When I woke at 6 am the temperature outside was 15 degrees. That inside was 57 degrees. The moment I left the bedroom I knew the boiler was off. A trip to the basement confirmed the boiler was stone-cold. I switched off its power, waited 30 seconds, and switched the power on. Nothing. The pilot did not light. I remembered dimly that there was another step I could take to start it but staring at the copper pipes and sheet-metal duct did not jar my memory. I went to the kitchen and called our plumber, Steve. I expected to get his service and leave a message but he picked up on the third ring. I described the problem as I returned to the basement. “Did you hit the switch on top, on the duct?” “What switch?” “On top, on the duct.” As I peered in to look at a metal box affixed to the duct I heard the low whoosh of the gas jets in flame. “Damn” I said, “you are good. The boiler reignited just by talking to you.” “It shouldn’t have gone off, though.” “No, it shouldn’t, and you’ll remember it happened last winter.” “That time you called just as I was leaving church. (I’d forgotten it also happened last year on a Sunday.) Today I’m just going to church.” We talked about possible causes for a few minutes, he said he’d talk to some of his heating guys, and we rang off.
Steve is on our short list of contacts. We’ve known him since our kitchen renovation two years ago. When we need a plumber, usually we need him NOW, and Steve has always come through. While in college I never thought about having a plumber on call. Now it’s essential.
My old business partner turned his energies to education when we dissolved our business. He taught social studies in the Boston Public School system for about five years. Lately he’s been trying to establish a charter school. His premise is that our education system focuses too much on college as the goal and fails to educate students about non-college careers. In most school systems vocational education is the poor cousin to the college prep, Advanced Placement, we-measure-our-success-by-how-many-graduates-matriculate-at-four-year-colleges curriculum. He says another metric is equally important: how many of those high school graduates who attend college obtain college degrees? What’s the point of getting students into college if they don’t have the skills they need to prosper there? College is not a good choice for everyone. High schools should encourage, develop, and celebrate the success of students who go into trades, who become plumbers and electricians and HVAC contractors. These jobs cannot be outsourced to India and when you wake on a frigid Sunday morning to a cold house with a broken boiler, you are not going to call an investment banker. Or a lawyer.