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Monday, December 18, 2006


Monday morning in auto repair always provokes dread in me, in spite of already facing nearly eighteen hundred of them. From the moment I park my beater out in front, to the final security door lock opening, an indescribable chill always gives me pause, even in a summer heat wave. No heat wave today to warm the chill. My handy-dandy AC-Delco antique thermometer reads a frosty thirty-seven degrees. Poor me, right? A cold Northern California morning, which will probably warm to a sunny sixty by noon.

I open my roll-up front door, and my eight o’clock appointment hasn’t arrived yet, so I turn to walk back in the office. A voice sounding three octaves higher than mine, and older (if that’s possible) calls out to me from the sidewalk.

“Young man!”

I like that. Wrong, but from her point of view, probably accurate.

“Yes, Ma’am, can I help you?” I asked sincerely, noting this thin woman, bundled against the cold, could have been any age from seventy-five to a hundred and five.

“Do you make house calls?”

Ugh! No, I silently tick off all the reasons I can’t jump into my beater with a pair of pliers and a hammer, and race over to her house for a quick magical repair: I’m a one man shop and would have to close the operation down to go; two, no matter what tool I took with me, it would be the wrong tool; three, I’m too old for house calls, and although I occasionally write about them, I am not a magician. Even ‘House’ doesn’t make house calls.

“No, Ma’am,” I answered with real regret. “I’m the only one here, and I have to be here for…”

“I’m sure it’ll only take a minute,” she interrupted me with surprising vigor. “My neighbor came over and looked at it. He said it’s not that serious.”

Oh boy, second guessed before I even get started.

“Uh… no offense, but why didn’t your neighbor fix it for you?” I asked with my best concerned look.

“He would have, but he has a bad back,” she explained.

Mine ain’t exactly what it used to be either, but it would seem like I’m piling on to mention that now.

“He doesn’t like Hondas either, and mine’s a 92 Honda Accord.”

“Come on in the office,” I requested, holding the door for her. “I have the heater on, and you can tell me what kind of problem you’re having with the Honda.”

“It won’t start,” the woman said succinctly, waving out at a young woman parked in front of my shop to wait for a moment.

“My daughter brought me over,” she explained, as she entered the office and sat down on a chair near the heater.

“Here’s what I would suggest, Ma’am,” I began reasonably, sitting down at my desk. “Have the car towed over, and I’ll do a diagnostic check to find out exactly what’s keeping it from starting. Once I find…”

“It’s the starter,” she interrupted once again, with added vigor, and a hint of impatience. “My neighbor already told me what’s wrong.”

If that were true, I thought to myself, as I counted backwards from ten, I’d have really wasted a trip, if I did house calls. My days of driveway starter replacements were definitely in the past.

“Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened when you turned the key in the ignition to try and start the car this morning,” I urged with another award winning smile.

“The key wouldn’t turn, so I don’t know,” she informed me.

Monday, Monday… can’t trust that day, I sang internally, hoping she didn’t hear the sigh, which escaped me before I could clamp my lips shut. I cough gently to cover my faux pas.

“I have good news for you then,” I offered enthusiastically. “You probably won’t need the diagnostic check. The ignition switches go bad on those, and do exactly what you describe. I’ll bet the key has been getting stiff to turn for a while.”

“Yes,” the lady said, contemplating my news speculatively, “but I thought it was because of the colder mornings. “Why would the switch go bad?”

“Sometimes just age,” I explained. “May I see your key? It may be worn.”

When she took her key ring out of her purse, which was the size of a small suitcase, I instantly understood what put the final nail in Mr. Ignition Switch’s coffin. This lady had more things on her key ring than Mr. Jing-a-Ling: keeper of the keys. I was doing it a disservice calling it a key ring. This multi-link chain may have been assembled to open the Pentagon, but now was relegated to holding a complete pewter collection of indeterminate miniature unicorns or something. She handed it to me, and I figured the weight at just over five pounds. Only incredible manufacturing could have kept Mr. Honda Ignition Key turning so long. After a lengthy explanation (thankfully my eight o’clock was running late) I collected her phone number, and promised I would call her with an exact estimate.

My phone rang just as I hung up with the dealership after checking the cost of a Honda ignition switch. My eight o’clock, and nine o’clock, had just pulled up together. Oh goody! I answered it in a superlative business like manner as usual, and then quickly held the portable away from my ear.

“What the hell’s wrong with you, you crook!!?” An extremely outraged male voice screamed at me. “Why the hell are you ripping this lady off!!? It’s the starter that’s bad, you moron!!!”

“Have you tried turning the key, Sir?” I called out from about a foot away from the phone, as I smiled ingratiatingly at my waiting customers.

“I had her turn the key to start it, while I watched under the hood, stupid! It ain’t working and the headlights are bright, which means the battery’s okay!”

“You try and turn the key, Sir,” I called out, and hung up the phone.

My new customer just called to get her Honda towed in. I should add a five dollar surcharge for being called a crook, idiot, moron, and stupid all in the same call.

Ahhhh… Monday. :)


Jordan Summers said...

Well it wasn't exactly her fault. She did listen to you. He didn't. *ggg*

BernardL said...

Nor his fault. Her neighbor was so sure he had it figured out, it clouded his judgment. It turned out well. At least he didn't come down in person, and I convinced my new customer to relegate her pewter collection to someplace on the dashboard. :)