screw this guy. He kept ranting. If he understood that we never intended to charge more, he didn’t let on about it. Maybe he was trying to save face or something, but it wasn’t working for him.
“Well, that’s odd,” Brian said.
The man was practically up our noses the whole time. “What did you do to it?” he demanded.
“Well, the CPU is loose.” Brian cocked his head. I couldn’t see his face, but I wouldn’t doubt that he had a Spock-like eyebrow raised. “More chip creep. I could have sworn we looked at the CPU the first time.”
“You said chip creep doesn’t happen often!” He ranted further, launching accusations. I took a walk into the back before I gave in to my urge to flatten the shmuck. When I came back, Brian was holding open the door as the man and his son carried the machine back out. From behind the counter, I could see Brian’s jaw drop. “NO! What?” and he walked out of view.
When he came back, Brian was smiling. Smiling the smile of restraint. “Hey Joe.”
“How do you transport a computer?”
“On the floor sometimes, but if I can, I put it on the seat, with a seat belt, or packed in with other things to keep it from bouncing around.”
“Want to know how he does it? At least before I corrected him?”
“I don’t think I do.”
“Too bad, I’m going to tell you. Loose.”
“Loose? On the floor?”
“In the back of his pickup.”
“Ugh! Like… just sitting in the corner, held by a tire or something?”
“In the middle. Alone, standing.”
Imagining it bouncing, and falling over just going over a speed bump gave me goosebumps, let alone the potential blender-fest of open road driving. It was a miracle that the thing’s motherboard wasn’t cracked in half, much less the screen of the monitor.
“Damn. Know what that’ll cause?”