I know that I’m supposed to talk about cooking on this blog…but, I really wanted to share this with you. If the no-cooking/baking aspect really bothers you, pretend it’s gingerbread.
Let me start this post by telling you that my Memorial Day weekend plans got canceled. So, instead of getting sunburned to a crisp and doing permanent liver damage (relax mom, I’m kidding) as I had planned, I sat alone at home as all my friends headed out of town to already-made-plans and I pouted. But then I remembered that I got this AWESOME Fire Brigade Lego set for Christmas that I’ve just been too darn busy to put together. As an engineer, I freely admit that I have a serious love of Legos. I even have a (not Lego brand but a similar brand) locking building block replica of the USS Stennis in my office at work complete with jillions of pieces missing now (including most of the airplanes) thanks to the kiddos that used to visit my office and play with it from time to time. And I didn’t even build that one. I received it as a gift when I had to have half my liver surgically removed (no, it was related to drinking) and spent a jillion weeks in the hospital. I realized upon arriving home from the hospital 2 things:
1. You cannot follow directions while on very strong post-surgery pain killers. Especially when directions involve counting little nubbins on little blocks. It’s just not possible.
2. You can’t reasonably expect your father (also an engineer) to ignore a giant pile of locking blocks on the table and wait for you to heal to put it together…it’s just not going to happen. I took a few pain pills and the USS Stennis just appeared like magic along with a huge look of satisfaction on my dad’s face.
I figured that Dad deserved that one. He did spend weeks and weeks sitting in an ICU waiting room and then in a hospital room with me watching me drool on myself while I pushed the button on my morphine pump like it was a video game controller. It was a very fuzzy time for me…and not a very happy time for my dad. So, I let him have the Stennis. After all, he’s actually BEEN ON the Stennis. And as such, he thoroughly enjoyed pointing out all of the inconsistencies between the non-Lego-brand block model and the actual real-life ship in great detail.
So, this weekend of unscheduled alone time was perfect for me to break out the Lego Fire Brigade my grandmother gave me for Christmas. (Yes I am
33 30-something. Yes I did ask for it. No I am not ashamed). And this time…it was all mine to put together!
I got started by opening the box and spreading out the bags of Legos and the instructions on my coffee table. I immediately felt a sense of “holy crap that’s a lot of blocks!” So did Zulu.
I noticed that this was such a ginormous task that the instructions can’t even be condensed into one book. Oh no, this ain’t no one-book kind of Lego Set…it’s a two-booker.
And so, feeling excited but totally overwhelmed, I followed step 1 of the instructions located in book 1.
So, how far do you think I got before I ran into problems? I’ll tell you, I ran into problems at step 2. Step 2 called for some dark grey flatty two buttons (yeah, I invented my own language to describe the pieces…whatever). Quick lesson. “Flattys” are the pieces that are almost flat where “bricks” are the pieces that have some depth to them. “Buttons” are my way of referring to the number of little round nubbins that are on the top of each Lego. If the Lego has more than one row of “buttons” then instead of identifying the number of buttons, I identify the “matrix” so if it’s a brick with 12 buttons on it and they’re in a grid of 2 rows of 6 each, that’s a “2 by 6 button brick”. So, in the above picture, a light grey flatty six button is attached to a dark grey flatty 2 by 16 button. It’s really very simple…
Why did I need an effective method of identifying which pieces I need? For talking-to-myself purposes. Obviously.
Well, I pulled out and opened every bag that came in that Lego set and was identified with a number 1 to indicate that it went along with instruction manual 1 and there wasn’t a single dark grey flatty two button. And since Lego doesn’t send you the bags full of Legos with any sort of rhyme or reason other than a number on the bag that identifies it as going with instruction book #1 or #2, I was forced to pull out the zipper baggies and start sorting just to be sure that I hadn’t missed them in one of the bajillion bags. I sorted all the blocks by color and for the colors that had lots of blocks, I further segregated by “flattys” verses “bricks”. So, essentially, I undid about 60 years of the Lego block Civil Rights Movement by segregating Legos into baggies by color and size. I put all the “miscellaneous pieces” like legs, heads, helmets, tools, etc. into one baggie so I did allow some inter-color fraternizing.
