Mike the Mechanic

 

See entry above for introduction

 

Mike the mechanic got out of bed

put on a clean pair of overalls

had some marmite on toast and a cup of tea

and drove down to the garage.

 

He arrived just a little after everyone else;

Sausage had already opened up

and was putting out supplies for the day’s work.

Sausage was actually called ‘Charles’,

but that had been turned into ‘Chip’ at high school,

and when Irene in the office had started to call him ‘chipolata’

everyone else had started to call him ‘sausage’.

 

Sausage was senior among the ordinary mechanics,

and so he decided who did what each day.

“Mike, you can polish up that Ford.  Check the oil and coolant.

I’ve sent Ted for some more tea-bags and fresh milk,

and he’ll give you a hand when he gets back.

Afternoon is just general duties and work on your own car.

I’m going to check the hoist equipment

 and do the weekly stock-take.”

“Anything for the technician?”

“Well, he finished with the Ford a month ago,

but he thinks there may be a Commodore coming in,

He said it sounds a bit rough

and he’d like to run a diagnostic on it.

He’s in his office.

We’ll deal with it if it turns up.”

And so they got to work. 

Mike polished the Ford again,

and when he’d done that, they had morning tea,

then read maintenance manuals until lunch,

and then he spent the afternoon fine-tuning his own car

tidying the tools, and sweeping.

As he tidied, he listened to the traffic on the road outside;

He’d developed quite a good ear, over the years,

and as cars went by, he’d be able to say

“timing’s out in that one”,

or, “less than peak performance there – probably the compression”,

or, “Mix needs adjusting there, I think.”

And then he’d get on with his job –

filling the coffee jar,

or sweeping out the pits,

or polishing up one of the other mechanics’ cars –

whatever needed doing at the time.

During the long, slow, afternoon hours

he thought about his job.

He was fairly contented.

True, being a mechanic was not as exciting

as he had once hoped it would be;

but it was a living

and he was …content.

Sort of.

It’s just that things were so…. slow.

While there were always plenty of cars in the wreckers yard,

There weren’t many in the garage.

In fact, often there were none apart from the mechanics’ own cars.

The few that did come in

were usually in pretty good shape,

just needing some fine-tuning,

a bit of upholstery polish,

and maybe a small dent taken out of the bumper

or a bit of paint applied to a door.

Nobody really bothered to lift the bonnet anymore.

Cars these days were just… so well made!

And they were so complicated!

Computers

and flash audio systems filling half the boot,

Multi-point injection fuel systems,

and Electronic traction control through ABS & engine management…

sometimes Mike longed for the good old days,

when you could lift the bonnet and see it all at a glance.

But those days were gone.

If ever something complicated did come in –

like a car –

they’d pass it on to their technician,

whose certificates in everything from kiwi-host to needlepoint

 hung beautifully framed in the front office,

and he’d work carefully and professionally on the problem

until it was all fixed,

and then pass it over to them to polish up

and deal with any minor mechanical problems.

So they were always …occupied;

even if it was a little less exciting than he had hoped.

And there were no apprentices any more.

It had been years since they had had an apprentice;

they all did in-service training,

but there was no-one getting to grips with mechanics

for the very first time.

When he thought about it, the mechanic sighed;

apprentices were seeing everything for the very first time;

their enthusiasm was infectious,

and the mistakes they made livened things up.

Mind you, young people today…

It was probably better without them,

though there was a standing directive from the garage owner

that young people were to be encouraged into the business

whenever possible.

The garage owner was said to be just another mechanic,

living in another city.

Others said he was a manufacturer,

and others said he was a rally driver.

Some idiots said he was all three,

but no-one could quite understand how that could be,

and no-one ever saw him around

though most claimed to have met him as an apprentice.

The arguments never had any real heat –

it all seemed a little academic;

he’d set up the garage,

left them the tools to do the job

and got on with his business – whatever that was.

So Mike got on with his business too,

and at the end of the day put away his broom

And went home

and put his slightly crumpled overalls into the wash

and went into the bathroom where he’d wash before eating,

and reading a manual for a while,

and then early to bed.

Like all mechanics,

Mike had a jar of grease remover in his bathroom,

and that one jar lasted a long time,

because it was such excellent grease remover –

and because he only needed to open it once every couple of weeks.

And so Mike was… content.

Mostly.

 

But I don’t think he was completely content

or that Wednesday would never have happened.

That Wednesday he was driving home

and he passed a car on the side of the road;

a late model,

and a young woman was looking under the bonnet.

