The steering wheel tightened up without warning. The dashboard lit up like a tree as I pulled into a parking space at the Chevron. My wife asked , “What’s wrong?” I don’t remember answering, just hitting the button that pops the hood, taking off my jacket and tie, and stepping out into the rain. She went back to reading her magazine and passing dropped crayons to the kids.
Under the hood things looked and sounded normal. I looked around for leaks, smoke, anything, then I saw the auxiliary belt was slack and stationary. I looked closer and saw a plastic round something just sitting there, underneath everything, on top of the wheel well. I hollered for the Mrs. to shut the engine off as I rolled up my sleeve and plunged my arm into the greasy mess.
As I was blindly fishing for that plastic round thing, a very black man wearing two coats, one beanie, and no teeth asked what was wrong with the car. I answered I was a bit unsure but think the broken part was just under here, barely out of reach. He waved me aside and tried his double coated arm. He couldn’t reach either. He told me he lived across the street and thought he had a hangar over there. I watched as he trotted off toward an abandoned tire shop and vacant lot.
“Mind if I try?” an Indian man asked as he flicked a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk. He had a long handled grabber thing, the kind with a claw, a trigger, and no name that I know of. He took his turn reaching for the plastic thing. As I stood back feeling lame, watching another make attempts where I had failed, I tried to at least be cordial. “What a way to spend Christmas right?” “Got it!” he responded as he held up a black plastic doughnut shaped something. I inspected the burnt piece of engine and saw the two coated man approaching. He saw the part in my hand and tossed the hangar over his shoulder onto the ground. “Let us be looking to see if the part store is open.” the victor said waving me toward his Lexus. I waived to the wife as she locked the doors and the kids kept coloring.
I felt less sympathy for this Samaritan, who I now guessed owned the Chevron, as I pulled shut the car door and looked at a multi-armed Goddess mounted on the dash. I wondered to myself if you would pay yourself time and a half for working on Christmas, if you didn’t celebrate Christmas. I didn’t think the part store would be open, it wasn’t, but he said he didn’t care if we left the car overnight. I called my nephew, the one who just graduated college last week, and he picked us up in his brand new Dodge Charger. Its so new it doesn’t have plates yet.
The day after Christmas the rain had stopped and a mechanic met me at the car. I borrowed an in-law’s car, thinking this could take a while. I planned to drive the forty five minutes back up and make plans to reclaim my hopefully repaired car while the mechanic was working, to ya-know, waste my time but not everyone else’s back at the house. The mechanic didn’t say much at all and just dove into the engine. He made a silent trip back to his truck, came back with a wrench, and went back in. I awkwardly interrupted to ask, how long and how much. He kind of squinted at me, scratched his cheek, and said, “Bout thirty minutes and forty bucks.” Surprised at the time and happy with the price I stepped back and watched.
As I stood back, another Indian man came out of the gas station and stood next to me. He asked if it was getting fixed, I said it was, then he spit his tobacco on the curb and said, “Now there will be the issue of paying.” I had contemplated tipping the generous man who helped me yesterday, but I began reconsidering as I looked at this guy with horrible teeth, a visible hairy chest, who was wagging his head back and forth like a bobble head. “Pardon?” I asked playing dumb. “How much do you suppose it would cost if I had called a tow truck?” he asked with half closed, glossy eyes. “I’m not sure. Why don’t you just tell me how much you are asking for,” I answered.
“It would have been very expensive. They charge to pick up, then to get it back. I am saying only fifty dollars.”
I was not pleased. I tried to show it on my face.
“So what do you think of that? He stated more than asked.
“I think it incredibly un-generous and think this would have been a great conversation to have had yesterday. I understand you did me a favor but to ask that much for something that cost you nothing… I just don’t know.”
He looked at me with his glassy eyes and said, “No! There is no negotiating here, there is no haggling. I have said fifty and so it will be fifty. So, eh!? What you think? Eh!?”
I stood staring deeply at his wood grained brown stained teeth, knowing there was a twenty in my pocket, but not knowing entirely how to keep it and still feel good about myself. What do I say here?
I never had to decide as he started laughing, hit me on the arm and told me he was joking. I told him it was surely funnier for him than for me and he just looked at me doing that head wobble thing.
I thanked the mechanic, called my wife to come so we could drive the car back, then I sat in the car to wait.
Usually I see the view from inside the car like a movie; I sit while scenes play across the windshield. Occasionally I even have snacks. This time, in this lot, it was more like a fishbowl, and I was the fish.
I could not figure out why people, scruffy people, were just milling about around the car. I contemplated taking a picture but decided not too. I realized these folks were standing around outside the car because I was almost right in front of a liquor store. I did not know if they had homes or what hard lives they were living, and to take their photo from my warm and cozy car, waiting to go home and have a well cooked meal, seamed more than patronizing and I was ashamed for having considered it. That is till the buzzards circling the vehicle began to get overly nosy. To lean against the car while I was in it is one thing, but to stand and stare at me, face to face, and then just continue to stare? I raised my iphone and “click”.
They were unfazed.
I was a bit fazed. Not to by the the folks waiting for the Package Store to open, but by the lady walking the block. I have seen enough women walk the block to know what that looks like, but till this day I had never seen a chunky “lady” walk the block while eating a bag of Funions. I realized then more than ever, that that is an industry I truly do not understand. Attractiveness is surely not a component.
She was still walking when my wife arrived.
As we were driving off toward the highway I looked over, behind the abandoned tire shop. There, in a field was two coated guy with a few others standing around a flaming trash can. My wife called me from the other car, “Hey did you see that? He really does live over there.”