Insights from Underneath a French Car
Micheal Newman | September 1, 2009
I owned a Goddess once. She was gray. With red seats. A Citroen DS, nicknamed Goddess because, when spoken in French, DS sounds like the French word for goddess. At the time it was one of the most advanced automobiles ever built. Head-turning design to say the least. Big roomy thing, far from luxurious but the ride was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Independent gas shocks and the ability to take corners without reducing speed or leaning, something like a hovercraft turns on water.
But she was used, of course, and spent a good deal of time in the shop. Problem was that very few people knew how to work on the car. There was only one guy anywhere near me. I was there more than most of his clients and I spent more than most his clients, every time. Until I got sick of it. When I needed a new generator I decided to act.
I found a book, essentially “Citroens for Dummies.” Eagerly I thumbed through it and yes, there it was, Generator Replacement. No more being ripped off!
I started work in my driveway on a Saturday morning and by lunch I was probably at Step 50 but it wasn’t easy. In fact it was frustration personified. But I did not give up. About mid-afternoon I was only a few steps from the end. That’s when I read Step 201 or whatever it was. It began: “Take Special Citroen tool ‘J’ and……” I had no idea what that tool was but I was pretty sure there was only one guy in town who owned one.
So, long story short. I learned that Citroens were unnecessarily complicated. There was no reason to assemble all the parts the way they were. There was a simpler way. But I realized that the French, and in particular the French people who built the cars, had their own ideas, and they built them to satisfy themselves not me even though their sales pitch said otherwise. I also of course learned something I had learned several times before, and since. Plan.
There are easy ways to do things and complicated ways to do exactly the same things. William of Occam in fourteenth century England said it is best to choose the simplest explanation for something unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. Another take on the same idea might be to say that it is best to do things, let’s say crafting legislation for example, the easiest way unless there is good reason to do otherwise. Reauthorization is complicated, yes. But unlike William, Washington’s instinctive reaction when looking for explanations or answers is to choose more complicated over less complicated. The solution is not better for this process, just more complicated.
Anyway, I towed the Goddess in. My mechanic, who was not French, just smiled and shrugged his shoulders, much as I assume the Goddess’s creators would have done.
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