I live in the South and drive a 1990 Saab Turbo: both on purpose. Recently, an experience highlighted the intersection.
I shutter a little every morning on my forty-minute drive to work knowing that, if anything happens to the car, I’m toast: just finding a mechanic who knows how to lift the hood is a challenge.
It happened. I was two miles from work and thought the engine was giving birth to a pterodactyl. I pulled over and figured out that I threw a belt. The noise was from the belt remnants slapping against the hood. I called work to take the day off, and then called a tow truck.
“Be there in twenty,” he said.
Now I had to figure out where to take it. We have Firestone work on my wife’s can and I figured they ought to be able to change a belt on anything.
I made the call and explained what happened. They know my car from maintaining the tires and from me bringing in my wife’s car.
“Sure,” they said. “It’s a belt, right? I mean, we can change a belt.”
So, I had it towed to Firestone, met the car there, and everyone was happy. They had a few projects in front of me, but they’ll get to it as soon as possible.
A couple hours later, I got the call.
“Hey, Dennis. Firestone here.” Pause… “You know your car was made in Sweden?”
I can be an ass and replied that, actually, though the marque is Swedish, my particular car was made at the Finland factory. I had the distinct impression they thought they were telling me something I didn’t know.
Unfazed, the speaker continued. “And…you know that the hood opens backward?”
Lots of pausing here. They were trying to be nice to a guy who doesn’t know that a real car comes from Detroit.
“And that the engine is in backwards? You know this stuff, right?”
“Right,” I said, “I know this stuff. Can you change the belt? I just want to know when I can pick it up.”
“Funny thing. We’re all standing around your can right now, looking at the engine. We really recommend that you take it to a Euroshop. Frankly, we don’t even know where to start. Heaven knows what it will cost you.”
The episode reminded me of when I went to wastewater school. I kid you not; we were all grown adults and spent an afternoon going over subtraction. Like one-hundred minus ninety. It baffled me. But, you could take any one person in school – man or woman – and lead them blindfolded to a pump that needed rebuilding. In an hour, they’d finish and the pump would work like new. I would still be feeling tools and figuring out which end of the pump spewed water.
So, I decided that there are lots of kinds of knowing, and they’re all useful and essential depending on context. These guys who had to explain to me that my car hood opened backward? I’m positive they could do a brake job on a 1975 Ford truck blindfolded and drunk. I’m not sure I could do it with a manual and the parts laid out in order. But, brother? If you start with 3.57 curies of cesium-137, I can sure as heck tell you how much you’ll have in 38.86 years. Yup, it’s all about context.
As I often find, the problem was me. In Seattle, there are Saab shops everywhere and plenty of shade-tree mechanics who know the cars by feel just like knowing the difference between a Rainier and an Oly beer bottle. I bought the car on purpose, knowing that I would have issues with maintenance. The company is folded now, thanks – my opinion – to a twenty-two-year relationship with GM who tried to convert them from a boutique maker to a European Chevrolet. Oh well. Another one bites the dust, as Freddy sang.
This entire conversation elevated my respect for my local Firestone. They said Sure to the problem and then, digging in, realized they didn’t know how to go forward. They stopped, called me, and recommended another shop. It’s a level of integrity rarely seen. They didn’t even charge me for looking.
So, I took it to a Euroshop who ‘works on all the Saabs in town’. I told them I had one and I knew of another. It was stored behind the Jiffy Lube for a year because it didn’t run. Did they work on that one? They were offended that I even asked the question. They worked on my car, finished up, and it drove like a dream for two days. Then they came to my rescue in the Food Lion parking lot and gave me a jump. I drove it home and parked it in the garage where it sits today.
My lovely wife, ever practical, told me to go buy a truck. “Something you can drive to work and get worked on anywhere for a hundred bucks.”
It’s good to be married to the smart one.