Learning Their Places the Hard Way

Teenagers are a funny bunch, and freshman are always the most comical. Over my lifetime, I’ve been one and have watched many classes of them during 30 years as a teacher. They arrive at high school “wet behind the ears” but act as if they are seasoned veterans. It doesn’t take long before those new high school students learn the truth.
Always in a new class are at least a couple of goofballs. They draw attention to themselves by trying to be funny. Any laughter that their antics or comments generate comes as snickers about how moronic those goofballs are acting. Still, these attention seekers believe that even negative reinforcement is better than none at all.
Other new-to-high school males or females try to survive by acting tough. They strut and smirk and sneer. Little do they know that persons tougher than they are also walk the halls of the school. I vividly recall a freshman in my class all those years ago who brought his mean act and tough attitude to school. He displayed them one day in the smoking pit that was located in a corner next to the gym and in front of the shop class windows. He smarted off one to many times. With lightning quickness, a senior put a halt to the freshman’s cockiness as he punched him squarely in the eye. The impact sound like two cinder blocks slamming together. The younger boy’s face became a grotesque combination of swelling and blood. He retrieved his bent glasses and struggled to put them on his bruised face. From that time on, he exhibited a bit more humility in the smoke hole and didn’t try to tangle with seniors who were much bigger and stronger than he was.
Only a handful of freshmen boys dare to approach female upperclassmen. Doing so is considered an affront to the girl, something that senior boys are about to let happen without consequences. The older males step up to become the girl’s champions and meet head-on the offending party. A group of senior boys swoop down on the freshman and escort him to some terrible fate. Sometimes it might entail the pushing of a penny with the nose down a long hallway. I’ve also heard of incidents where the ninth grader received a “swirly.” That’s when seniors hold him upside down, dunk his head in a toilet, and flush. At the old Karns High School, especially egregious act lead to the boy being escorted to the banks of the creek. There he experienced the “Beaver Creek Plunge.” The seniors grabbed his arms and legs, began swinging him, and on the count of “3” let him go so that he splashed into the water. That dunking into the creek cooled the passionate heart and underscored to the underclassmen the limits he faced.
I was in yet another group. Like too many freshmen, I traded in studying habits that I’d developed in elementary school for a life of laziness that ignored classwork. Grades tumbled quickly, and I scrambled to come up with a good explanation on grade day. Too many other activities demanded my attention, and they were much more entertaining than studying algebra or science. Soon enough, reckoning day arrived, and a summer spent in school to erase failing grades replaced the freedom that loafers like me craved so much.

By the time midyear arrived, most freshman settled into the high school experience. They learned the unwritten rules of conduct in the large social setting and consequences for violating them. Freshmen began feeling comfortable in their own skins and with their own groups. They knew that in just a few months the harassment by upperclassmen would cease as a new class of “fresh meat” arrived for a new school year.  In the blink of an eye, they became the seniors who enforce those rules by which first year students must abide. It’s all part of new students learning their places high school during those tough teenage years. 


