Virginia’s annual automobile safety inspection is something that every car owner both loves and hates. We love it 11 months per year, because it means the roads are safer and we are (theoretically, at least) relieved of the sight and smell of cars burning all manner of non-fuel products and stinking up our air space. But on that remaining month, we start singing a different tune.
The inspection is, at the very least, an inconvenience. If we’re driving a late-model peach or something that’s scrupulously maintained, we might not sweat the inspection, but we know we need to interrupt our schedule to stop by a shop to pay a fee and get our ticket punched. But if we’re limping along in a ride which is less than pristine, we’re constantly searching the landscape for a shop which seems legitimate– but not especially assiduous– where we can roll our dice. We want our car to be safe, but we’re less than eager to pay for it.
I was only stopping by the muffler shop for an estimate. The car is getting new tires on Friday, and I was anticipating some concern about the noisy exhaust system. But my investigation of the noise wasn’t netting any particular leak that could be patched (again) with some of that high-temperature muffler tape, so I thought I’d let a pro take a look. Up on the lift it went, and I was summoned to walk past the ‘No Customers in the Shop’ sign to see for myself. Two pipes of roughly 6 lineal feet were more or less rotten, leaking exhaust like a sieve. You can’t wrap something that’s not there, I thought to myself, and made the long walk back to the counter in the office to wait for the estimate.
He showed me the numbers and I winced, noting that my wife’s current maternity leave for our 3rd child meant that cash was a bit tight at the moment. So he made me an offer, knocking about 10% off the price. Moreover, he said he could do it right then. Feeling at first that I was getting the typical salesman”s rush, I hesitated, until I noticed that his sole employee was in the office as well– they were just looking to stay busy on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. So I licked my wounds and agreed to the work. As he picked up his welding helmet, the shop guy nodded and said, “I’ll have it done in an hour.”
I was wondering at this quick turnaround, since my expectation is that step one of a repair is a call to the parts store to have the two pieces of pipe delivered. But it quickly became clear that this man wasn’t receiving any outside assistance. No, he was engaging in the lost art of manufacturing– taking two pieces of straight stock and transforming them into the perfect pieces for my car. Without even a measuring tape, he used his trained eye and dead reckoning to work quickly and confidently in three dimensions. It was truly a sight to behold.
While he worked his magic, his boss (the man who trained him 9 years ago) and I talked about cars and our glory days behind the wheel of some older muscle cars. He’s 10 years older than me, so he was driving my dream cars when he was a teenager. And when I was a teenager, I was working at dealerships driving the cars he now owns and treasures. It was a familiar conversation that we both enjoyed immensely.
After we settled the bill, he kindly inquired about my kids. Were they boys, or girls? I amended my earlier count by saying, “Actually, we have 4 kids– my son died when he was 4 months old, and we have 3 girls now.” This is always a tense space of self-revelation, since the revealer is now fully exposed to all manner of trite comments, banal aphorisms, and enraging encouragements.
But not today. This man– about as far from any formal helping profession as one can be– said exactly the right thing in exactly the right tone. “Oh, no,” he said, feeling the weight across the muffler store waiting room,”that’s awful.” When I agreed and started to soften, he gently inquired of a few more details and we talked for another minute before he delivered his final benediction: “Man, that sucks.”
Posted in: grief