I am not sure when discussing car maintenance became the conversational staple of male Americans, but it has always been something that I have had difficulty relating to. After discussing the weather, the next topic of discussion invariably involves car maintenance and modification, with a game of frivolous one-upmanship over who has the best car or who was able to negotiate the best deal with their mechanic or car dealer…typically while I stand with a blank expression waiting for the conversation to die.
This not to say that I dislike cars. I am a utilitarian at heart. I like things that I own to serve a purpose and I bemoan having to part with an object while it still functions. Case in point, I drive a fifteen year old Corolla that I purchased long past its prime. About a year ago though, the car required body work to maintain and the cost having it done by a local mechanic was arguably more than the value of the car.
This created a problem, as the car was still functional, but left untreated, rust would soon spread and render my vehicle non-functional. The trouble was that the cost of the bodywork outweighed the value of the car.
Furthermore, I have no knowledge of cars. As someone who once forgot that engines need oil to run and ran the engine virtually dry, doing the bodywork myself was also out of the question. Up until about a year ago, about the only experience I ever had was mechanics telling me a bunch of technical gibberish and then requesting a large sum of money, which I paid before leaving in a bewildered state. In short, there was no way that I was going to be able to convince a local mechanic to work within my price range.
My car’s salvation presented itself when my uncle proposed that he knew a man who could repair my car. The man was skilled in body work and could make the necessary repairs for a very modest price. The only catch was that he lived out in Westbourne, a small town in western Manitoba.
The alternative being adding another car to the junkyard however, I gladly made the two hour drive to Westbourne and met my uncle there. Riding shotgun, he directed me onto a dirt side road and then onto another narrow side road that dipped into dense forest. As we drove, my uncle noted that the man only had one arm and this meant the job would take longer than a regular mechanic.
Being a distance runner, I didn’t mind being without a car for a few weeks and if this man was as good as I heard, who was I to tell a one-armed man to work faster. Having carpal tunnel myself, I can understand the importance of pacing yourself with physically demanding work.
As the road twisted through the tree, a sense of malaise set in as the scenery began to resemble the film Wrong Turn. Small clearings in the forest contained heaps of rusted scrap metal, piled like mechanical scarecrows warning off trespassers. The scrap piles continued as we drove deeper into the forest and I couldn’t help but think that this property doubled as a horror movie set.
The path eventually led to a large clearing in the trees, save for a scattering of scrap piles. A garage stood some distance away and beyond that a house that was difficult to make out. My uncle now told me to park the car and wait for his return. Getting out of the car, he walked off down the winding path and out of sight beyond the garage.
As I sat in my car, I looked around at an environment seemingly designed to horrify those on mind-altering substances. The scrap metal combined with faded wooden signposts and the omnipresent shadows of surrounding forest to create a scene that was uncanny in its resemblance to every slasher-film made in the last two decades.
After twenty minutes passed my uncle re-emerged from the forest and informed me that the man would work on my car. “Perfect, should I go pay him now”, I asked? “No, just drive your car back to my place and leave it there”, he replied. I thought for a moment and then surveying my forest scrapyard surroundings, decided that leaving this place as soon as possible would be the best decision. I reversed back up the narrow path and out of the forest.
I never did end up meeting this fabled one-armed car body mechanic, but three weeks later I was driving a rust free car, restored just as my uncle promised. I paid my uncle the full amount and left the whole surreal experience behind me save for the story. Since then, I have returned to Westbourne for further repairs on my car, but have yet to meet the man who repaired my car all those years ago.
Now, once we have discussed the weather, when people ask where I had my car maintenance done, I tell them that that I did it locally. When pushed for a mechanic, I tell them a one-armed man from Westbourne. My answer garners a variety of responses, but never the death of the conversation.