Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Automotive poets Like an expectant father waiting for the water to break, I watched, periodically, as my two mechanics sorted through tools in the back of their pick up and removed yet another part of my ailing car. “Two more months,” I’d told them, “that’s all I need it to work.” By 1:00 p.m., their surgical repairs had taken five hours.
Parts were neatly spread on the space on the parking lot adjacent to my car. The hood was up, a tent of sorts that they were usually under. From a window on the second floor of my store, I saw them in poses that often appeared more dramatic than mechanical. By 3:00 p.m., I wondered whether they’d come to an impasse. I never asked them that question because I didn’t have time; we were busy and I had to steal away for glances from the window upstairs.
Around 5:00 p.m., I admit to having being worried. I’d sneaked outside about an hour earlier and was shown the problem. It wasn’t the hose that they’d initially suspected; it was a gasket on the bottom of the engine that had allowed the leak. Thanking them for their know-how and their persistence, I went back inside, fingers still crossed.
When I locked the doors at 6:00, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I walked to the back of the building. They’d been at it since 8:00 a.m.; I’d been carless for almost three days. Had my Skylark been salvaged or rendered absolutely useless? My faith in their abilities, thanks to past performances, was justified. But this time, their task was a huge ten hour procedure.
One of the men, lean and six two or three, usually soft spoken, announced confidently that I could “...drive it to New York if I wanted.” I noted the change in his visage from the day before when we’d planned the work. While doing that, he’d mentioned the cancer he’d been battling for years that had spread “to his groin area.”
I had winced then, but I felt like applauding as he put back the last of his tools. Just as affable, the other man, shorter but more muscular, offered a sixty second explanation about the work they’d completed. “You ought to keep this car,” he told me. “It’s in great shape...,” he said.
So true, I thought to myself, for an automobile that’s almost seventeen years old. “You’ve brought it back to life, again!” I exclaimed. “Thanks,” I said, pleased to pay them a little more than we’d agreed.
And they might be right about keeping the car. It runs beautifully although it looks rag tag. Chances are that I’ll like it even more if they cure an air conditioning problem that’s gone unfixed since my daughter, almost a college grad, was in high school.
I know they can. And will. They share my affection for the car. That’s easy to tell. Chances are that they’re reminded of their fathers who taught them how to be mechanics. Tomorrow I may ask them about that, about whether their Dads knew Wendell Scott, the famous race car driver and mechanic. Perhaps their fathers went to Wendell’s church or vice versa.
Like many unheralded black men of that generation, my two mechanics, the next generation, may be just as unheralded to all but me.
To me, under the hood, they’re automotive poets of the highest order.
B. Koplen 4/16/12
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