I answer the phone this morning, and hear a customer’s voice I recognize. He owns a 1965 Ford Falcon. It is a rolling wreck. Three years ago, he blew the engine on it, and had it towed to my shop. I begged him to get rid of it rather than fix it. I made him sign a release form stating I thought putting another engine in his junker was insanity. I kid you not. If a car or truck will be worth less than the repairs needed, the day after the job is done, I believe the vehicle should be junked. He of course ordered the repair and signed the release. Hey, what do I know? Three years later, he’s still driving it around, getting into the driver’s seat from the passenger side; but now it’s blown a piece out of the exhaust manifold, and is shooting flames out the hole. The cracked exhaust manifold was one of many reasons I told him not to fix it, because I couldn’t get another one anywhere in the area. After the engine was installed, I wrote right on the invoice to go on a determined hunt for the manifold, and I would install it for free once he found it. I also had him sign that.
“Bernie, do you remember me?”
“I’m the one with the old Falcon you put an engine in. You probably noticed it out in front of your shop.”
How could I miss it. Dogs were coming from a mile away to piss on the tires.
“Yes, I saw it, Sir. How may I help you.”
“I’d like to come by with the keys and have you listen to that exhaust leak. It’s gotten much worse.”
“You sound surprised, Sir. It’s been cracked for over three years. Have you found manifolds for it?”
“I…I’ve just had so many…”
“I warned you the manifolds would need replaced soon,” I cut him off because there’s a million stories in the naked city, and the day is just so long. “Come on over with the keys, and I’ll listen.”
“Okay, I’ll be right over.”
Two hours later, I’m watching blue flame spurting from the passenger side exhaust manifold hole, where a chunk at the rear of the manifold had finally given up the ghost. This is normal, because that’s right where the combustion chamber is. What’s not normal, is the missing manifold piece to shield it. I hurriedly signal for him to turn it off before I end Friday early with a bang.
“The chunk blew out from the back of the manifold,” I explained, pointing out the area with my small beam flashlight. “You’ll have to park it now until you get another manifold for at least this side.”
“How did that happen?” He asks with a straight face.
“Oh, driving three years with a big crack there would do it,” I answer with a straight face.
“Can’t you fix it?”
“Yep, with another manifold,” I reply, having had this exact conversation when I urged him not to fix the car, and after the car was fixed. “None of my local sources have any manifolds for this. They just laughed when I asked. You’ll have to find them yourself. I suggest getting the yellow pages out first, and calling everyone with a salvage yard. Secondly, you could try typing in the vehicle information on the Internet, and see if you come up with something there.”
“I…I have places to go. It’s been making this noise for a while. I’ll…”
“Listen to me,” I interrupt with my Terminator voice, “does the term ball of flame mean anything to you? If you drive this car, it will catch fire and fry you. If you insist on driving it, I will make you sign a paper before I let you out of this garage, saying I warned you this car would catch on fire and possibly kill you.”
He paused for a moment then, wondering if I was serious. When he saw I was, he went into whiny mode.
“But I have no other way to get around. If…”
“Public Transportation, walking, jogging, friends, rental car,” I begin ticking off the options. “All better than burning to death in this car.”
“Couldn’t you find the manifolds for me on the Internet?”
“Nope,” I reply, having been waiting for him to try and put that monkey on my back. “You’ve had three years to find exhaust manifolds for this, and you haven’t even looked. Finding them, and taking the chance they are the right ones is your responsibility. I will still put them on for you for free when you find them; and I’ll store the car here at the shop for free until you locate them, but that’s as far as I go.”
“I just don’t know what I’ll do,” he moans.
“Not die in a flaming wreck for one,” I repeat. “Call me when you find them, or at least the passenger side one.”
Some folks will ignore every single piece of advice I give them, and try to make me responsible for the outcome they choose. I guess it reflects society nowadays in general. Ever get the feeling you’re the only one accepting responsibility for the outcome of your own decisions? It’s good practice for me as a writer. When I get one of these, I write a very concise paragraph on each invoice as to who is actually responsible. The customers, of course, ignore it right after they sign under it; but I have copies, and an invoice retrieval system that would make an Irish monk from the Middle Ages jealous. :)