Remembering Bob Howard

Our Founder

During one of my first encounters with Serena she was wearing a Harley Davidson shirt. Her hair was closely cropped and she was a complete enigma. Oh… to back up a bit this scene is playing out in a bar where I am the server and she is a patron.

By this point I knew she was

  1. A student
  2. Worked at Peet’s Coffee
  3. Really smart

Of course she was pretty too but at this point we were both in relationships so I tried my best to rid my head of that observation.

So on this particular night she walks in wearing a long sleeve Harley Davidson shirt. It just didn’t make sense to me. The logical conclusion was that this was based in irony and satire as it really didn’t add up with what else I knew about her.

As my mind is prone to do, I pushed logic aside. It’s too easy. Instead I came to the conclusion that her father was probably a big motorcycle guy. It’s probably like a family thing. That makes way more sense.

I have always been intimidated by engines. I’d grown up in my dad’s woodshop. If you wanted a bookcase I could definitely cobble something together. However, if the car wouldn’t start I was at a loss beyond checking for fuel/battery. I wasn’t entirely ignorant as I had taken a Power Mechanics class in Junior High. In fact because of said class I got my first taste of what I would later learn is related to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

While perhaps not a perfect example of said effect it is my experience that the more I understand about a concept (i.e. motors) the less confident I am in my abilities with the matter. While I have studied the stages of a four stroke engine, my brain cannot believe that it actually works.

So when I learned that Serena’s father Bob was a mechanic I was intimidated. It wasn’t so much that I was concerned that he wouldn’t approve of me but more that I essentially associated his career path to being a low-key wizard. In my younger days I was constantly concerned with sounding dumb and I simply didn’t know how I could talk to someone who had the confidence to split an engine open.

Oh! Plus my mind jumped back to the Harley Davidson shirt. WHAT IF my earlier hunch had been correct and he was some gnarly Harley Davidson mechanic?!

I can’t recall when I first met Bob but within 2 minutes of doing so I determined that this was not the case. My fear of meeting some Orange County Choppers meathead was replaced with the comfort of getting to know an over intellectual mechanic from New England.

Over the years we had a fantastic relationship. He understood that I had parlayed my skill set into making websites for a skateboard company and I could see that he would regularly read articles that had graphs in them.

We were both ‘smart’ and perhaps haunted by the ghost of Dunning-Kruger.

Several years back I decided to work through some of my auto mechanic fears. I had a 1974 Vespa that I’d owned since I was 19 and I wanted to get it up and running again. After doing some digging I realized that one priority was cleaning the carburetor. At this time I had no idea what a carburetor was. I mentioned this to Bob and heard for the first time a phrase that he would repeat to me nearly every time we were on the subject...

“You can make a carburetor with a carrot and a potato”

He patiently explained what a carburetor was and what its job was while I sat there in awe. To him it was all simple calculations and to me it was a Rube Goldberg machine.

He would ask me programming questions that I would dutifully answer and perhaps some of my answers gave him the same awe and confusion I felt.

Towards the end we continued our carburetor discussions. By this point I had taken apart and 'fixed' three or so different carburetors at least six times a piece. At minimum I had opened up a 'carb' 18 times and (at least in my mind) felt that I was finally allowed to refer to them as 'carbs'. I knew my way around but still felt like I knew very little. In one of our last conversations I was discussing this and said "and as you know a carb is very simple" to which he immediately said "no it's not". I stumbled for a bit as I had felt like it was he that had taught me that a carburetor was indeed simple and that I should not be afraid of it. I had a feeling we were no longer talking about carburetors.

To close the Harley Davidson loop I will now share with you a passage from Bob that I found in our past email correspondences.

These bikes--especially ones with high clearance and seats--only are formidable to guy with short legs. Which is why they love Harleys--built for the simians, with short legs, and long arms, so they can get to the ape bars.

At long last. Concrete proof that my initial conclusion from Serena's early 2000's fashion choice was incorrect.

There were so many things I still wanted to learn from him yet I am relieved that he no longer suffers. We never tried to make a carburetor out of a carrot and a potato and for that I am sad. I loved having him as a father in law and he always made me feel like I was keeping up my end of the deal.

Rest easy Bob.

Bob's Garage

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