Growing up in a rural farm and ranch environment, life was a bit different for us kids. Attending school outside the rural lifestyle was nothing if not uncomfortable. Often times, it was close to humiliating. We wore Levi 501s before it was cool to wear Levi 501s. They were considered “farmer pants” or “idiot jeans.” That reference was a jab at those who needed to button their pants because zippers were too complex to figure out. When we were old enough, we would drive our old pickup trucks to school. Everyone else was driving sleek or stylish cars. More than one farmer’s kid was suspended for dental displacement to someone who decided to make fun of their vehicle or choice of attire.
But we knew those who made such remarks wouldn’t last ten minutes in our boots. Shoveling hay to feed livestock from the back of a slow moving pickup truck was tough. Doing so when it was twelve degrees was the norm for us. Breaking the ice in our stock tanks so the cattle could water was treacherous, to say the least, but most times a stick of well-placed dynamite was a better solution than walking onto the ice.
Standing in the hay loft to grab hay bales as they dropped off the conveyor belt and stacking them was back-breaking work. Especially when you consider there was only one opening in the loft and that was the large square where the conveyor belt dropped the hay. We considered ourselves lucky; there had been a time when we had to throw the bales up into the barn. It was easily 115 degrees in the loft with no breeze at all. After the first two minutes, hay chaff stuck to your sweat-soaked body, grinding itself into your flesh. You learned not to brush it off as it would only leave you a bloody mess.
The phrases we used were peculiar as well. One of them I still use to this day. If circumstances were going to become difficult or dangerous, one utterance was enough for everyone within earshot.
“Hold on boys…things are fixin’ to get western.”
And indeed, more than often not, they most certainly were.
I used that phrase the other day while at the shop with Pete and James. These guys are two of the get-‘er-done volunteers for Reglue. It doesn’t matter what or where, Pete and James answer the bell every time. Of course my “get western” phrase wasn’t predicting anything dire. It alluded to the fact that the summer doldrums were almost over.
Every year it’s the same thing at about the same time. Requests for computers and laptops come rushing in. And it’s not hyperbole to say it’s more like a pummeling than it is receiving requests. We can get as many as six a day, where normally we see five to eight come in on a monthly basis. Of course, before school starts a good 50 percent of those are requests from people who don’t qualify, but still…we have to process them.
The fact that I cannot speak has been a challenge. I am setting up the phone for reglue to self-answer with a message to text or email me. If it is necessary to contact us immediately, Pete has volunteered to take those calls. One of those calls was from someone who recently moved to Austin, who has been a good friend of Reglue for a number of years and donates generously. Aside from his generosity, it was good to see him walk through our door in person.
During his visit I showed him around. On one of the back desks there was a stack of Lenovo R-500s. We love supplying Lenovo laptops because they are the most durable machines we’ve given away. Pete was working on them in order to make them ready for this school year. As we passed that table on the way to my desk, our visitor jerked his head in that direction and asked, “Are those being prepared for recycle?”
I looked over, trying to see anything that was ready to be recycled. Not seeing anything, I asked him where he was talking about. He indicated the 9 R500 laptops. I told him no, that those laptops were going out in the next couple of days.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, right? This is the kind of junk you are putting out?” He closed the lid of one of the laptops in distain.
There was no mistaking the ire in his voice. I pushed him to tell me what he didn’t consider junk. Instead he began walking down the west wall of the shop, pointing repeatedly at desktop after desktop. “Some of these machines are six years old. How are you ‘helping’ anyone by giving them these pieces of garbage?”
The good host was completely gone from me now. All that remained was a dangerous anger I knew I had to control. I asked him just what kind of computers or laptops did he not consider to be junk. I asked him just where I was supposed to get computers that met his approval. I reminded him that we lived and died by the computers businesses and individuals donated, and that we upgraded every computer to its maximum potential before it left our facility.
The row of computers he keyed upon were extremely nice Optiplex 745 core duo small form factor machines. In fact, Pete and I will be making a trip to Indiana to pick up about 60 of these same machines. Most of these computers leave our shop with at least four gigs of RAM and a decent video card.
My guest wasn’t impressed, but neither did he answer my question.
“Where are you supposed to be getting better machines? That’s your job, not mine. Surely you can do better than this, for God’s sake. I’m past the point of disappointed. Do your other supporters know what kind of junk you are passing off as usable machines?”
It was at that point that I asked him to leave. My anger was ready to step across the line of controlled and into the realm of arrestable offense or getting my own ass whipped. He did so without another word.
It’s safe to say we’ve lost his financial support. Support that I might mention is substantial. He donated better than 3K a year to Reglue and his employer matched those funds. Besides that, I am left to wonder if others of you might feel the same way.
The machines we put together are all dual core/core duo computers. We haven’t placed a single core machine in two years. The only exceptions are the fantastic computers Jason Spisak and his organization, Symple PC, donated to Reglue. These have been placed in homes with kids of all ages whose computer needs don’t require a super large amount of power. These are perfect workstations for most everyone who does day-to-day computing. We couldn’t be happier with any donation than we are with Jason’s contributions to Reglue.
Mostly, all of our computers, be they laptop or desktop, carry no less than four gigs of RAM when they leave our shop. We have several quad core and six core machines that we reserve for our Reglue kids who’re going on to graduate studies. And to be honest, we all know that the “normal desktop” sold in the big box stores are ridiculously over-powered.
“Some of these machines are six years old. How are you helping anyone by giving them these pieces of garbage?”
I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t rattled by this encounter. Losing that much money is going to be hard to regain; that’s 30 percent of our annual operating budget. But that’s not my main worry. My concern is others who might feel the same way. Of course, I did remind him that he could up his donations and give us the money to meet his expectations. That pretty much went over like a turd floating in a punch bowl.
I’ll take a deep breath and prepare to go to my shop tomorrow to attempt to meet the demands of those who need our help this coming school year. Hopefully none of our recipients will consider our offering as junk.
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Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue