How to Clean your Conscience Chapter 12: Of Piping Systems and Electrical Circuits

Photo by Crystal Kwok on Unsplash

July 24th, 2016. 10:30 AM

I worked my way up the shoe, tugging on each row of strings all the way to the top, ensuring they clasped tightly against my foot.  No room for slippage, just enough to keep the circulation flowing… just the way I like it. In front of me was a 1.5-liter plastic bottle.  At one point in the morning, it was full of purified, municipally sourced water.  Now, all that remained was a small puddle.  I pushed the lid to my mouth and sucked the bottle dry, lubricating the surface area of my mouth.  I was going to need every drop to diffuse itself into my body if I were to pull off my next feat.

I rose, standing amongst a scattered room, dark and quiet.  We seemed to be left without power for the moment, as a flicker of the bathroom light yielded no results.  To reduce the probability of a misfire, I channeled my inner Ben Woodward and peed sitting down, one of the few times in my life I made the conscious decision to do so, then quickly pushed the memory to the back of my mind and snuck out, careful not to wake Bill.

The crisp morning air filled my lungs upon my exodus from the hotel, the first step towards detoxification.  Walking across the fresh, dew-soaked lawn behind the Cottonwood Suites, the smell of hydrated grass filled my nostrils until I hit asphalt.  This was it… the Greenbelt Trail.  With the swoosh of the Boise River to my right, I took a step forward, then another, steps that eventually turned into a brisk pace.

There was a hint of pain—a degree of difficulty to each stride, every bit expected after the abuse my body had taken over the past two days.  I welcomed it, accepting it as punishment for subjecting my body to such an overwhelming amount of poison.

It was about as peaceful of a run as you’d expect on a Sunday morning, light foot traffic with the occasional cyclist.  The upkeep was impressive, provided the miles long length of trail.  I passed through a network of clean, debris-free tunnels and land bridges, accompanied by a solid strip of evenly cut grass with the occasional memorial, dedications to those who made Boise what it is today I could only presume.

Several bridges connected each side of the Boise River.  Looking towards the southwest side, several flat, dormitory style complexes lined the adjacent path.  It appeared as though I was inching closer to Boise State University.  Curiosity striking, I crossed over to explore.

Slowly, the neighborhoods turned from college residential, to academic, and eventually to business.  As I closed in on South Broadway Street, one of the main stretches connecting downtown Boise to “The Bench,” I stood amongst a large parking lot, overlooking a large oval-shaped structure.  “Albertson Stadium” it said, “Home of the Broncos.”  To many, this was the pride and joy of Boise, a nationally recognized NCAA football team often overlooked due to its geographical location.  If pressed with a choice, my allegiance to any Idaho team lies with the Vandals. Yet, I couldn’t help but appreciate the marvel of such a stadium in the middle of Southern Idaho.  I ran around it, giving it the respect it commanded before retracing my steps back to the Cottonwood Suites.

Albertsons Stadium in the Fall

The cool vapors from the river and shade from the surrounding flora combatted the rising temperatures, keeping the remaining trek back to the hotel a bearable one as my body secreted itself with the byproducts of exhausted fuel.  We were due for another scorcher… but not quite yet.  Propelled by the lyrical selections of Drake and a freshly procured pair of running shoes, I continued the excoriation against my body’s capabilities and made a heavy push towards the finish line.

I reentered the hotel room, a fresh can of Rockstar awaiting me in the fridge.  “Still cold,” I told myself, despite the lack of power.  I cracked the top and took a giant sip.  The citrusy taste of sugar and soda allured my taste buds as sweat dripped down and soaked the carpeted floor; not an inch of my body was dry.  Bill still lay in bed, a position he could remain in for at least another hour, maybe two.  Enshrouded in silence and darkness, I stood, enervated, satisfied, tranquilized… reborn.  I took another sip of my Rockstar.  “This is what I live for…”

But it was all a pipe dream.  Pat, Lea and Gretch were bound to arrive in the near future, and on top of a long, dark shower, an exorbitant amount packing had to be done before they bid us their final farewell.

It wasn’t much longer now.