After nearly 2 hours of Lego sorting (and considering using my Legos to construct voodoo dolls of the Lego employees that had left out my dark grey flatty two button pieces), I decided that I would proceed and just mark in the instruction manual which pieces were missing. If a piece was missing and I couldn’t attach another piece because of it, these un-attach-able pieces would go into a different empty zip top bag so that at the end of my plight I would have a good record of exactly what pieces were missing. Sure, I could have stopped immediately when I recognized the problem and counted each and every piece and compared it to the list on the box but that list was so small and difficult to read. And…I didn’t notice until much too late (as in after I was finished with the entire thing) that a bigger version of the same list exists inside the back of instruction manual 2. So, I did it
the hard way my way. (Suggestion Lego people: Put the itemized list of pieces inside the FRONT of the FIRST instruction booklet because when I found that list upon completion of my difficult way of doing things, there was cursing…lots of cursing.)
Since I recognized quickly that the missing pieces were numerous enough that I had likely been shorted by at least an entire bag of Legos, I decided to step away from instruction book 1 and start on the upper half of the Lego assembly. Lego has done an amazing thing by dividing the building into parts that can be constructed individually and then snapped together at the end. So, while I had to sort even MORE Legos, I found that the top half of the building went up quickly and with relatively few complications. And by 3am…just about 10.5 hours after I had started, I had the upper half of a Fire Station…which looks suspiciously like a school house. Note that I took this picture the next day because the pictures I took at 3am were really fuzzy and poorly lit. Also, I had been hunched over for so long, that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get my back straightened out again.
Now back to that bottom level. I had a plan for how to proceed but I wasn’t completely sure it would work.
So, I worked…and I worked…and I was relieved that all the flatty two buttons were missing from the same side of the building. My list of missing pieces grew and finally, I was done. And all that couldn’t be built was a large section of the front. I sat back and looked at my creation and it reminded me of those pictures you see on the news of old row houses that lost part of their front walls in a structural collapse after an earthquake. And I had a stroke of BRILLIANCE!
I call it “Fire Brigade structural collapse due to earthquake.”
Now for those of you that don’t know, I was a firefighter in a previous life…at least, it was so long ago now that it feels that way. When I was 16, I joined the Second District Volunteer Fire Department in Valley Lee, Maryland where all the firefighters are volunteers. I worked on both the EMS and the fire side. At 17 I left for college when I turned 18 I became a member of the College Park Volunteer Fire Department in College Park, Maryland. I did complete the fire training and the hazmat training but spent most of my time on the EMS side of the building. And in January of my freshman year of college, I vacated the University of Maryland dormitory and moved into the fire station. I was a sackroom live-in at Station 12 for several years before I moved out when I was 21 and tendered my resignation from the fire department at the age of 22 after 6 years of eating, living, breathing, and loving the fire department. I remember right before I moved out of the firehouse, I had a necklace that I always wore…day in and day out, I only removed it to occasionally cut some of the hair that had gotten tangled up in the clasp out of it. It was a star of life (a symbol for emergency responders) on a gold rope chain and I wore it so much that I had a permanent tan line from it. We had just gotten a puppy at home and I was laying on the ground outside playing with the puppy and she somehow broke the chain. (Side note: The puppy was named Halligan after one of the breaking and entry tools firefighters use called a Halligan Bar – and my parents still have her although she’s pretty old and arthritic now, she’s still the best dog ever.) I was able to find the charm but I never did find the rest of the chain. Maybe Halligan swallowed it? Either way, it was kind of symbolic that things in my life were changing and it was time for me to leave the fire department life. Some people are firefighters for life, I wasn’t to be one of those people. I still have the charm in my jewelry box and when I pick it up and look at it, It evokes a nostalgia for those old fire house days but I can’t regret my decision to leave…I won’t go into all the reasons but it was time. I am, however, still passionate about my brothers and sisters in blue and my career keeps me rubbing elbows with them. I am a Fire Protection Engineer and so in some way, we fight the same fight, just from different venues now.
But, my fire department past makes it impossible for me to overlook some of the shortcomings in Lego’s design here.
1. Where do the firefighters sleep? A firefighter almost always sleeps in his/her station in a metropolitan department. Because this building is a row-house style and there is not a parking lot, the obvious intent was for it to be a 24 hour-a-day manned station. You needed a bunk room.
