New Lenses

Now that I have survived my first work assignment, I see things around me differently. We were in a swank restaurant not too long ago: the chef and sous-chefs were named at the bottom of the menu and the décor had been carefully assembled. Beer that would normally cost about $5 was now $8. The rustic wood ceiling complemented the custom lighting just-so and the beams were exposed. Oh, but if Marge thought I had installed the metal clad cable, I would have been yelled at for sure. Nobody else probably saw it because it happened in only two places along the ceiling: where the cable joined the fluorescent light boxes – and it was sloppy. It surprised me when I noticed this and I spent several minutes trying to convince myself I was not really seeing what I was seeing. Surely, the electrician who installed the lights was of the same caliber as my coworkers? S/he would never stand for such sloppy work! At least the hanging lamps were level. Each custom fixture was the same elevation from the floor (I’ve already learned to not always trust measurements from the ceiling) and they looked great. The light bulbs had exaggerated filaments that radiated a softer, orange glow. I’m guessing nobody noticed how the lamps were exactly the same height; yet had one of them been off, it would have been harshly obvious. Installing fixtures like this is hard to do and it takes a good deal of craftswomanship and care to get it exactly right.

So far, basements and restaurants are my favorite places to observe an electrician’s craft. Basements are fun because I’ve seen the most examples of what NOT to do. Usually, it’s conduit that doesn’t run parallel with anything around it or strange, short sections of conduit joined together. Junction boxes that haven’t been leveled irritate me, too. It’s like seeing a picture hanging crooked: there is an urge to straighten it, and it just can’t be done. I can almost hear the installer saying, “Shit. I don’t want to be here. I’m just gonna slap this together and hope nobody notices.”

The restaurants with exposed beams and ductwork seem to be excellent grounds for examples of precision. Cables and pipes run square. Things are level and plumb, and most people never notice. Other restaurants – especially the kind with the drop-in ceiling tiles (the ones that crumble if you ever move them) – will show some degree of hurry and incompleteness, and most people never notice.

So far, most electricians I have met have taught me that precision matters, regardless of whether it is visible to the public eye. And I feel lucky to be learning this way.

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