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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Near Miss

“Hey, take a look at this,” a guy in his mid-thirties calls out as I’m coming out of my office.

This guy looks like he was rode hard and put away wet. He actually resembles the image of what most people think us mechanics look like all the time: grease up to our armpits, and grease smeared face and clothing. I confess I’ve gone home some days thinking I’d have to have my wife hose me off before I walked in the house; but thankfully, it’s not an everyday occurrence. I have sympathy for this guy right off the bat. He’s holding a water pump from a mid-eighties Ford Truck. It still has the clutch fan and blades connected to the front of the pump, which incorporates one of those screw on fan clutches, that over the years becomes welded with corrosion to the old water pump. Oh yea, this guy had fun getting it out like that.

“You couldn’t separate the screw on clutch fan, right?” I ask politely.

“Yea, the water pump’s leakin’, and I had to take the damn thing off like this. Can you separate it for me?”

“No…” I begin, just as the most humongous woman I have ever seen, still able to walk on two legs, waddled into the shop; and starts shouting at this guy, while he back pedals trying to calm her down. I won’t try and relate that particular conversation. After she abuses this guy for five minutes, she turns her attention to me.

“I want you to fix my truck!” She shouts. “This %*(#@&!#%& messed up my truck.”

“He was just about to help me out,” the guy pleads.

“First, Ma’am,” I add firmly, “I don’t work on anything anymore after someone else has been into it. I will give this gentleman some good advice, and he’ll be able to finish the job he started.”

“I…I need to sit down,” she says, slouching into my office, with me seriously praying I have a chair that’ll hold up.

I run in after her. I roll my desk chair over to her; which is leveled out high, and doesn’t have arms on it.

“Sit here, Ma’am, it’s more comfortable, and a bit higher for getting out of.”

She nods, and groans into it.

I prop the door open, and walk outside the office to give the guy some direction.

“You’ve already taken it off, so the real bad part’s done,” I explain. “My advice, if you don’t have a torch or an air chisel, is to simply hacksaw it at this smallest spot.”

I point to the place where he’d have the least amount of work.

“You can see the fan clutch has been leaking,” I continue. “Just unbolt the fan blades after you hacksaw the pump free, and transfer them to the new pump and fan clutch. You…”

“What do you mean I need a new pump and fan clutch?!!” The woman barks from the office. “Did he wreck my…”

“No, Ma’am, he didn’t wreck anything,” I cut her off in return. “This water pump job has to have a new fan clutch whenever the pump is replaced, and the most reliable way is to buy a Ford dealer pump and fan clutch.”

“I’m not paying a damn fortune to get...”

“You don’t have a choice,” I interject, already glad I’m not doing the job. “If you don’t buy a new pump and fan clutch, you won’t have a truck.”

“Why can’t he put the old fan clutch on?” She asks, ignoring what I said about the fan clutch leaking, and the difficulty in getting the thing off when it’s been on for twenty years.

“I understand,” the guy jumps in to save me.

“Good,” I reply. “Don’t screw on the fan clutch until you put the pump in place, and remember the thing tightens counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. It would be good to put a drop of…”

“I don’t want him doing it,” the woman calls out, shaking her head. “I’ll have it towed over here.”

“No, Ma’am, you won’t,” I state in no uncertain terms. “If you want someone else to do it, call around until you find a place who’ll take you.”

“How dare…” she begins to bluster.

“Ma’am, I’ll have to ask you to leave. I’ve told your friend here all I can. This isn’t my job, and I’m not working on it.”

“Put a drop of thread sealer on the threads,” I tell the guy quickly, and he nods. “Good luck.”

“Please,” I say, standing at the door, gesturing for the woman to move out.

“C’mon,” the guy gestures to her too. “I’ll get the pump and clutch, and get it together. Thanks man.”

“No problem,” I reply, as the woman finally teeters out, muttering unintelligibly, gracing me with a final dark look before following the back yard Bob mechanic out.

Twenty minutes of unpaid for time, a little costly.

Not having to work on that lady’s truck: Priceless! :)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Borrowers

I have to relate Friday afternoon’s short interlude with another nemesis of the independent auto shop: the borrowers. My drunken stop-in on Tuesday, Mr. Foul Mouth, already covered a few auto shop drawbacks all at once: drunken, surly, repair misunderstanding, and the liability of allowing someone in an inebriated state to drive away after being inside the shop. The borrowers represent a different breed in three categories: folks genuinely in need of something small like jumper cables or a funnel, folks in need who have no intention of returning what they borrow, and folks looking to borrow and get free repairs. I only loan out three things: funnel, jumper cables, or empty gas can. Although I don’t charge for the lend out, I do require the person leave a driver’s license or a twenty dollar bill. When I get my stuff back, they get theirs.