I’ve become a millennial! It happened without my knowing what was happening. My reason for saying this is that I’m changing part time jobs again. After almost a year at Toyota of Knoxville, my body is aching from the walking on concrete all day long. If I could survive that one thing, no change would be necessary. My time at the place has certainly showed me that the service department employees work hard to please.
Nothing is any better than getting reacquainted with a best friend. Billy Hayes is the Director of
Service at Toyota of Knoxville, and as I’ve discussed many times before, we coached our sons in baseball for years and developed a strong friendship through it. The best part of my job there was
spending time with him as we laughed, fussed, and sometimes cussed.
I knew Billy was a good body shop business man. What I witnessed firsthand is that he simply has exceptional skills that make him one of the strongest business leaders around. He works to keep employees happy. He is a member of management, but Billy is never afraid to jump in to help porters, service advisers, or body shop technicians. On more than one occasion, he’s rolled up his white shirt sleeves and fixed a vehicle problem.
I also learned that the folks who work in the service center are some of the hardest working individuals in any business. Service advisers spend much of their time writing up orders and answering customers’ questions and complaints. Oil techs and mechanics work tirelessly to provide services that please customers and to diagnose and fix problems with vehicles. The mechanics attend classes to earn certification in multiple areas. A car owner can feel a bit more at ease that his or her car is under the care of someone who has the experience and skills to solve problems.
I worked as a porter, a fancy name for a car mover. My buddies and I began work around 7 a.m. and worked long hours. The job doesn’t sound that difficult, does it? You’re right…to a degree. However, porters move cars to different areas of the property for work, then they move them to the car wash, and then they bring them out for waiting customers. By the end of the day, a porter who works hard can walk as much as twelve miles without ever leaving the Toyota lot.
Another surprise concerned customers. Many are kind folks who are patient with the staff and find ways to occupy themselves as services are being completed. An astonishing number of customers arrive at the center in a bad mood, and that negative attitude grows while they wait. I’ve watched too many people verbally attack employees over prolonged waiting time, even though the vast majority of complainers didn’t have appointments. Some irate individuals accuse workers of stealing possessions in their cars and maintain those accusatory tones even after video proof contradicts their statements.
Dealerships are driven by surveys. Called CSI’s (customer service index), these surveys are sent to folks who have visited the dealership for service. The kicker with these tools is that they aren’t fair at all. If a person finishes his visit at the center, thinks he’s received average service, and gives a score in the 70’s or 80’s, he has unwittingly assigned a failing score. Anything below a 90 is a terrible grade, and most of the time, an acceptable CSI score to management in the company is 100. Try to remember that the next time you grade a dealership’s service department.
I know that mistakes happen when car services are provided. That comes when humans are working. However, a customer who loses his temper is making a bad situation worse. A better approach would be to talk with the service department manager and to come to some kind of understanding. Maybe a better solution would be for the customer to go to a different dealer.

All in all, I’ve gained a healthy respect for the folks who take care of cars. They work hard and try to provide excellent service. From now on, I’ll be much more patient and understanding of what is going on at the places where I shop. As for the workers in the Toyota of Knoxville service center, I salute them and the work they do and say thanks for your kindness to me. I’ll miss you guys. 


You’re where you are in life through a series of events. I suppose the fact that for every action there is a consequence comes into play. At this point, I’m pretty sure that one major events in my life dictated what paths I’ve taken.
The most serious event that changed my life was the death of my dad. Jim and I were only 13 when th grade, our teachers came to get us to deliver the news.
he passed, but for an entire year he’d been sick and searching for a doctor who could tell him what the problem was. On the first day of school when we were in the 8
Because he died when we were so young, neither Jim nor I ever learned to do things like carpentry, plumbing, or simple electrical skills. After we became adults, our efforts in those areas led to haphazardly-constructed structures. On one summer job, I was in charge of maintenance. Amazing! A leaking toilet challenge led to my putting half a container of some goo on the water supply line. I’d also installed the wax ring upside down. Another job opportunity came soon, and after I left, that toilet erupted and flooded the bathroom and another room below. It wasn’t until midlife that Jim and I became “competent” in dealing with the simplest home projects.
Jim and I weren’t angels during high school. Mother held our feet to the fire and meted out punishment swiftly. Still, we did our share of drinking and carousing, and, in Jim’s case, fighting. Daddy would have put a quick end to some of that behavior because a team of parents can better sniff out the wrong doings of their children. It must be said, however, that we refrained from doing many things because we understood the tough life Mother led and never wanted to disappoint her with dangerous or illegal activities that were available during those years. That includes drugs and dangerous stunts to which many teens are drawn.
Mother was the single parent in a house with 3 teenaged boys. Decisions had to be made without Daddy’s input. It’s because he was gone that I feel sure that Mother insisted that we go away for our first year of college. She felt that we needed to learn to be on our own and told us we could return home to attend school after that one year. She knew in her heart that none of us would move back. More than likely, Daddy would have had us stay home and attend UT to save money and keep us from doing anything stupid.
Because she insisted that we become independent, all three of us worked hard to earn college degrees and find secure jobs. Dal and Jim married early; both they and their wives were only 19. However, those marriages always remained solid; Dal’s illness posed problems, but Little Brenda stayed by his side until the end. Jim’s marriage to Big Brenda will reach year 44 in August.
It was at college that I met Amy. She was a Cookeville girl, and the minister of the church harassed
me until I asked her out. Because Mother insisted we go away to college, I was able to find Amy and marry her 41 years ago. The chain of events that occurred after Daddy’s death led to that marriage, the birth of two children, and the presence of grandson Madden.
Although I’ve been a slow learner, Daddy’s death was partly responsible for my giving up smoking. He died of lung cancer, as did Mother and Dal. I can still remember vividly each illness and the devastating effects the disease inflicted. That first loss of Daddy set in motion the eventual decision to give up such a devilish habit. Of course, I suspect that the smoking that I did for so many years was the result of watching both parents puff away for years.
I’ve often wondered how life might have been different if Daddy hadn’t died at the age of 53. No
doubt, many of the things that are part of my life would not exist, and I am sure Amy and I wouldn’t
have met, a fact that would have erased Lacey and Dallas’ existences. What I wish is that Daddy could have watched what we boys became and have had the opportunity to meet his daughters-in-law
and grandchildren. I suppose that he might have had that chance in the place he’s been for so long. Life’s path often takes a direction after the occurrence of just one event.


