Tuesday, August 10, 2010

school of life

Things I learned while re-doing the body of my car for more hours than I can count on the street in front of my apartment (and I'm still not done. Field exams put everything else on hold...):
  1. The best way to meet your neighbors is to spend a lot of time outside doing something people like to talk about. I didn't know anyone in the building or neighborhood at all, but now I know the guy from the tool library who bikes past my house to and from work every day, and his grandson, and the guy Deangelo who bikes around with his tiny dog all day, and the lady named Green next door and her toddler son, and the couple across the street who like to ask questions, and the old guy across the street, and the lesbian couple next door, and the guy who seems to rent a room from Green, and the guy across the street who went to autobody school.
  2. If you act like you know what you're doing, people assume you know what you're doing. I hated to disappoint the guy who wanted advice on how to fix his car, and the woman who wanted to know if I owned an autobody shop she could bring her car to, with the response "I have no earthly idea what I'm doing, I'm making it up as I go along with some help from Google."
  3. Paint stripper advertisements are utter crap. "Strip your car in one hour with chemical paint stripper" HA! Expect to spend hours and hours with a scraper on each layer of paint.
  4. Hardware stores are even MORE fun than office supply stores. So much potential!
  5. Men are very in awe or intimidated by women working on cars, and women are overly congratulatory. I really think it's anti-feminist to make a big deal about women doing stereotypically male things. There might not be such a persistent gender gap if girls weren't constantly told how amazing they are to attempt anything male-dominated, implying that it's so much harder than it really is.
  6. Hispanics are generally more sexist than whites, who are more sexist than blacks. One hispanic guy couldn't even speak English but stuttered along until getting across the sentence "Isn't that too big a job for a lady?" The whites are a little better with "Not every day you see a woman doing what you're doing, way to go." The blacks almost never mention gender at all, and express more respect in the subtle manner of asking honest questions.
  7. People overestimate how difficult auto-body work is, and the auto-body business is a giant scam exploiting that fact. $600 to replace one window in your car? Try $50 in parts, and 20 minutes of work that anyone can do very very easily. Sure, sanding down a dent, filling it in with bondo, and repainting the area is a bit of a pain in the neck, but still only a few hours of labor and $30 of materials, not $1600, which is how much I got from the other guy's insurance company when someone backed into my door in a parking lot a few years back. I think the problem is that since cars are so expensive, people are terrified to try to repair them by hand, so they never learn how easy it is. I didn't try either until my car had accrued so much damage that I had nothing to lose...
  8. Despite the sexism, it made me smile when the woman across the street wanted to know if I own a shop she could go to because "us women got to support each other." That's so much better than the typical female backstabbing. And it's nice to know if I get sick of economics and open an auto-body/motorcycle/popsicle shop instead, I can corner the female market share... (Well, I already knew that, since the "women owned and operated" motorcycle shop Werkstatt in SF charges about 50% more than anywhere else for standard maintenance.) Not that I would ever try such a thing. I could never do anything girl-power-ish without gagging.
  9. Don't sit in a puddle of paint stripper - it BURNS. And always wear a dust mask when sanding to avoid paint-inhalation headaches. And don't get impatient when using screw cutters. And use low-gage wiring for heat guns. And keep your fingers away from the sandpaper clamps. And don't spray-paint in erratic winds. And mineral spirits would be more fittingly named miracle spirits.
  10. Those career predictor tests in elementary school that always told me I should be a mechanic were probably right.

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