A Story On The Way

Coming down Highway 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona is an 8 mile stretch of construction, aka gravel.

A rogue piece bounces off the windshield of the Fiat, leaving a chip. My wife grabs her phone in case the paramedics need to be summoned with a defibrillator.

The next day the temperature tops 34 degrees Celsius. The chip begins to swell and my imagination generates a Harry Potter lightning bolt shaped scar across the forehead of the car.

TripAdvisor produces the name of a local repair shop.

Leaning over the desk sits a slight, middle-aged man wearing an oil stained, black Pennzoil cap. As he comes out to inspect the damage he walks hunched, with a painful slowness. I wonder if the pace indicates a bad night or is a form of passive resistance from being unfortunate enough to draw the early Saturday morning shift.

I move the car inside, out of the sun. He sets about the work.

The chip is dead centre in the bottom of the windscreen. The first step requires positioning a Dremel drill over the chip, a long but not unmanageable stretch. He can not do it. He retreats to retrieve a small step platform he has rigged up. He explains that he has a bad back.

The first operation dealt with the herniated disk; the second replaced the disk with a substitute pad and installed some steel rods. He waits for the third.

“How do you manage?” I say.

He responds simply, “I do whatever I need to do to keep my job.”

“We try and be a one stop shop,” he says, “oil changes, alternators, starters, tune-ups, glass, whatever.”

Long ago I had a rudimentary knowledge of the working conditions of a car mechanic, the squirrelling around under a car on a creeper, the awkward bends and twists trying to access rusty bolts or connections hidden away. Even a simple oil change from down in the pit could mean hands up over the shoulders wrestling with a stubborn filter.

I could imagine the discomfort. “Everyday an adventure in pain,” he chuckles.

He has a team - a surgeon, pain management specialist, GP. But he is considering some kind of partial, state-supported disability pension after the next operation. “Not much, but something,” he says simply. Even in the sun-filled Sedona canyons his future does not look bright. His hands shake with the effort of pouring himself into the cockpit of the Fiat.

The small garage in which he works is now on its fourth proprietor. A few years ago he hired and trained a new recruit who eventually became the latest owner.

The Sedona region has been his home since he was five years old. Raised in Clarkdale, a few miles to the south, he can remember when the road between Clarkdale, Sedona and Flagstaff was dirt. For 32 years he has watched the transformation of the region into the “New Age Capital of the World.”

“But none of that money rubbed off on me,” he says with a wink.

As the sun bakes the acrylic infusion into the windshield, we shake hands. I wish him the best.

“Thanks for listening,” he says “and you have yourself a good day.”

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