Maybe it was because she was a young woman that he turned around,

or maybe it was because the bonnet was up

and it had been a long time since he’d seen under the bonnet

of any car but his own,

but for whatever reason

he turned around,

pulled in behind the car

and came around to the front.

Steam was rising,

and there was a faint burning smell.

Mike was still in his overalls

and they had the garage name on it,

so when he appeared at the woman’s side she said,

“Oh! Are you a mechanic? How wonderful!”

“Hmm,” he said, as he looked at the very tidy

and quite complicated array of components before him.

“Well, yes, I am, but I don’t know that I’ll be much good to you.

I don’t understand modern cars very well.”

And he kicked at the gravel

and looked despondently at the steaming engine.

“But you are a mechanic, aren’t you?”

“Well, Yes…”
“Then could you just take a look?  Please?

It was making a funny squealing sound

and the temperature was going up and up,

and then it started to steam,

so I stopped,

but I don’t know what’s gone wrong…”

“Hmmm,” said the mechanic, and bent over the motor,

pushing aside a bundle of wires,

and slipping a finger carefully around the housing.

His brow creased as he didn’t find what he was feeling for,

and he dropped onto the gravel to wriggle beneath the car

and get a better view.

The woman disappeared

and returned a second later with a slam of the door

to hand him a torch.

“Is this useful?”

“Yeah, ta.”

He directed the beam this way and that,

reached up into the motor

and then wriggled out again,

clutching something black and smouldering.

“I think this was your fan-belt.

Not the original.

Replaced sometime in the past with this one; very poor-quality.

It snapped or came off, and it’s been melted a bit there

– that’s what the smell is.

“Oh!  Well, I need a tow, now don’t I?  I can’t drive it?”

“Well, in the old days, I’d have asked you for your stockings

and you’d be fine until you could get to a garage.

Now, I wouldn’t want to risk it. 

Should really do a full diagnostic.

We’ve got a fella back at the garage trained to do things like that.”

“Thank you, so much,” she said.

“I’ve got a phone in the car – I’ll just call for a tow,”

and she reached for her handbag on the seat.

Our mechanic kicked his heels for a few seconds

 while she called directory and got the number for a towing firm,

but before she dialled again, he said, “Look. How about I tow you?”

She looked up in surprise.

“You don’t have to go to my garage – any one will do.

Where do you normally go?”

“Well, I haven’t got any regular garage –

I just go when something needs doing,

Yours will do just fine, I’m sure.”

 

So he towed her to the garage,

left a note for the others in case they arrived early next day,

and dropped the woman at her home,

promising to call her again the second her car was ready.

When he went home that night,

his overalls had scuff marks and a tar spot on them

and his hands needed degrease-ing.

 

The next day, he arrived early,

feeling, for the first time in years,

like the garage was where he wanted to be,

but he wasn’t the first one there.

Someone else was waiting there for him,

leaning against the car he’d brought in the night before.

The mechanic looked

and then looked again.

It was the owner.

Yes, he was wearing racing gear;

and yes,

his hands had that ingrained grease that marked out every mechanic,

and yes, he was the one who had signed him up as a mechanic

many years ago.

It was the owner.

He pushed off from the car

and came across to shake hands.

“It’s good to see you again!” he said,

“and good to see you doing your job so well!”

“Oh, I’m not doing much, these days. 

Mostly I just sweep the floors.”

The owner looked around at the floors, and smiled.

“Well, they’re nice clean floors.

But I mean this car here,”

he turned and patted the paint-work, then looked up.

“It’s one of mine,

and anything you do for one of my cars

you do for me.”

“I didn’t do much.  Just towed it here is all.”

“What does it need?”

“Just a proper fan-belt is all, I think,

but we should probably run a good check on it,

just to make sure.

The technician will do that.”

“How qualified do you need to be to change a fan-belt?”

“Well, yes, I suppose, I could do that.

It would be good to do some real work for a change – get my hands greasy again.”

 

“You know,” said the owner,

“90% of mechanicing is stopping things from going wrong;

maintenance. 

9% is simple stuff like fan-belts.

It’s only that tricky 1% that needs special qualifications.”

The mechanic shrugged.

“I can do that for my own car ok. 

But what can I do for all those cars that are going past,

day after day?

They mostly don’t bother about maintenance

and we can’t make them.”

 

The owner looked through the window at the busy road outside.

“They’re still my cars. 

I can see that people don’t care so much about their cars any more;

cars are cheap, now.

But I know you care

and that’s why you’re still here.

Let me put the question back to you;

how can you do more of the work you’ve been trained to do?

What are you going to do

to get your hands dirty again?

If people won’t bring their cars in here

for maintenance or even simple repairs

where are you going to work?”

 

Discussion.

 

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