John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I love that little proverb because it’s a little snippet of wisdom that brings my mind back to reality when this business of life screws up again.
Have you ever felt that your life is a blip on the continuity of life? This idea came to mind one day, long ago, when I watched our station engineer tuning up one of the FM radio transmitters. Ollie was trying to diagnose a problem with his oscilloscope. He attached the instrument’s set of alligator clips onto various circuits. He told me to watch for two certain types of waves on the oscilloscope’s screen.
One shape indicated normal functioning of the circuit, the other shape would show the glitch that he believed could indicate where the problem was. After much trial and error, Ollie located the defective component when a particular type of “sawtooth wave” appeared on the oscilloscope. Once the problem was diagnosed, Ollie was able to repair it in just a few minutes. While we packed up his gear, I mentioned the observation about being a blip in life. He laughed and congratulated me.
Ollie was an eccentric English transplant to America. Ollie was well past the official retirement age. He had witnessed and participated in the early development of commercial broadcasting. He was very skilled at his craft. In addition to his technical mastery Ollie had cultivated a deep understanding of philosophical concepts. Whenever he took me along to one of the transmitter sites, Ollie usually shared his observations with me.
It wasn’t always easy to follow along with Ollie’s story-lines because of how he drove. He owned a 1965 Plymouth Fury III four door sedan. The car was once a real beauty that had decayed to a rusty heap. The interior was littered with electronic gear, wires, and worn out stuff. The seats were frayed due to his little Scottish Terrier’s nervous habit of clawing fabric like a cat.
Ollie’s philosphical meandering wandered to and fro, and was sometimes as disjointed as his driving style. The way to the FM transmitter site was a graveled dirt road maintained by the county. Piloting the old Plymouth was second nature to Ollie so he didn’t always pay close attention to the road while driving. When the car began drifting on the loose gravel, I double checked the seatbelt buckle to be sure it was fastened securely. That gesture was Ollie’s cue to slow down. I often wondered how Ollie survived his near-miss driving style.
Aside from Ollie’s excellent technical skills and his razor-sharp philosophical opinions, I admired Ollie for his patience. I never heard of him losing his cool. His job description included the necessity to tolerate interruptions. At small-market radio stations, the chief engineer is always on-call. Day or night, the engineer must be available to handle emergency technical problems.
In that regard, Ollie was a real saint. If he wasn’t able to talk the overnight disc jockey (usually me) through a procedure to solve the emergency, Ollie dragged himself out of bed in order to take care of the problem himself. Countless times, he loaded up the old Plymouth and drove the many miles to the transmitter site for emergency duty. He had seemingly unlimited reserves of patience and energy so as to endure so many interruptions.
Eventually, Ollie decided to retire again. Was it his second or third retirement? I don’t remember for sure. After Ollie relinquished his job here in Norfolk, Nebraska he retired to a small Montana town. He was hired as a consulting engineer at the radio station there. Evidently, Ollie couldn’t live without being within shouting distance of broadcast electronics. He was one of the very few people I knew who thrived in the face of interruptions.
The Blue Jay of Happiness feels compelled to share another John Lennon tidbit of wisdom. “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”