***

Bill and I checked out of our room and headed outside.  Though we had been accustomed to the blinding sunlight, there was a slight hesitation amongst us as we walked across the parking lot.  “Bill” a faint voice cried out from across the parking lot.  We shot a look towards its origin, spotting an open SUV and the silhouette of three bodies, one of which was waving towards us.  Our bags in hand, we shrugged off the hesitation and headed towards them, eventually coming into focus.

“Bill, come here. I’ve got something for you,” said Pat as he waved him to the back of his SUV.  Bill followed his direction.  I was right behind him looking over his shoulder, my curiosity just as high.

Pat dug through the luggage in the back of the SUV until he found an old, weathered box.  He opened it and began pulling out what looked to be sets of model construction vehicles.  “What are those?” I asked.

“It’s all of Bill’s old toys,” said Pat.  “He’s got his truck, crane and farm equipment that he used to play with as a kid. Pretty cool, huh?”  Bill gave them a thorough inspection, too humbled to speak. “I thought it’d be a nice addition to his house in Texas.”  Pat motioned me over, giving Bill ample time to soak in the nostalgia of his childhood.  “And Zack, check these out.”  Pat rummaged through the box until he pulled out a photo album.

“Hey, these are old pictures of you guys,” I said.

“Here’s us at the cabin in Pony,” said Pat as we guided through the album.

“Oh yea, I’ve been there!”

“And here’s one me and Lea after a race.”

“Man, you were looking pretty fit back in the day!”

“Well, I suppose I didn’t have as many fried pickles to munch on back then.  Now that I mention it, I still don’t…”  He just had to put in a dig, didn’t he?   “And here’s a picture of Gretch with a can of Coors Light.”

“I guess not much has changed!”  Pat and I shared a chuckle, with a few snorts coming from Bill.

“Oh, you guys,” said Lea, trying to hold off the urge to laugh.  We managed to squeak a slight grin out of her, despite her efforts to hide it.  I caught a glimpse of Gretch through my peripheral.  She didn’t look the slightest bit amused.

“Why don’t we take a picture of you guys?” suggested Pat.

“That sounds like a great idea,” I replied.  “We’ll add another picture to the memory box!”

Bill and I moved into position.  “Hey Gretch, why don’t you hop in,” asked Pat.

“Ah, that’s ok—“

“Gretchen, right now!” scolded Lea.  Gretch moped her way into frame, barely willing to lift her head.

“Okay ready?” asked Pat with his phone in place.  “On the count of three, everybody say, ‘fried pickles!’ Heheh, just kidding Zack.  Alright, one, two and three! Great picture guys. Except you could’ve smiled a little more, Gretch. By the way, when was the last time you check the oil in your car? I think we should check it before we go, just in case you need oil. Gretch, did you hear me? Let’s add a little oil–Gretch, where are you going? Gretch, come back here—Gretch!..

***

We watched as Pat and Lea left the parking lot of the Cottonwood Suites to become one with the endless blue sky that would accompany them along their journey north.  They had given us their final goodbyes, a departure that was subdued, yet humble.  Who could blame them, given the climactic events from the previous day?  Pat blamed it on fried pickles, but it was a mood that lingered amongst all of us, judging by the lack of dialogue.  The sun was back in full force, striking from all directions as heat radiated from the asphalt.  Out of all the places in Boise that morning, the powerless Cottonwood Suites was not among the most desired.  Something had to give.

“Are you guys hungry,” I asked.  My question was met with moderate agreeance.

“You thinking Chilis?” snapped Gretch.  “Half-priced Apps on Sunday.”  I had a suspicion she’d be apt to the prospect, a coveted tradition held since the 2015 Beer Olympics.  Hence, the suggestion.  

“Let’s do it,” said Bill. With no objection, we hopped into Gretch’s car, making our way to the nearest Chilis, right across the street from Albertson Stadium.

Recognizing a song on the radio, Gretch turned up the stereo volume.  “Oh, this is a good song,” said Bill.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s the new, Blink 182, duh,” shot Gretch.

“Yea, they came out with a new CD,” added Bill.  “You didn’t know?  It’s pretty good.”

I sat in the back, pretending too like the song.  I’ve always been a big fan of the pop-punk trio, their influence only second to Modest Mouse or Kanye West, but there was something off about it.

