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Small Talk: Daddy car care

You’ve heard about those girls born with the much-lauded silver spoon in their mouths?  I had it all over them.  When I opened my mouth to howl, a set of metric wrenches was poking out.

That is to say, I was blessed with a daddy whose hobby was car repair. Diamonds are dandy, but they won’t get you back on the road in the middle of the night. Ask anyone you know, and they will have a horror story about getting stranded, or weeks without their car while some auto repair place jerked them around.  I had no such nightmares for the bulk of my lie.  My dad once drove from El Cajon to East L.A. for me, after I placed a tearful, panic-stricken phone call.

Mom claimed I wouldn’t recognize my father unless I could see the soles of his feet sticking out from under a car.  That’s just not true.  All he had to do is smear a little grease on his nose and chin, and I’d know him in a second.

I am a little surprised that he ever came to the phone once he knew it was me on the other end.  For several years, our standard greeting degenerated to “Hi, Dad!”  “Hi, daughter.  What broke?”

But there was more affection behind those words than you might think. I can think of no greater sacrifice to make for your little girl than to give up watching the weekend golf in order to replace her brake cylinder.

Every now and then I’d get to feeling thoroughly guilty about using up his weekends. I’d say to myself, “This time, I won’t even bother him.  I’ll just take it down to the local repair shop and pay them whatever it takes.”  My honorable intentions would last until I got the estimate.

One auto parts man told me it would take $200 to replace one small part of my seat belt — and this was 25 years ago.  After I stopped laughing and choking, I told him my funeral would probably cost less than that. Meanwhile, my dad fixed it with $2 worth of parts and a million dollars worth of knowledge.

Eventually, when I was too far away for him to do the actual work, I would do the next best thing.  I would call and describe the noises and other various symptoms of my latest car ailment, and he would give me one or two probable causes, complete with exactly what needed to be done to fix it.

Armed with knowledge and a vocabulary that could convince any mechanic that I knew my way around an engine, I would march confidently into the repair shop and tell them what needed to be done.

Being able to tell, rather than ask, saved me enormous time and money.  It made it very hard for them to flim-flam me.  If they tried, I would just call my dad and have him talk to them. It worked like a charm.

The debutantes of Boston can keep their fame and fortunes. I’ll bet their fathers wouldn’t know a transmission bearing from a flywheel. Those poor little rich girls have to go through life paying auto mechanics to take twice as long to do half as much. They can never be certain that the job was done right, and their mechanic never cared about the safety of that car’s passenger like my daddy did.

There’s no warranty in the world like a birth certificate.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who thinks a car should just last forever. Contact her at [email protected]