Every work day, I park in a six-level parking garage on campus. I usually manage to park in just about the same slot on the Blue Level. For nearly six years now.
I just noticed the other day this big red label on a large vertical pipe near “my spot”. But the label didn’t make any sense to me. Curious, I asked this official-looking-clipboard-toting-guy-in-a-hard-hat if he could tell me what it meant. I was out of luck. He said he was the Elevator Guy, there for an inspection, and didn’t have a clue.
Later on, a couple of people were standing near my desk when something reminded me of the oddly labeled pipe, so I posed the question again.
“Hey, I just noticed this label on a pipe in the parking garage by where I park — do you guys know what “Fire Sand Pipe” means?”
“Yeah. Fire Sand Pipe.”
“What’s it look like?”
“Oh, it’s about this big around (at which point I gesture a circle about 4-5 inches in diameter). Has a valve on it. But what could that even mean… like, would it shoot sand and put out fires?”
“I mean, that wouldn’t be so good for the finish on the vehicles…”
“No, Linda, but neither is fire…”
She made a good point. But I still didn’t know what a Fire Sand Pipe might be.
“I’ll bet you can figure this out since you’re not as busy these days, seeing how you haven’t been writing your ‘two posts a week’…”
After our little exchange, I typed my query into a search bar. I was not expecting what appeared when I hit “Enter”.
Apparently, there is no such thing as a Fire Sand Pipe. HOWEVER, a Fire Standpipe is a device that serves the same function as a hydrant within a building or on a bridge, enabling fire fighters to connect hoses to it to manually apply water to a fire.*
There you go. Mystery solved.
So you’d think at this point I’d be good, right?
Nope. This new information only begged the question, Is there a typo out there on the pipe in the garage, or am I severely challenged when it comes to reading vertically lettered words? I was seriously hoping it was the former, and more than a little afraid it was the latter. The work day would end soon enough and I’d have my answer.
So I’m guessing by now you probably figured out that a company that installs these bad boys in buildings and parking structures and such would have a whole slew of labels ready to slap on their newly installed pipes, and somebody would have noticed by now if a prominent letter had been omitted on their supply of nifty labels. As I approached my car and saw the lettering going down the side of the pipe, I chuckled.
It is perhaps germane to include at this point that on the day I noticed the lettering on the pipe, there was a layer of grit that crunched underfoot when I stepped out of my car. I began to wonder if all the “sand” had somehow leaked out of the contraption. It didn’t even occur to me in the moment that the garage surface does indeed slope toward a drain near the standpipe and the grit had, in fact, been deposited there by rainwater flowing toward the drain.
So, did I read “Fire Sand Pipe” because of all the grit?
Or did I misread the label and then begin to muse about the sand underfoot?
All of this now begs my final question.
Exactly how many things do I misperceive in the course of a day?
I’ve noticed that from time to time I get things wrong. (Actually, the frequency might be increasing in recent years, but I’m not inclined to own this just yet.) I’ll figure out my error later, after having insisted that this or that was the gospel truth. Fortunately, admitting I’m wrong gets easier as I get older — I’ve figured out there are way too many more important things than my “right-ness” to grasp tightly — but it’s still not my favorite thing to do. So, instead, I try to footnote my declarative statements with a little nod to the possibility that I just might be incorrect, inaccurate, or mistaken. You know, wrong.
I don’t do this because I don’t believe what I say is right or correct. (Whoa, did I just put two negatives together like that?) Like when I was telling Elevator Inspector Man about the label “Fire Sand Pipe” on the Blue Level and asking what it meant — I didn’t question what I’d “seen”. But having found out I’ve been wrong one too many times — after the fact — I avoid being overly dogmatic about things. That doesn’t just apply to facts, either: I’ve decided that some of my opinions weren’t all that seaworthy and have changed my mind about what’s “right” when presented with better information, and on more than a few occasions.
When someone is trying like the Dickens to help set me straight, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn because I’m hell bent on maintaining some original assertion. Happily, I find that most people, upon encountering a flexible posture, are generally gracious in putting forth what they know to be true in the face of what I’ve gotten wrong. I suppose it’s sort of like not having to use a ram rod when the door’s already ajar.
So next time we’re chatting it up and I say something strange, like, Hey, you know, there’s this Fire Sand Pipe out in the parking garage, or some other similarly odd thing — go easy, okay? I promise I’ll listen, because I really am open to getting it right…
Meanwhile, I be at the Brain Gym, doing my Vertical Lettering Exercises.
* Fire standpipes can be either dry or wet. Dry standpipes do not have water in them and require a fire truck to supply water to the system. (Hoses are generally stored nearby.) Wet standpipes are filled with water and are pressurized at all times, enabling building occupants to attach the hoses and fight fires quickly. Ours is dry.