Save your breath, I’m merely
Bored to Death, and fading fast…
Life is too short to last long…

I continued to listen and give it a chance, enduring Gretch’s emphatic rendering of the chorus.“Just listen to Gretch, singing out loud, thinking she’s so cool.  Who cares? ‘Life is too short to last long?’ That doesn’t even make sense!  Stupid—Hey, what’s that place?”  My eyes pulled towards a large construction site on the outskirts of downtown.  A massive spectacle of engineering and architecture stood near completion, its oblique, structural elements and long, transparent windows making this a more fitting destination in Disneyworld’s Tomorrowland rather downtown Boise.  Curiosity struck, hoping for the chance to set foot inside for a look into the future, a new era of technical progression.  

“It’s the new Simplot building,” said Gretch.

“Simplot… I’ve heard of that before.”

“Yea, they do a lot of agricultural work.  The new building is supposed to have all their farm equipment in there too. Should be pretty nice once it’s all finished.”

“I’d say.”

“I heard they’re looking for engineers too,” added Bill.

It was true, for Mike Gibson had mentioned it during a lecture about moving to Boise.  “Let me just throw out a couple names of some companies that have headquarters here. You know… reputable places that, I don’t know, you may have heard of…” He said in a mocking tone.  “Hewlett Packard…  Micron… Simplot…  Just a few small-time engineering firms, no big deal…”

Despite the harsh language, he truly was trying to get me to move down to Boise where he was residing at the time.  However, there could be no signs of weakness, for the Gibson cannot win.  He can never win…

“Cool.”  I responded as the sign for Chilis came within eyesight.  Simplot… I’ll remember that name…

“Well hello,” said the bartender in a peculiar manner as we settled into a high table at the bar. “Will it be the usual?  A large margarita to start?”

“A large margarita?” Bill and I shot each other a funny look.  “Gretch?”

“Uh… er… um…”  She stalled.  “Not today—I mean, Margarita?  I don’t know what you’re talking about—I never drink this early… sure, one large margarita.”

Bill and I looked at each other, on standby for a snarky comment.  We’ll just let her have this one. Just this one time…

“Do you know what else you’d like,” he asked again.  We scoured the menu, not wanting to wait a few more minutes for the bartender to return.

“I’ll do an order of Potato Skins,” said Bill.

“I’ll go for the California Flat Bread,” added Gretch.

“Those boneless buffalo wings look good, and…  and… hmm, let me see here—hey, fried pickles!

“Great,” said the waitress.  “And how are we splitting this up?”

“You can put the margarita on my tab along with the flatbread,” said Gretch.  “Unless you guys want some of this too…”

“Well, I was going to share some of the potato skins, but if you want something for yourself, then maybe we should—“

“Put it all on my tab,” I interrupted.  Bill and Gretch swung their heads in disbelief.  “…It’s just easier that way.“  They settled into a nod of agreement, quickly coming to the realization that arguing wouldn’t do them any good.

“Alright, those will be right out,” said the bartender before heading back to his post.

“Josh just texted us,” said Bill.  “He wants us to meet him at Payette Brewing after this.”

Josh… I gave the thought a short ponder.  It would be a while until Josh and I dueled again.  Besides, Bill had talked highly of the Payette Brewing Company before, and with my strong penchant towards beer, I was amenable to the idea.

“I could do that. I do like beer after all.”  Moments later, we received our food and finished out our meal, the simple communion of friends driving the experience to satisfaction.

***

Josh stood at the helm of the Payette Brewing entrance, patiently waiting as a child would, knowing full well he’d have free reign upon the opening of the candy store.  “Hey, what’s up guys?  Come on in,” he bellowed as we exited Gretch’s vehicle.  “They have some cool stuff in here!”

Check it out the Payette Brewing Company here: https://www.payettebrewing.com

We followed him into the brewery, a modern facility with an open, clean, and appropriately decorated tasting room, bridging Idaho’s historical predilection to the outdoors with a modern look that Boise was trending towards.  I toured the room with wonder, channeling memories of the Surly Brewery of Saint Paul, Minnesota, evidence that the Payette Brewing Company was quickly emerging as a staple of the Boise community.  However, I did have reservations about their incredibly high urinals, so high that I was forced to whiz on my tippy toes.

