Snapshot 5: The daily grind (OR when fixing a problem makes it worse)

For all the fun things going on these last few months, there have been an equal number of headaches and hassles. Like a headache, the hassles tend to start with a tiny disturbance – a soft dull throb. When the dull throb starts beating behind your eyeballs, you try to do something … take a nap or a Tylenol. But what do you do when the solution itself turns the headache into a migraine?

It started with the pianos. We have three upright, acoustic pianos in the music department. (The other four are electric – Clavinovas.) These three pianos have seen quite a few years of use, care and neglect. Sadly, since I arrived, it’s been more neglect than care, and I’d been feeling a little guilty about it. They hadn’t been touched by a piano tuner in over three years. Kind of like taking your kid to the dentist: regular check ups are good. It was a dull throb in the back of my mind – a low priority item on the to-do list that was begging for attention. Finally I decided that I had put it off long enough.

Not knowing exactly where to start, I asked a Kenyan friend for a recommendation and he gave me a name and number. It took a few weeks to set up a time for him to come and see the pianos. When he came, he started on the one in my classroom. I couldn’t be there on the day that he worked … I don’t even remember why. A meeting or an activity or something like that. When I came to school the next day, I didn’t touch the piano until the beginning of choir class. When I did, I almost convulsed at the sound. It was so out of tune that I couldn’t play it without shuddering. We had to improvise in class that day and sing our pieces a cappella. Afterward, my friend told me that the tuner had purposely tuned down all the C strings … that he would be back to put them all back in tune … that it was like tuning a guitar and you had to let the strings stretch a bit before they settled into place. It all sounded horrifically fishy to me, but not being a professional piano tuner, I decided to wait and see what happened.

He did come back. Not once, not twice, but five times. Each time, the piano was a little bit better or just different. After the fourth visit, I tried to tell him, “Thank you very much, but we won’t be needing your services any more.” He insisted on coming back one more time because he hadn’t finished the job and he said he only needed one more session. Since he wasn’t charging per session, only per piano, I decided to let him show me what the “final professional touch” looked like. Such a disaster. The end result: I paid someone to leave me with a piano that was more out of tune than before it had been tuned. Little headache -> migraine.

Then there was the car. My car is not young. It’s got a few Ks on the the odometer and has had a couple of paint jobs. Apparently the seals are also getting old. It had been leaking rainwater for a long while – maybe since last September or so. I first started noticing it during the last short rainy season. If it rained longer than an hour when my car was sitting still, I would find small puddles on the front floor mats. But we had a long dry spell. The musty smell went away and I stopped thinking about the water leak. Then, in March, the rains came back and so did the leak.

Spring break – the perfect opportunity to deal with car trouble. On Monday morning of that week, I took it to my regular mechanic and asked whether or not he replaced seals. He said no, but told me of a place downtown that does. Having tons of time on my hands, I went right then and there. Did they deal in seals? Yes. Did I have to wait a couple hours? Yes. Did they finish that morning? No. They told me that it was taking a little longer than they expected to trace the leak, so I took a cab home. When I came back the next morning, the head mechanic told me that they had fixed the leak issue – apparently it was a seal just underneath the windshield. They had glued it up and put it all back together. I said thank you very much, paid about $30, and drove away.

About half way home, I noticed what looked like a small crack in the windshield just at the base of the driver-side wiper. When I got home and looked more closely, I saw that it was not one crack, but three. Ack! What to do? They had cracked my windshield! $30 problem -> $300 problem. Little headache -> migraine.

I thought about it that night and decided to take it back and show them the damage … though I had a sneaky suspicion that it would be a fruitless trip. I went anyway. On principle. I drove in, found the head mechanic and showed him. He called the other head mechanic along with the guy who had done the work. A couple other guys came to look on just to see what was going on. I was calm. Patient. Clear. The damage had not happened afterward – it had happened here. They hesitated to acknowledge it at first but then finally admitted the obvious. The real trouble though: what to do about it. And here is where my sneaky suspicion proved true.

Here in Kenya, there isn’t much justice or protection of workers yet. Think along the lines of the Industrial Revolution in the US and Europe … when people were severely overworked, underpaid, and not protected by things like workplace insurance. The sad truth is that this repair shop might acknowledge the damage, but they are not about to take financial responsibility for accidents or mistakes made by their employees. If I pressed the matter, the mechanic himself would likely be made to pay for the windshield (at best), or be fired (at worst). And while a part of me values high quality work, not settling for poor craftsmanship, and accepting the consequences of actions … the other part of me can’t bring myself to cause someone else to loose his livelihood over what might have been an simple accident. He almost certainly lives in a slum and is likely trying to support a wife and kids on pennies. I can absorb the cost of a new windshield … he can’t.

I told the men that I just wanted to show them what had happened so that they knew and acknowledged the problem. I would call my insurance company and try to get it fixed that way. If there were any more problems, I would let them know. And I drove away.

Two problems … two solutions … and two migraine-size results.

As of right now, one of those two has been dealt with. I found a “REAL” piano tuner. He came and put the piano to rights in one short session. Even my students breathed a sigh of relief when they came to class and the the piano sounded normal again.

The windshield is still cracked, and the crack is spreading. I am 90% sure that my insurance company will cover it, though I have yet to fill out the claim. It’s getting urgent though since my wipers no longer work and it’s raining more and more frequently – a situation that has already made for some interesting experiences. To the mechanic’s credit however, the leak is fixed. There has been no water on my floor mats for a solid month.

2 thoughts on “Snapshot 5: The daily grind (OR when fixing a problem makes it worse)

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  1. yowzers! I have a few little aches –> migraine type stories too! One involved patching old nail holes, the evolved into having to repaint a whole room, and a gallon of paint all over my car seat. Thus us life, you win some, you lose some. Hope the insurance co. covers the windshield. Meanwhile, if the crack gets much worse, you might want to consider not driving for a while!


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