I’m writing in the back room late Friday afternoon when my motion detector heralds the arrival of someone without a vehicle (usually a bad sign). When it took me more than three seconds to get out of the back room, my new arrival began demanding recognition in the annoying way perpetuated over the last decade or so, by shouting:

“Excuse me! Excuse me…!”

The lady at my front door shouted over and over, even as I approached, until I thought perhaps I’d have to do a jumping jack with waving arms in front of her. Rail thin, with pasty white complexion and a bad case of acne, the woman wore a simple light colored blouse and blue-jeans. She took a moment to suck deeply on the cigarette in her right hand as I drew near, exhaling it in a cloud.

“Hi, can I help you?” I asked.

“I need your jumper cables,” Rail Thin stated. “I’m just across the street.”

I don’t react well to people who assume I owe them a service; but hey, it’s Friday.

“Sure, leave me your driver’s license, and I’ll get you the jumper cables.”

“I don’t have a driver’s license with me,” Rail tells me with some annoyance, pointing back the way she had come in. “I’m just across the street.”

“Driver’s license or twenty dollar bill,” I reply reasonably. “You get them back when I get the same jumper cables back in the same shape I lent them.”

“I’m just across…” Ms. Thin begins to repeat.

“Driver’s license or twenty dollar bill,” I cut in.

Rail looks at me in disgust for a moment, and then heads out the door without another word. I go back to my new YA novel attempt, and five minutes later, Ms. Thin is back, clutching money. I met her before she could announce her arrival with the familiar refrain.

“I’ve got eight dollars,” Rail tells me, waving the money.

“Driver’s license or twenty dollar bill,” I reply.

Her face twists up, and I’m wondering what the hell this could be about other than trying to get a good set of jumper cables. Someone at her vehicle must have a driver’s license. Maybe it’s Candid Camera, or a Reality Show. Off she goes again. This time I just wait in the office, because I smell Blog subject, so I start jotting down notes. Sure enough, my sixth sense is right on the money. Before I go any further, the reference I’m about to make concerns a blaxploitation film from the seventies, called ‘Superfly’. I really enjoyed Ron O’Neal in it; but later, I heard about how detrimental his terrific portrayal was. It may have been a B movie; but O’Neal did the character so well, he unintentionally gained a legion of real life imitators, cocaine and all. Anyway, into my shop walks the spitting image of Ron O’Neal’s Superfly, Panama hat, open necked fly away collar, sharp jacket, the works. I’m impressed as I go out to meet and greet the seventies Icon.

“Hi, can I…”

“Listen man,” Superfly says, waving his hand at the door, and edging toward me, “I need your jumper cables.”

Super is a few inches over six feet tall, and he ain’t happy. I don’t know why, since he could have easily had the jumper cables if he’d provided his surrogate with collateral.

“Driver’s license or twenty dollar bill, and you get them back when I get my jumper cables back,” I repeat again, marveling at the resemblance this guy has achieved to Ron O’Neal’s movie character.

Superfly looks me over with pretty much the same irritation his surrogate had. After a moment of eyeballing me, he takes his wallet out. He hands me a twenty dollar bill, and I go get him the jumper cables. Super heads out at a brisk pace, and I finally take a look outside and up the street where a beat up delivery van was parked near the corner market with the hood up. I remember Ron O’Neal’s character had a more Superfly like ride, but times have changed. I return to the office, and ten minutes later, Super’s surrogate arrives with my cables, and I return the twenty. She trots back out without a word.

“You’re welcome,” I call out, hurrying back into the office to get a few more notes down for the Blog. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fresh Story From The Naked City :)

“Hey… you screwed up my car!” The man didn’t say screwed, but I doubt we need another blog full of colorful language not vital to the story. This semantic gentleman I will dub Foul Mouth had just driven a 1998 Cad into my shop, and he was not happy. He was about sixty, and since I’m pretty close to that I figured those veins popping out on his face were not a healthy sign. Mr. Mouth’s hair was mostly gray, and wildly wound around his head in no particular form. It could have been a rug; but I would think if a guy wants to put one of those on his head, he’d make it neater looking. Slightly taller than I am, maybe around six feet one, he outweighed me by about fifty pounds. I noticed right off he was puffing hard on a cigarette which never left his mouth, so he talked, or yelled out of the side opposite the cigarette. The eye on the side of his mouth, clamping on his habit, squinted in the leering way chain smokers have when the cigarette they’re working on never leaves their mouth until only the useless filter’s left. He was wearing gray slacks with burn marks, white T-shirt, and red-print short sleeved shirt over the undershirt, but left unbuttoned. I had a problem here right off: I’d never seen the guy or his car before in my life. Some folks send their relatives over to leave off cars, so maybe this was a surrogate customer.

