My niece Kelli made a fascinating post on Facebook the other day. She’s a brilliant, good-hearted young woman, so I’m always interested in the things she finds to share with the world. This was the story of what is, probably, the world’s most welcomed and useful billboard. As a general rule, most of us don’t care for billboards. They are gaudy and distracting, almost screaming at us as we drive along, whether it’s about what beverage to drink, what car to buy, what lawyer we need to call to get us out of a jam, or whether we have found Jesus somewhere along the Interstate. This particular billboard, however, is a very special one in Peru, in a village that gets very little rain, even though the air is quite humid. The well water there is contaminated and, until now, is all the people in this village had to use for drinking, cleaning and bathing. Thank God for engineers.
The engineers who designed this special billboard in Peru figured out how to draw the humid air around this village into three chambers attached to the sign. The moisture is extracted, filtered, then funneled into a pump so the people of the village can now go and fill up their containers with clean, fresh-tasting water. The water is plentiful and sparkling; kids can stop and cool off there after playing, and nobody is getting sick from the contaminated well. The engineers have performed, for the people of this village, what surely feels like a miracle. We should be getting used to this, really.
I love engineers. My Daddy was an engineer – Methods & Tooling at Texas Instruments, working his way up from the shops where he ran a jig borer for years before T.I. decided to use his brain over his hands. I love how engineers think, that they can see a problem and, faster than most of us, can ferret out a solution or, sometimes, even several solutions. That’s a gift I don’t have, so it’s one greatly admired by me. Someday I hope to have a linear thought, but it may not happen in this lifetime. One of my publishers at Koho Pono Press, Scott Burr, is an engineer by training. Scott and his wife, Dayna Hubenthal, not only run a publishing company, but also have another company called Innovation Scientific which is a problem-solving company for other corporations. I love spending time with them because, not only do they think bigger than most people, they also, in the kindest and most gentle of ways, make me dig deeper and think bigger, too. They drag me out of my fog of right-brained living and shine the light on solutions in such a way that even Right-Brained Representative Jody can see them. What a joy.
In 2012, I was badly injured with a brain injury. Everything was difficult to do. No thought or action or word came easily. All of my life suddenly became a struggle; if I wasn’t raging, I was crying. Or sitting, staring blankly, and rocking, just rocking back and forth, like the kids at the Denton State School in Texas. It was an awful time. And tormenting. Going to my first brain therapy session at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, I forgot about the camper on top of the Bubba Truck I’d borrowed from my friends (because my car was in the shop) and got the thing wedged in the entrance to the parking garage. I was in tears. Distraught. Desperate. The sweet little security guard who came to help sensed that something good needed to happen quickly or he’d have a real mess on his hands – a woman old enough to be his mother, big enough to be a linebacker, and upset enough to be suicidal. Or, even worse, homicidal. He made a quick call to the engineering department right across the street. Within seconds, about six engineers, The Pocket Protector Brigade, came charging across the street. My half-dozen heroes. Here’s what they did. First, they let almost all of the air out of the tires on the Bubba Truck, then four of them hung onto the back of it, forcing Bubba as far down as they could get him, which left just enough room at the top that I could ease that big boy back out of the garage. Then, we slowly drove Bubba across the street to their engineering dept. and they filled the tires back up with their air compressor. To me, this felt like a miracle. Left to figure this out on my own, I would have gunned it and raked the camper off or just laid down in front of one of those big tires and hoped that it would eventually roll over me.
In truth, I think engineers live for this kind of thing. They love being the heroes; Daddy did. And I think they love being able to laugh to each other about it and to tell the story over and over. (“You’re not gonna BELIEVE what that dumbass had done!”) I don’t mind that. After all, I have told the story over and over, as well. And what I did was a dumbass thing to do. This got me to thinking, though, about the people we call upon to solve problems facing this nation and, once again, I don’t think we are making proper use of our resources. Our government isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one. It is a giant entity, a wheel with many spokes, all of which have to be aligned and working properly in order for the whole thing to function efficiently. Perhaps, rather than electing business men and women to public office and expecting them to “fix” whatever is broken about our government, we should be electing men and women whose brains work in a different way than those of most people. We should be electing engineers. I would vote for them, with their slide rules, mechanical pencils, graphs, work orders and computer printouts. They are often shy, so I’d probably have to campaign for them, too, but I’m okay with that. Engineers can get it done, whatever it is. And, when I tune in to watch the State of the Union Address and see half of the Congress sitting there in shirtsleeves with what is no longer just a pocket protector but now a badge of honor, I’d feel like we were about to get this baby back on the track. Another miracle. Engineers, workin’ it. And makin’ it work.