Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 9, 2006, Herald Journal

The truck that couldn’t roll

By LIZ HELLMANN

I have several friends who are completing their schooling to become engineers, and if they ever wondered what happened to those in their class who didn’t make it to graduation, I have the answer.

It came to me shortly after Christmas, while at a friend’s house watching another friend’s children open their Christmas presents.

The children, a two- and a four-year-old, were excitedly ripping wrapping paper off their many presents – momentarily awed by various toys and dolls before casting them off in search of a new delight, and completely uninterested in any new clothes.

By the time the last flying ribbon hit the floor and all the fury had subsided, they were ready to pounce on their favorite toy and play with it.

My friend’s dad was particularly excited for the little boy to play with a new dump truck that was about half the kid’s size, moved on its own, and made hauling noises. The ultimate luxury for a four-year-old – it was like getting an F-150 for an adult.

Carefully, my friend’s dad started to open the box the truck came in, as the boy stood in amazement, completely psyched to see what this two-foot yellow dream on wheels could do.

Various plastic ties were cut and tape was removed, but the truck remained trapped in its cardboard prison.

The boy intensely stared at this laborious process, all of us reassuring him that he would be able to play with the truck soon.

Finally, my friend’s dad handed the truck off to my friend.

Upon careful examination, she learned why the process was taking so long.

The cardboard box had been sandwiched between two pieces of plastic that were attached to the bottom of the truck. The pieces were then screwed together so the cardboard was firmly attached.

The pieces did not look like packaging materials, but a part of the truck itself.

Not wanting to break these pieces, for all she knew they could be the very fabric holding the plastic devil together, she decided to cut the cardboard off around the pieces.

With one more side left to cut, we all assured the boy he was moments away from his new toy.

False alarm.

Even though the cardboard was still in between the two plastic pieces, which were still assumed to be part of the truck, the box was amputated from the truck body.

Furthermore, the pieces of plastic that were holding the cardboard and attached to the bottom of the truck by screws, did not allow the wheels to roll when the truck was put on the ground.

I’m no engineer, and I don’t remember playing with very many trucks when I was younger, but I didn’t think that was a good sign.

I offered my help. After all, it’s just a toy truck. There must be something my friend and her dad were missing.

It’s something we all do when someone has a problem like this. We reach out our hands, out of curiosity and ego building, sure that we can find the answer.

I took the truck in my hands, studied it carefully, and came to the intelligent conclusion: the wheels can’t roll with that plastic thingy in the way.

You may think that “thingy” isn’t a word, but in this case, that’s exactly what these plastic pieces were.

There was no rhyme or reason to why they were there, why they were screwed into place, or why they looked like they were part of the truck if they were just packaging material.

A few minutes after my startling discovering of the “thingy,” we took the truck to the kitchen table to operate.

By now, the boy was pacing around, trying to occupy himself with the other toys, but patiently waiting for the yellow truck.

After a bucket of screwdrivers, both Phillips and flathead, and three grown adults attempting to unscrew the “thingy” attached by impossibly tiny screws, the task was complete.

The useless “thingy” was discarded, the boy was happy with his truck that could actually roll, and I was left perplexed at what type of person would design such a “thingy.”

There is only one explanation – an engineer student drop-out.

It’s like the beauty school drop-out in the movie “Grease,” who dyed her hair pink, only the engineers who can’t build bridges get jobs at toy factories.

I can just see the pimply-faced angry college student whose senior project failed inspection.

His promising $50,000 starting salary vanishes before his eyes and he plots his revenge, deep in the toy-truck making factory of his minimum-paying job.

During the third shift, he sits in the corner, concocting packaging that can withstand a category 5 hurricane, nuclear bomb, and tsunami all in one day (cue bellowing villain laugh and a rising smoky haze illuminated by lightning strikes from a small window, as a skinny kid with disheveled hair sits at his work bench.)

Well, I have a message for you, crazed toy-packaging engineer: let it go.

I’m sorry you didn’t cut it in school, but making a little 4-year-old boy wait for his parents to pull out the toolbox before he can play with his toy is not the answer.

I’m sure there are plenty of toy manufacturing plants that do a fine job of securely packaging toys, while not prohibiting access, but the rest should really get on board.

No one should need two types of screwdrivers, or even one, to open a toy.

No one should have to wonder if the packaging material is part of the toy because it is painted like that on purpose to make it seem like the packager didn’t add a bunch of unnecessary pieces.

Finally, no parent should have to get an engineering degree just to open their children’s toys.


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