Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Furnace repair and facial hair

It had been nearly three days since my discharge from the Air Force in the fall of 1983 and I was ready to dive wholeheartedly into my new freedoms and newly formed heating and cooling business. Just yesterday, I had taken out the assumed name of “Koch Heating and Cooling” and was already facing the stairs of an old well-manicured house to greet my first ever customer. Completing the paperwork and forming the backend of the business was a small chore, however, the business ad in the local paper reeled my first customer in almost effortlessly.

The gentleman who greeted me at the door was in his early nineties and must have thought they were sending teenagers into the field. It was easy to discern his displeasure at my arrival, but at twenty-three years old I considered myself a seasoned veteran. Heck, I had just spent four years of my life working on many of the latest Air Force commercial systems. In my book, there wasn’t much the residential market could throw at me.

I should have guessed by the half-amused look on my customers face when he described the problem as “A real hair raiser” that a measure of caution was in order, but what could be dangerous about a small furnace? The fact that he chose to control the thermostat upstairs while I investigated the furnace in the basement was probably another clue. Looking back, it seems that someone as concerned about my age as he was would have been interested in keeping an eye on me throughout the repair process. His final word to me as I removed the front panel to his furnace, “Whale of a fire in that tube” was also wasted on deaf ears.

There comes a time in most of our lives when the simple wisdom of ages, experience, takes a firmer grip on the way we approach our world. This, seemingly teacher of all, usually guides us best when our eyes and ears are open. Some people require more patience.

As I looked down the single-barrel burner supplying a 150,000 Btu’s of natural gas into my customers ancient converted coal furnace, I was initially concerned with the amount of time it had been since I first heard the gas valve open. But maybe I was wrong? The sound of an opening gas valve can be hard to discern sometimes and besides the pilot was burning tall and strong. To this day it’s hard to describe the experience in any better metaphor than my customers own words “A real hair raiser” and “Whale of a fire in that tube”.

The last thing I remember before feeling his arm under mine as I attempted to stand upright was a bright flash and a sudden sharp pain at the base of my skull. After a moment of dizziness it occurred to me that the face starring into mine was completely void of facial hair. No eyebrows, no eyelashes, no mustache. As I rubbed my own burning eyes to regain focus it all came home to me. Where were my eyebrows and my eyelashes and my mustache? The next morning when I woke it took the better part of an hour to open my eyes. A series of warm wash clothes eventually unglued the mucous that had hardened overnight and it wasn’t long before service calls had my attention again. But one thing stands out. Quite often customers have valuable things to say. Sure, quite often it does us well to listen with a grain of salt, however, even an untrained ear can give us clues. “Whale of a fire in that tube” means a lot to me even after twenty-seven years.

Randy Koch

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1 comment:

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