The lengthy line of taps required a brief conversation with the bartender before I could settle on my selection of the Fly Line Amber Ale.  Bill, Gretch and Josh listened in and settled on selections of their own liking. “That’ll be four dollars each,” said the bartender.

“You can put them all on my tab,” said Josh, beating us in the race to pull our wallets out.  I paused for a moment, ready to object, but regressed to a head nod out of respect.

“You guys wanna check out the brewing facility,” he asked as he motioned over to a set of glass doors behind the bar where only a steel staircase made from traction flooring and a large hopper in the background was revealed.  “Follow me,” he said, leaving his seat at the bar without looking back.  I did as I was directed, intrigued with the mystery behind the closed doors.

We came to the edge of a small industrial terrace, overlooking the peaks and valleys of brewing equipment that reached far beyond the depth of sight.  An endless network of pipes, valves, hoppers, tanks, and boilers stood before us, capable of transporting, heating, and manipulating massive amounts of water and ingredients with the purpose of creating thousands upon thousands of gallons of beer.  Josh and I leaned over the railing, taking a moment to examine each section of the brewery, like it was a lookout along one of Idaho’s highways, or better yet, a portrait taken from one of Josh’s mountain adventures.

“Hmm, that seems a little strange,” I said, fixated on a series of valves in front of us.

“What’s that?” asked Josh.

“They have three valves in a row right there.”  Each of us stared at the assembly in front of us, as if we were a pair of mathematicians attempting to solve an equation that filled a blackboard.  “One of them looks like a check valve, while the next one could be a regulator of some sort.”

“What do you use a check valve for?”

“Well, it makes it so a fluid only flows through one direction.  And if any crap tries to get in from the other way, it gets blocked and stuff.”

“Sort of like a diode.”

“A diode?”

“Yea, it blocks the flow of electrons, so they can only flow in one direction.”

I pondered his analogy for a moment, then took another sip of beer.  “You know, I think piping systems and electrical circuits have a lot in common.”

“Well, don’t they both control some form energy,” Josh asked.

“Yea, the voltage in a circuit is sort of like the pressure in a pipe.  A couple volts here and there isn’t going to kill ya, but you don’t wanna get blasted by 1000 volts or anything like it.  Same goes with pressure.”

“And the current is probably similar to the speed of water in the pipe, or flow rate, or whatever. And isn’t there a formula that relates the two?”

Josh shot me a baffled look.  “You tell me. You’re the mechanical engineer.”

“I’m talking about electrical stuff.  Voltage and current.”

“Oh, you mean Ohm’s Law.”

“Yea… I sort of remember that one from back in the day…”

“What about capacitors. What could those be?”

“…I guess capacitors could be like pressurized tanks.  They just hold a bunch of energy ready for disposal.  Or maybe it’s like a spring…”  Josh shook his head and each of us took a sip of beer at our own volition. We studied the marvels of human ingenuity for a long while, only breaking at the realization that our two friends downstairs were waiting for our company.  Given the limited amount of time I had left in Boise, it was a sacrifice we were willing to make.

Back in the tasting room, Bill and Gretch were checking out the merchandise section, doing steady work on their own beers.  A particular shirt had caught their eye, a collection of pint glasses, mugs, schooners, tankers, snifters, and more in the shape of the state of Idaho.  Unfortunately, an incorrect shirt size prevented him from making a purchase.

“Have you guys been outside yet?” asked Josh.  We turned our heads to the opposite side of the tasting room where large, glass windows revealed a courtyard full of lawn games.  “C’mon, let’s check it out.  The field held a resemblance to an old battlefield, calm and peaceful, yet filled with scars, remnants of action and excitement during a previous time.  A hammock sitting at the southwestern edge of the courtyard grabbed Bill’s attention.  Gretch followed.  Josh and I left them alone with their futile attempts to successfully lay on it while drinking beer.

“Well, look what we have here…”  Josh pointed to a pair of slanted planks standing about 15 feet apart, each with a hole at the upper edge.

“Great,” I mumbled. “Cornhole…”

“Wanna play a game?”

“Are there any bean bags?”  The question sent Josh on a bean bag hunt.  After a short search and a quick conversation with the bartender, however, Josh returned to the courtyard, his head low and shaking side to side.  I had a feeling he wasn’t able to secure any beanbags, an outcome I was completely at peace with.