“Hi, can I help you,” I ask, walking through the shop toward him. Foul stays with his car door open, and one foot still inside. As I near the Cad front bumper, the smell of bourbon drifts to my sensitive nose. I am considering changing his name to Noxious Fumes. This is a definite second problem since it’s only 11:00 AM. I stop.

“You screwed up my car!” Mr. Mouth repeats, and now I can see his one fully open eye is alternating between half mast and open. It goes to half mast each time Foul rocks forward with his hand on the car door for support.

“Are you sure you have the right garage, Sir?”

“Damn right… I have the invoice here…” Foul dives inside his car. It takes him five minutes to get his invoice off the passenger seat and flop around until he’s able to get back out of the car. “Here…”

I dip inside the fumes, take the invoice, and back away. Mr. Mouth had his right rear quarter panel fixed, and a paint job done at Nelson’s Auto Body. Oh boy, this is going to be fun. Foul is only a city off. Nelson’s Auto Body is in San Leandro, not Oakland.

“You’ve made a mistake, Sir. This is Nilson Brothers Garage not Nelson’s Auto Body,” I inform him politely as his face goes to lava red. “Let me show you one of my invoices so you can see for yourself.”

“#@@##$$%^*()**##!! You…you’re trying to rip me off!” Foul states plainly. His fists are clenching and unclenching as he does the slight side to side dance of the enraged and inebriated nitwit.

“Look, calm down,” I urge him quietly, walking around the Cad. It looked great. “You’ve come to the wrong shop, but it looks like Nelson’s Auto Body did a nice job on your quarter panel and paint job. What kind of problem…”

“Not the… paint job… you idiot!” Foul is a couple seconds from a coronary; and I’m only a few feet away from one of my planted 900,000 volt stun guns, but I doubt he’d survive the attitude adjustment. “It stalls… every damn time… I come to a stop.”

“Maybe, but I doubt the body work and paint job’s causing it,” I reason with him firmly. “You do know you have the wrong place now, right?”

“Yea…” Foul’s color starts to fade a little. “I…I spent a lot of money…”

“True, but you received your money’s worth on the paint and body job. It looks great. Do you have a shop you go to for regular repairs?” He better.

“Yea… I got one…”

“Good,” I remark, jotting down his license plate number. “Now, there’s a parking space right out in front of the shop. I think you’re okay to park it there if I watch for traffic. Park it, and I’ll call you a cab, or if you live around here, you can walk home. It’ll do you good.”

“I’m not… leaving my damn car here… I…”

“You’ll leave it here, or the moment you drive anywhere, I’m calling the police.”

“Why you…” Foul’s color is coming back as he lurches angrily around the Cad.

“Don’t kid yourself,” I give him the halt sign. “Although you’re probably out there driving drunk every day for all I know, today ain’t going to be one of them.”

“Don’t lecture me… asshole… I…” Foul notices he’s sucked the life out of the cigarette between his lips, and replaces it nervously with another. His hand shakes as he lights it.

“You’re going to have to leave. You can park your car, or drive it away, and get picked up for DUI. Your choice,” I inform him calmly. “I think you have enough problems without adding an arrest. I’m betting if I called the police with your name, they probably already know you all too well.”

Yep, they do, I see as his cigarette droops down on his lip. He realizes I have his name and address from the Nelson Auto Body invoice I’m still holding.

“Want me to call you a cab?”

“No… I’ll park it... and walk,” Foul answers quietly, getting back into the Cad.

“I’ll guide you out,” I reply, handing him back his invoice after jotting down the information while he watched. His street is only three blocks down 38th Avenue, so he’ll be okay. It’s a cool California day with an East Bay breeze, so he’ll even smell better by the time he gets home.

Minutes later, I’m watching Foul walk awkwardly down 38th, smoke billowing out of him as if he were a walking steam engine. I look up at my clock, and I’ve only lost a half hour. Wooo…hooo…


Thursday, July 5, 2007


I flew back to Ohio last Sunday (I did not see a single firefly, Raine) :) to be with my brothers and sisters for the first time as a group in thirty-five years. Because we spread out into five states as the six of us aged, our reunions have been in twos and threes for decades. Distance never altered the depth with which we cared about each other. It was simply a matter of survival. I will avoid the ‘too much information’ syndrome, and launch into the story of how I arrived in Ohio.

