Helen Chappell - December 2007

An Honest Mechanic
Helen Chappell

     Sometimes, like about every five thousand miles, I take my ancient Corolla in to Royal Oak Repair. I guess I’ve been taking my cars to Larry LeCompte and his people for fifteen or twenty years, or whenever the warranty from the dealership runs out. When you find an honest mechanic, you don’t let go of them all that easily. So, when the time comes for a little auto repair and maintenance, I go down Schoolhouse Lane.
      These days, Alex Divjak works on my ride, but you could go to Jimmy, if you like. Larry’s got contracts to service various local fleets that keep him busy. And he has a tow truck, which must be the ultimate guy toy in this world.
      I like taking my car in to Royal Oak Repair because it’s just such a guy place. The pale yellow pole building, comfortably cluttered with the accessories of the vehicle maintenance business, smells of motor oil, tires and testosterone.
      There’s a small office piled with papers and a computer, but no one ever seems to spend much time there, unless they’re shopping for parts from junkyards. The walls are filled with guy art – calendars, deer art, pictures of hot babes holding various automotive tools, cartoons, a burl wood clock with a deer on it.
      The collection continues onto the outside wall, replete with peeling old mottos about the fate of whiners, how an emergency on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. Most of it has been up there for years, so long it’s taken on a patina of age and nicotine stains. You can’t buy that kind of shabby chic, and I guess no one would really want to; it’s just so guy, so masculine, so butch. A few years ago, someone stuck up a picture of George W. Bush. About a year ago, someone stuck a piece of black electrical tape over the eyes. A garage is a place that reflects the mood of the times.
      Outside, the sides of the driveway are filled with cars in varying states and varieties. What they’re doing there is a mystery to me. One time, there was this late model Cadillac out there. Since it’s been a long held dream of mine to drive a big old Cadillac to Graceland, I asked Alex about it. He told me the people who owned it had brought it in for repairs. When they found out how much it would cost, theysaid they’d get back to the guys, but that had been almost a year ago, and the Caddy was still there, abandoned to its fate, the indifference of its owners and the amnesia of the guys.
      This is a busy shop. On any weekday, cars waiting to be ministered to are lined up in front of the open bays of the garage. Larry, Jimmy and Lex are very popular mechanics, and people bring their cars from miles around to have them worked on here.
      Sometimes, they bring in marine engines too, and Larry tries to bring them back to life with varying degrees of success, depnding on their rust and exposure quotient.
      The thing I admire about someone who can work on machines is that they can work on machines. They understand complex moving parts and know how to fix or replace them. For them, the right brained world of mechanics makes perfect sense. They understand working physics, and how this causes that to happen, and how this piece connects to that piece. I am the least handy person I know, so I’m envious of the ease with which Alex fixes what ails my car.
      Sometimes, if he’s in a good mood, Alex lets me sit and talk to him while he services my ancient but still-running-well Toyota. While he works and I sit in a creaky office chair, we catch up on each other’s lives, his wife and kids, his family and all the Royal Oak gossip, which generally isn’t much, this being a small village where everyone knows your business before you do.
      Sometimes, it’s just fun to watch people work and see what they do. I often enjoy watching guys work, and hanging out with them because they’re so different from women and approach things so differently.
      A long time ago, I watched a guy build a wooden boat, and learned more about the craft of working with wood than I could ever have picked up from a book. Sometimes it was just pleasant to sit in his shop and watch him fit things together in a space filled with light and the rich smell of freshly cut wood.
      I’ve culled oysters and crabs and baited up trotlines to see what it’s like to be a guy. It’s been interesting, informative and a lot of fun, but I don’t think I’d want to be in guy world 24/7. As much as I love men, and I love them a lot, I’ve been a woman so long it’s hard to change. Guy world is just another country in so many ways.
      Guy world is completely different from girl world. Guy world is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Communicating in sophisticated grunts and doing all that butch work is very attractive to a certain kind of woman (and man), but I’d really miss the kind of conversations and diversions women can only have with each other.
      But I really enjoy my visits to Royal Oak Repair. Alex, bless his heart, takes better care of my car than I do. He keeps her running and on the road. If I can get another five years out of her, I’ll thank Alex.
      And my occasional forays into the mysterious world of men.