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Monday, April 19, 2010

Conversations with an Auto Mechanic

"Is that a picture of your grandson?", I asked, trying to make small talk as I waited for the mechanic to finish printing out my bill for the car inspection. He gave me a strange look. "That's my son."
Oops. Time to recalibrate. "Looks very cute and quite a handful. How old is he?", I attempted to save my lame guessing from further glares. "Three. He's quite a ham in front of the camera."
 This does it, I guess. I shouldn't remind a guy that he looks older than his years. Who knows whether he will even give me the time of the day the next time I call for an appointment.

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My car has been making strange vrooming sounds for a couple of days now. Driving 60 miles daily, I have no choice but to get it looked at sooner rather than later. I go online, find the mechanic has an online appointment making form. Alleluia! I don't have to try catching him on the phone. I can schedule it online.

I show up there the next morning at the appointed time. He had just finished printing out the fax informing him of my appointment.
"This your appointment?" he asked, waving the sheet.
"Yes", and I launched into an explanation of the problem I was having. "How's your kid now? Almost ready for kindergarten yet?", I point to the photos behind him.
His face lights up. He starts off on a long tale of how his son will start kindergarten next year and is looking forward to a friend's birthday, except for the fact that he can't attend, since he is going to Philly with his mom. "I don't care that much for my sis-in-law", he guffaws." You know how these things are. I go there once in 2 years."
"Where do you work?"
On hearing that I work for a medical device company, he launches into an expansive description of his and his friend's medical issues. I probably know more about his health than is now polite to discuss, HIPAA laws prevent me from divulging that.
(Note: I am a google-doctor and do not possess any medical degree.)
"Now let's check the problem in your car. Do you want to ride along?" He is quite affable as he starts up the car, listens attentively to the vroom and brings it back to the garage. "We'll put it up on the lift and check. Sounds like an exhaust leak somewhere."
I check my watch surreptitiously. Magically, despite the leisurely pace of conversation, only half an hour has elapsed since I reached the place.
 He says he'll order the parts and I'm to bring in the car to have it fixed the next morning, since he is aware I must be needing to get to work. He waves me off cheerfully.

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The next morning, I take the car in and plunk myself on the old leather sofa in his dark little office room. He is buried behind the huge desk and counter, cloistered with a gentleman in a cap. Much muttering over taxes and my ears perk up when he mentions the township where I live. Could he live there too? I revert to my book and mp3 player. The tax guy leaves after getting the required signatures. About half an hour later, the assistant mechanic drops my keys back at the desk. The repair is done. It's time for me to pay and leave. I stand up at the counter and then the inquisition starts.
"What do you think of all this big government and the way they use our tax money? Squandering it away on extensions of unemployment and such. It makes me sick to think how hard I work, and some just take it easy and get unemployment instead of good paying job."
I hedge, answering that while people taking unemployment just as the easy way out, there are many other good things our taxes pay for, such as schools, roads, police forces, etc. The conversation shifts to schools, and as I guessed, he does live in the same township as me. The earlier school district he lived in has now become filled with all sorts of 'riff raff', as he calls them. I take a chance, pointing out that 'riff raff' are people too, just poorer. "Takes all kinds to make a world."
And it proceeds into friendly inquiries about where I come from, naming conventions in India, why it is that all the best IT people are from India. I point out that it's just the pattern of immigration being encouraged in the current era, just as East Europeans and Italians came in droves to work in the newly industrialized US in the late 19th century and early 20th century. "Greeks are very good painters", he muses over my assertion.
"That's what they may have started off as. But after a generation or two and decent college educations, they'll be the doctors and engineers and business owners of tomorrow."
I glance at my watch. I have precisely half an hour in which to reach work in time for a meeting. "I must be going now, have a meeting." He prints out my bill with alacrity, I don't glance at the amount as I sign. "$53", he announces as he runs the credit card through. I'm surprised. I had figured with parts and stuff that the bill would have run to around $80. But I have no time to ask about that.
I suppose now that conversations with a mechanic do count for quite a bit of goodwill, despite my earlier doubts about how he might take some of my opinions.

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