2. Showers? Not one shower in the building. Have you ever seen a firefighter after a house fire?
3. You should have put a washer and dryer in the engine bay. Bunker gear gets washed frequently. And there are always shop towels and things that get washed. You have so much detail in the teeny little kitchen (including sausages that go into the refrigerator…I’m not kidding, I found tiny Lego kielbasa in my set of blocks) that a washer and dryer could have easily been incorporated into the bay.
4. Fire departments are so proud of their vehicles that some departments wash their engines after every call. I have never seen a fire station where there wasn’t at a minimum a weekly detail job of the apparatus. There’s usually a hose reel in the engine bay and you could have added some little scrubby brushes and buckets. Buckets ARE kind of a symbol of the fire department but there isn’t a single bucket in this Lego set. I was disappointed in that.
5. You have helmets but no boots? Come on, boots and buckets are like the symbols of the fire department. Even if boots don’t fit your teeny Lego guys’ legs, a few boots to sit on the shelf below the helmets would have really made it look authentic.
6. There’s a kitchen without a table. Seriously? “Family dinners” are a way of life in the fire department. There should be at a minimum one table that the duty crew can fit at in the living quarters. And there are usually banquet tables stashed away that get set up in the bay for those very-important weekly (or at least monthly in smaller volunteer departments) family dinners at the station. I could overlook the lack of folding banquet tables if there was at least a table the duty crew could sit down to their teeny little meal of kielbasa. You obviously recognize the importance of food in the fire department because the kitchen is the most detailed part of the fire station. You even included a chef’s hat. So, a table really is a necessity.
7. While we’re on the topic of food…I dare you to find a single fire station in the country that doesn’t have a grill. With such a nice flat roof, you could have even included a pretty little built-in grill up there. And where the hell are these guys supposed to cook these teensy sausages? Everyone knows grilling would be best.
So, Lego…I’m available for consultation on your next Lego Fire Station. You wouldn’t even have to pay me, you could just give me the set for free and I’d be happy. I also have some critiques about your little fire engine. It’s cute but it’s lacking some things I think we should talk about. But get the station right and we’ll work on apparatus. hmmkay?
Now, remember, I don’t get paid to talk nice about anyone so Lego (or any other toy company) has in no way contributed to this blog post. I will say that the issue of determining which pieces I was missing was a HUGE pain in the kiester. I could just imagine if I was a kid getting this over a holiday and finding missing pieces that prevented construction. I would be devastated so Lego probably should work on their QC efforts. I found an entire slew of message boards where people with this exact set were also missing an entire bag of pieces. Despite my irritation, I was able to easily order (for free) all the missing pieces using Lego’s website which is nice. The hard part was figuring out exactly how many of each piece I was missing. I got frustrated and I’m …older. A kid would probably have just given up.
A few more recommendations:
1. The customer service email I received confirming my order for the missing pieces indicated that they weigh each box electronically before shipping to ensure that it weighs the correct amount. This will only work if you don’t include THAT MANY extra pieces. I’m sure the extras I have no use for weigh at least the same amount as the pieces I’m missing. But thanks for giving me enough extra pieces to work on those voodoo dolls I was considering (I jest…i jest…maybe).
2. Let’s face it, your sets are EXPENSIVE. And even at my age, it’s hard to justify spending my disposable income on a toy like Legos. So, if I’m missing pieces and have to wait to use my toy because of your poor QC, you could at least overnight me the pieces for free. My email says that I will be waiting up to 10 days. That’s unsatisfactory in my mind for a toy that is so expensive.
Now, I’m not going to lie. Despite the missing pieces, I had so much fun building my Lego Fire Brigade that I was totally eyeing some other Lego sets this morning on line. It sure is a lot more fun to build Lego sets than be a responsible adult and do the laundry….which is why I’m writing this blog post without pants on. Don’t worry, I don’t have to be anywhere that requires pants until tomorrow and so now that I’m done playing with my Legos (until the rest of the pieces arrive), I can do laundry now (sad face). I should probably go to the gym too…but not until I have some pants to wear. I might even cook some food today since I’ve been living on reduced fat cheese sticks, raisin bran, and glasses of skim milk since starting my Lego creation. What can I say? I was having fun.
Disclaimer: no Lego people or dogs were injured in the earthquake that damaged the fire station. One human’s sanity was only mildly impacted by trying to figure out which pieces were missing.