Failing to achieve my first goal on both legs of my flight journey on US Airways; which was an aisle seat, I endured the middle seat on a two hour flight into Phoenix. Jubilant I had attained an aisle seat for the four hour flight from Phoenix to Cleveland, my cup was well over half full. Adding to my upbeat outlook, I noticed the nearness of my aisle seat to the front. I strode eagerly through the loading tunnel with notebook computer, ready to bang out four hours of fiction on it with the added room. Arriving at my assigned aisle seat, I found it decorated with a bag of Whopper candies, three tiny dinosaurs, and some assorted garbage. In the window and middle seat what looked to be six and eight year old boys were exchanging blows over who would gain control over a larger plastic figurine. I looked around at the already seated people, wondering who the hell leaves their two young kids sitting by themselves during a flight. As no one revealed their secret identity, I started thinking maybe the kids were on the flight by themselves. I quickly grabbed the junk off my seat, and set it on top of the garbage pile the kids had made on the center tray. The youngest boy twirled around, gawking at me with some distaste as he occupied the middle seat. I sat down fast, trying to avoid getting in the way of quite a few still to be seated flyers.

“You scared me,” the boy next to me stated.

Oh kid, if you only knew. I smiled back at his sullen look with an ingratiating one of my own and mumbled an unfelt apology. I’ve flown a few times with my own two children when they were these boys’ ages. My wife and I sat with them in alternating shifts; mostly me, because at the time, my Vulcan Death Stare was intimidating enough to evoke their best behavior. I noticed an odd ‘Princess and the Pea’ feeling, and discovered I was still sitting on a Whopper candy, which had spilled from the opened pack I had picked up from my seat. Not having carried on a trash bag, I deposited the candy into the airsickness bag in front of me.

“You’re the crab,” the boy next to me said, placing a plastic crab figurine over toward me on the tray with an added dinosaur next to it. “You get eaten.”

Not today, kid. I smile, wondering what the heck the flight crew will do with the mess on the tray since we are getting ready to take off. I find out quickly as the male steward stops by for a chat. He leans over, smiles at the kids, and swivels his head like the possessed girl in the Exorcist movie, so he can give me his version of the Vulcan Death Stare.

“Sir, we must have all trays up, and all loose items put away.”

Realizing I’ve just been given adoption rights for these two young renegades, I smile back at the Steward with my best Alfred E. Newman ‘What, Me Worry’ look.

“They aren’t mine,” I state simply, as his fake smile vanishes like my prior state of flight optimism.

“They aren’t?” The Steward questions uneasily, looking up and around the plane as the pilot warns of imminent take-off.”

“Nope,” I say happily.

“Okay you two,” he is forced into adoption, still glancing at me unbelievingly, “get your things cleared from the tray, get belted in, and get the tray back in the up position.”

The older boy scrambles to clear the mess off into one of the boy’s backpacks. The Steward then locks up the pull down tray, all the while frowning at me, and eyeballing the growing mess in front of the boys’ seats. He starts to walk away after the task is completed when the youngest brings him up short.

“Hey you, I’m thirsty,” he bellows loud enough for the rest of the plane to hear, most of the late entries thinking I’m still the owner of the two tots.

The Steward does a ‘Slowly I Turn, Step by Step’ mannerism, looking down at the boy with a ‘not if you were frying in hell look’.

“I’ll get you something in a minute.” He didn’t.

We took off, with the two boys holding their hands up in the air, whooping like they were on a roller coaster at Great America. After take-off, the younger one again screams he’s thirsty. The Steward brings him a cup of water; which he promptly spills on himself, thus cancelling any thoughts I had of bringing out my notebook computer. The Steward decides not to share the information with his fellow crew members, and for the remainder of the flight, I’m getting accusatory stares from the other US Airways’ cast members. I’m helping out, passing trash from the kids while denying any relation. My young companion next to me decides it’s time to let everyone know his pants are wet (from the spilled water, I hope). The Stewardess from the front section gives me a dirty look, and I let her know I’m not connected once again. When we’re twenty minutes out, some guy comes over and asks the kids if they’re alright. It’s their real Dad, and he’s been two seats back on the other side with their Mother the whole time.

Why didn’t my wife and I think of that? We just dump the kids on the other side of the plane, and pretend we don’t know them until the plane’s landing. :)