“Well, that’s lame,” said Josh.

“We’ll come back someday when it’s a little more hopping.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even let you be on my team…”

“Ha, sure.  We’d probably slay the competition.”

Bill and Gretch rejoined us, having given up on the hammock.  They lobbied for a table inside, of which Josh and I were acquiescent to. Another battle for another day I suppose.

“Geez, that’s one beefy chair!” said Bill as he pried the high bar stool back from the table like he was pulling King Arthur’s Excalibur from the stone.  The struggle was real, for it even took quite the effort a muscled wonder like Josh to pull his out from under the table.

“That must be solid steel!  Stainless by the looks of it,” I said after I joined Bill in a thorough inspection of the legs.

“Nice, sturdy weld job too,” added Bill.

“How were they able to get the sides flush?” I asked.  “Look, they got the welds on the cross supports, but somehow one of its sides is solid with the vertical legs.”  I looked at Bill.  He was just as flabbergasted as I was.

“Easy, they just make a butt weld, then machine it down so it’s flush.”  Bill and I gave Gretch’s explanation extensive thought, as if we were trying to find an excuse to dismiss her argument. 

That actually makes sense…”  We took another sip of beer and sulked in the refreshing taste.

“Someday, we should do something like this…” said Bill.

“…You mean, start our own brewery?”

“Yea, why not?  I know how to make the recipes and stuff. And you guys are engineers.  You can figure out how to make all the equipment work.”  Josh and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  Neither one of us could argue.

“And Gretch could be the bouncer,” I injected.  “She’ll get in anybody’s face!”  She shot me a look.  I was unable to tell whether she was flattered or pissed.  “…In addition to your management and bookkeeping duties, of course. Those are top notch, and a necessity for the business aspect of it all!”

“It’s settled then!” fired off Bill.

“Wait a minute,” I retorted.  “What?”

“Dude, we’re gonna start a brewery!” followed Josh.

“You have a problem with that?” snapped Gretch.

“Ugh… no, I mean…” I stalled for a little bit.  Just imagine, reliving this entire weekend over and over again for the rest of our lives.  Could I deal with it?  Could they even handle it?  “…No. Not at all!  Just as long as we get one of those punching bag mach—“ The room went quiet.  Suddenly, I was met beading eyes all around.  “…I mean, an endless supply of fried pickles.”  Phew.  Close call.  I raised my glass in front of me.  “Here’s to our brewery.”

“Cheers,” said Josh.

“Cheers,” said the rest of us before we clinked our glasses together and finished off the rest of our beers.

“You guys up for another one,” asked Josh.  I looked at my watch, suddenly overcome with a wave of despair.

“Don’t know if I can. My plane leaves in about an hour and a half.”  I could see disappointment in Josh’s eyes, but received no reprimands.  He understood, with full sincerity.  We settled for a few extra minutes of conversation.

At the car, Josh and I stood a body apart, facing each other in a moment of silence.  An electronic field of anxiety filled the void, the subtlest of word combinations having the chance to spark disaster. “Josh… overall, it was a decent weekend.”  I stuck my hand out.

“Glad you could make it down,” he replied, meeting my hand halfway and grasping it with a firm handshake. I leaned, succumbing to the natural habit that once plagued the fate of a green Polo-wearing boy in Roddy’s.  There was no turning back now.  Oh, no!  Not the bro-hug…

I felt a heavy pat on the pack, followed by the thud of two pairs of flexed pectorals bumping into each other. “Engineering brothers.”

What in the…  I stood for a moment, perplexed, then embraced the gesture and returned the favor.  “Engineering brothers,” I replied.  We released, giving Josh the go-ahead to say goodbye to Bill and Gretch.

“Well, you ready to head to the airport?” asked Gretch.  I hesitated for a moment.  “No,” I wanted to say.  I wasn’t ready, not in the slightest.

“…Yea.  I’m ready,” I said, lying through my teeth.  I had to.  There’ll be another day, Boise…

We gave our last wave, took our last looks, then hopped in the car, is if on cue from the movie director of life.  I watched Josh drive away, on his way across the Boise landscape and back to normal life. Then it was our turn, starting with our journey to the airport, ample time to reflect.

…You know, maybe we’re all more alike than we actually think…

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