My car is in the shop this week for repairs. It was there last week, too. And the week before that.
This is because my car is to put it in technical car terms old. I don't have to wear goggles when I drive it, but almost. This is how old my car is, kids: To lock and unlock the door, I have to use a key!
My favorite part about the visit to the mechanic is when he explains what's wrong with my car, and I have no clue what he's talking about. This is what he said last time, as nearly as I can recall:
"Blah, blah, blah, manifold, blah, blah, camshaft, celanoid, blah, blah, injectors, blah, blah, blah, alternator water pump hypothermia blah, blah, rotator cuff, blah, blah timing belt flux capacitor blah, blah bearings, fly rod, blah strut, caliper. It will cost (fill in the blank) dollars."
I'm not a Car Guy. I was born without the gene that causes men to get weak in the knees when they see a Ferrari and enables them to say "strut assembly" in normal conversation. I am also missing the gene that enables guys to understand how a car engine works as soon as they become teenagers. I would not, for instance, open the hood of a car any more than I would slice open someone's chest to perform open-heart surgery.
It's genetic. My brother, Brian who's an even bigger car idiot than I am (he can barely operate a seat belt) once took his car in to be repaired, and when the mechanic asked him what seemed to be the trouble, Brian, in a moment of lapsed judgment, decided to try to sound like Car Guy.
"I think I've got a broken syncopator," he said.
What a moron. The real problem of course was a broken isotope!
Look, this is everything I know about how a car operates: You put gas in that hole in the side, insert the key and turn it, and push the pedals to make it stop and go.
That's about it.
After that, as near as I can tell the way a car works is purely an act of God, like gravity or the weather or my sprinkler system.
What this means is that, next to my family, a good, trustworthy mechanic is the most important person in my life. I am entirely at his mercy. If, after looking at my car, he tells me, "You need some new Grabowski Rods and a set of Anderson Joints," there's only one thing I can say: "Do you take Visa?" I could easily be taken advantage of. If a mechanic told me he needed to pour diamonds into the gas tank, I would just nod vacantly in agreement.
For years my mechanic has been a guy named Ray. He could build a car out of dirt before lunch. I have been so loyal to Ray that, as he has neared retirement and scaled back his work, I haven't wanted to tell him that I have been seeing someone else a mechanic named Mark, who's also knowledgeable, helpful and honest.
I'm down at Mark's Goodyear tire store so often that he charges me rent to sit in the waiting room. I keep a toothbrush and a change of clothes there. I'm thinking about opening a branch office there and writing my columns while I wait. My car and I are putting Mark's kids through college.
Ray and Mark are the type of guys who can use "fuel injectors" in a sentence correctly. When they attempt to explain the mechanical problems of my car, it reminds me of a story about German biochemist Chaim Weizmann. While accompanying Albert Einstein on a trip across the Atlantic from Europe to New York, Weizmann asked Einstein to explain the theory of relativity to him. Later, when reporters asked Weizmann if he had understood the theory, he replied, "During the crossing, Einstein explained his theory to me every day, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it."
I am fully convinced Ray and Mark understand what's wrong with my car.
But I don't.
Recently, I received a call from my youngest son to tell me he had a flat tire and wanted to know what he should do. My older son called a few days later and asked, "Where does the coolant go?"What's wrong with these kids today? Fortunately, I knew how to fix both problems. Call Mark.
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesday. Please send e-mail to [email protected]