My Foray into Suspicious Acts of Charity
Fixing a Stranger's Dryer
By Rob Cockerham |
This is the story of how I wandered into the realm of being too generous and had to explain myself to a police officer on the side of the road.
A few months ago, my air conditioning went out. I have central air conditioning, and it continued to make the same air blowing noises, but the air wasn't getting cold. I don't have any experience troubleshooting central air conditioning, but I knew YouTube could help.
It wasn't long before I found the troubleshooting skills of "DIY Tinker".
He had fixed his air conditioner by replacing the start/run capacitor, and made a video to describe the troubleshooting process and the replacement. That video was a success. It has generated half a million views and probably earned him a few thousand dollars in ad revenue. He made more videos, and the best ones show a problem, show the troubleshooting and show the solution.
His next couple of videos were about the different parts of the air conditioning system. They were pretty good.
Here's where he got lucky: His friend's air conditioning broke. This provided another pure troubleshooting opportunity. He was able to videotape himself diagnosing and repairing a second air conditioning system. This is incredibly rare and valuable... because you can't really fake troubleshooting.
Those first few moments of a video, if you can show exactly the same problem the viewer is experiencing at home... that's gold.
I fixed my air conditioner. Replaced the capacitor just like DIY tinker had done: $11. I was ecstatic. Earlier that week I had used youtube videos to diagnose and fix my exhaust purge valve AND a lawnmower. I was in love with Youtube.
These self-help videos are going to change the world. Do you know how many people buy a new washing machine when their washing machine breaks? Lots. How about a broken vacuum cleaner belt? I bet those are the main cause of new vacuum cleaner purchases. YouTube is poised to make experts out of us all.
I had an idea that I could follow the path of DIY Tinker. I could find broken things and film myself fixing them....troubleshooting them and fixing them. A byproduct of that would be helping people who were in a jam.
I watched the documentary "Poor Kids" on Frontline. It features interviews of poor kids, struggling to succeed in life and school under financial hardship, obviously, given the title "poor kids". In one interview, you learn that a family had lost a bunch of property when they could no longer afford to pay their rental fee on a storage locker. The girl had lost her Nintendo DS in such a move, which struck me as a cruel circumstance for a homeless girl. Was there a way to help people who can't afford their storage lockers a way to get one last stab at their valuables within?
On Wednesday night I searched Craigslist for "need help". You should try this.
I was looking for storage locker problems, but I found a gal with a broken dryer.
Perfect! I could fix her dryer, film the process and reap the benefits of a successful YouTube video.
Based on the description in her ad, it sounded like she had a bad bearing on a roller supporting the dryer drum. I did some research and found a pretty good video on how to replace the roller. I sent it to her, along with a proposal that I might be willing to fix her dryer. Without hesitation, she said Yes.
I was pretty sure she'd need a new ($12) bearing, but I wanted to see the problem myself first. I offered to come by with tools the next day. She agreed.
I left myself ample opportunities to flake on this plan, but when the time came, I wanted to do it! Fixing mechanical problems is incredibly gratifying. Right on schedule, I arrived at their house near Sunrise Mall (Sacramento), met the young couple and hauled my tools into their laundry nook. There it was: The broken dryer. A GE Profile Protege. Some of you reading this are probably wondering how poor they were. They weren't super poor. They had a newer Honda, lived in a nice-looking duplex and had decorative rugs. Their place was really clean. But they were broke. And their dryer was broken.
I made a short video capturing the evil scraping sound their dryer was conjuring. It was grating. I jumped right in, pulling the dryer away from the wall, pulling off the top of the cabinet and swinging the front panel out of the way. Right away it was obvious that my long-distance diagnosis had been incorrect. The bearings weren't bad. The GE dryer only had one bearing and it was fine, supporting the back of the drum from its rotational center. The squeaking was actually coming from a rotating drum fan, a hamster wheel fan in front at the bottom. It was off-center and scraping the housing as it spun. This was the culprit.
I bent some of the housing with pliers, and contemplated sawing off some fan blades before I realized I just had to re-align the fan with its shaft and bolt it back in place. One re-aligned drum fan and this problem was fixed! No more squeak!
I re-attached the dryer housing, plugged it in and watched it spin silently! Success!
The dryer was fixed. Both the man and the woman asked me what had been wrong and thanked me profusely. They offered to pay me (they were getting paid tomorrow, Friday), and offered to return the favor if I ever needed help. It was pretty awesome. Fixed the dryer without any parts, absolutely free!
I took some photos, gave them a brief explanation of the economics of YouTube advertising and left before it got awkward. I felt great!
A block later, a police car was behind me at the stop light onto Sunrise Blvd. I was getting pulled over.
I thought it was because my registration was expired (I hadn't passed smog check), but the officer asked where I was coming from. He asked if I was in that area doing a transaction, which I assumed meant buying drugs.
So, pleased with the irony of the situation, I told him the whole story. I was in this neighborhood helping a complete stranger for free. He was genuinely perplexed by my actions.
"So, there was no exchange of goods or services?"
I got out of my car and talked with him on the side of the road. I gave him the whole story above, DIY Tinker and the economics of YouTube advertising.
"Where are your tools?"
"In the trunk... Oh! I have pictures!" I showed him the pictures on my camera.
"Ok. Well.... wow. That is odd. So, if I searched your entire car,would I find anything?"
"So you drove out here, using your own gas, with your own tools, to help someone you don't know, for NO money?
"Do I have your permission to pat you down?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Do you have anything on you?"
He held one of my hands and asked me to put my other hand on top of my head. By the way he turned my wrist I had the distinct feeling I was about to be handcuffed.
"Are you ARRESTING ME?!"
"No, just a search."
I didn't get handcuffed.
We talked a little more, "have you ever been arrested?", "Do you use drugs?", etc.
"Ok, I'm not going to give you a ticket. I've been to an officer-involved shooting today, a fight and a stabbing, but yours is the craziest story I've heard today."
I thanked him and got in my car.
"Be careful with people you meet on Craigslist."
How about that? Later I realized I had had to explain my own motivation (YouTube and web advertising) to convince him. Pure altruism wasn't a likely motivator in this neighborhood.
Weird night. Would I do it again?