Like millions of people in this country, I remember a time before television. When a tv set found its way to our house, it was a boxy, metallic gadget that weighed about as much as a gun safe. Over the years, we’ve witnessed the growth of programming from three channels to thousands and a plethora of shows that compete for our attention. Even when we “can’t find anything to watch,” the DVR offers another group of shows for our entertainment. Wouldn’t it be something if we could run our lives on some kind of DVR?
Just imagine what we could do with a DVR life. First of all, we could re-run or fast forward through all sorts of stuff. How many times have people whispered, “If I could only go back and do that over?”
When a mistake is made, all we’d have to do is hit a button and then re-do things. Hurtful words and actions would be wiped away, and life would be a happier, less stressful thing. If we’re too lazy, we can simply fast-forward passed the situation. Perhaps such abilities could put an end to wars, divorces, economic failures, or domestic abuses. Just this past week, our country could have used a rewind button to undo the deaths of citizens and police officers.
Folks would also use the “Pause” button often. We could hold on to those happy times in our lives. I think about the birth of my children and the wedding of my daughter as times I’d like to have stopped for a while. An event when all our family members are present would be another time we’d hold on to. I know that some of those ball games that Dallas played would be on the pause list, and I would like to enjoy once again times when my grandson was small and loved everything I did. I could stop them and savor the moments just a bit more.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t have the ability to enjoy DVR lives. No, we’re put on earth to draw breaths and make choices that have consequences. It’s what’s called “choice.” Oh, sometimes outside forces or individuals bring about events not of our making, but for the most part, each of us is in control of what happens in life. As masters of our fates, we rarely have anyone else to blame for the messes along the way. At the same time, our personal decisions can bring about much joy.
A DVR life defeats the sweetness of existence. Sure mistakes are costly, but they also are instructive. As a teen, I drove my mother’s car home from an event on a rainy night. I came to a stop sign and decided to give the 383 engine the gas. The next thing I knew, the world was spinning by as the care twirled down the rain-soaked pavement. After what seemed to be an eternity, the back end of the vehicle thumped and came to rest in a ditch. From that point on, I learned the danger of an auto and my limits to control it.
The same thing is true throughout our lives. We learn from the bone-headed things we do. The same is true with sadness. The loss of a pet helps a child to prepare for losses in future. We learn to be strong in the face of our loved one’s passing. Losing a job can teach us about ourselves and what is truly important in our day-to-day lives. Setbacks can really be God’s way of telling us that we need to rely on something more than ourselves, or they can lead us to finding a better, more fulfilling way of making a living.

The rough patches in life are the very things that teach us most. Few of us have much desire to learn when everything is going well. As crazy as it might sound, being able to pause good times or fix past mistakes cheapens happiness. Show me a person who is always happy, and I’ll show you a bored man or woman. The low times make happiness more precious. I suppose that having a DVR life cheat us out of a complete existence.