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Saturday, May 5, 2007


I’m using an air-gun to take lug nuts off a 91 Toyota Camry front tire in order to check the brakes when I look up, and there’s a woman standing over my right shoulder. Never mind I have a six inch wide warning line across the front inside driveway of my shop stating no customers past this line. Never mind I have a motion detector, which is supposed to ding louder than my air-gun, and I now realize must need new batteries. Never-mind I just used up all my good luck credits in heaven since the lady has not slipped, fallen, or been hit in the eye with a metal fragment. I straighten slowly from the Toyota, stripping off my mechanic’s brand latex gloves.

“I’m sorry, did I startle you, Bernie?” She asks.

No, no lady, I love being reminded of all the shortcomings inherent in one man shop operation all in one short moment, I’m thinking. Once again the addition of a vicious guard dog pops into my head, immediately to be discarded. It’s one thing to discourage bums and gang-bangers, but a completely inappropriate greeting for harmless potential customers.

“Kind of,” I admit, taking her arm; because she has walked through a minefield of potential hazards to her health, which are a necessary drawback in a busy auto shop. “Let me get you back to the front of the shop.”

She steps directly on the rubber mallet with metal pry for taking off hubcaps as she turns too quickly. I pull her back just in time to keep the lawyers chasing ambulances a while longer.

“Easy,” I caution, guiding her around my six foot high toolbox with sharp edged drawers jutted out for my easy access. “It’s a lot simpler getting over here than it is getting back. Sorry my motion detector must be out of commission.”

When we reach the front of the shop, I see she has a 1994 Honda Accord with oil dripping down in a steady line from where I know the front timing case is. I thought us Mech’s out here in the Dealer shops and Indy garages had fixed all these. The Tech bulletin and Recall had been out for many years on the balance shaft oil seal kit this one obviously needed.

“I have a problem with oil loss,” she deadpans.

I start laughing, and then shut my amusement down quickly as she looks at me like I’m Kafka’s bug-man. I have done some work for this lady in the past on a Chevy Corsica she owned, but I haven’t seen the Honda before. I also have obviously misread her humor quotient.

“Ah…sorry, Ms. T,” I’m not, but it never hurts to be polite when I know I’m wrong. “I would need to check it out for sure, but there’s been a recall and technical bulletin on this type oil leak for many years. Did you just buy this?”

“No, it’s my Mom’s car, and she doesn’t drive much anymore,” Ms. T explains, from her expression, still a little miffed at my callous reaction to her oil leak (if she only knew).

I nod my understanding, and open the driver’s side door, release the hood latch, and check the mileage with a quick glance. The odometer only reads 53,461 miles. Mystery solved as to why the fix had never been applied yet after thirteen years. I then open and prop the hood. With my handy little mag-lite beam flashlight, I can see the oil is definitely leaking out of the bottom of the front case. I show Ms. T, explaining all the bracketing, belts, front timing case, etc. have to be removed and a balance shaft oil seal kit installed. In addition, the timing belt, and water pump have to be changed while I’m in there. Unless of course I want to do the job a second time for free, with the possible valve damage a broken timing belt causes on Hondas. She listens intently while I explain I only use Honda parts, and the special balance shaft seal kit would possibly have to be special ordered because of the vehicle age. I glance at the clock during our conversation, noting it’s almost noontime, and I have fifteen minutes into this. Then she straight lines me again.

“Can I wait for it?” Ms. T intones, glancing at her watch.

My lip quivers as I’m curling my toes up in the steel toed work boots housing my feet, and biting my tongue so hard, it’s probably lacerated. Sure, I’m thinking, did you bring your sleeping bag? I don’t know you too well, Ms. T, have you ever spent the night in an auto shop before? If they can’t get the balance shaft kit for three days, will you have any special needs during your stay? Oh boy, I’m on a roll internally, and knowing if I don’t get a grip soon, I’ll be in danger of donning my Kafkaesque disguise once more.

“Ah…no,” I answer after a moment’s battle between the tiny cackling horned demon atop my left shoulder, and the angelic money guardian on my right. “You would have to leave it Ms. T, and I’ll have to call you later in the day as to when the parts will be in. I can give you a time estimate on job completion then.”

“Do you think this will cost over a hundred dollars?”

This time I narrowly avoid disaster by clenching my teeth to the point I can feel my gums begin to ache. I shake my head in the affirmative, buying time for the more powerful money angel to kick the crap out of my obnoxious demon side.

“Yes, it will, Ms. T,” I manage to say out loud, almost managing a believable tone of regret. “I’m afraid it will be much more than that. You will have the opportunity to say no, and I can even hold on to the car for a couple days while you shop the price. Let me give you a list of what will be included when I call you, and you can decide from that.”

We adjourn into the office without further incident. Willpower, it’s a beautiful thing. Too bad it doesn’t work on pizza and potato chips. :)

Thanks to December Quinn for reminding me inadvertently of this. :)


Jordan Summers said...

I think the thing that surprises me is that she asked about the $100 with a straight face. *ggg*

BernardL said...

Wishful thinking, Jordan. :)

December Quinn said...

Ha! So you have a demon on your shoulder!

BernardL said...

Almost 24/7 D, and I admit the sucker gets the better of me sometimes. :)