Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Don't Want a Pickle

"Hey...what would happen if someone rode through the halls?” Never being one to pass a challenge, Mark fired up his Triumph Cub and, with friends holding the door at either end of the building, he popped a wheelie and headed into the school corridor on one wheel. Heads popped out of classroom doors to see who had the nerve. When he got to the end, the door was held open. Unfortunately, the hand that held it belonged to the Dean. DANGIT! He was this close. “Mr. Topping, park that thing. My office. Now!” His reputation established, he headed to the Dean's office.

Mark is a journeyman mechanic….a professional …a skilled artisan. He’s one of the last of a dying breed of guys that can fix anything. Mark was an auto shop kid in high school. In fact, it’s safe to say it kept him in school. The punishment for the wheelie that is still legend at Soquel High? He fixed the dean’s car. This would not have worked with a slacker kid. I swear, he can fix anything and any part of anything and the dean knew it.

Mechanics are going the way of the loggers that Ernie and Eko speak of in reverent tones. Mark has been to school to fix everything from Buicks to Mercedes to Yamahas. He can fix Monica's Vespa and my garden shredder. When you truly understand how things work, you can diagnose. He fixes the stuff other people can’t. He fixes the things other people have taken apart. The Nuevo mechanics are “technicians” and they’re specialists -- they do alignments or transmissions or services….but not all of it. Mark can do on-board computers as well as carburetors. Remember jetting carbs? How many girls out there ever sat in the passenger seat of the boyfriend’s hot rod with your foot over the hump (wait, I’m not done with the story….) on the accelerator, goosing the throttle to keep it running while boy fiddled with the carb? And you probably did it every few blocks because many boys THOUGHT they knew what they were doing but seldom quite got it right.

My old man has switched from cars and dealerships to motorcycles and self-employment. Smaller engines. Smaller tools. No one telling him to keep doing things that hurt because “you’re faster than the other guys and we need it done.” Self-employment allows him to switch to another project if his arms start hurting. Damage done with many years spent working a trade that many with fewer skills also claim. Many wear the hat but few can truly walk the walk.

When we were new to the area, reading the want-ads, there were ads searching for “cat skinners” and something about mules. We had NO idea what those jobs were but figured we would know if we could do it and we didn't. It strikes me regularly that, before long, people won’t know what a carburetor is or the difference between a transmission and a transaxle any more than they'll know what it means to pull green chain.


Kym said...

My husband is like that with building. I admire that kind of understanding.

It does seem to me too. That kind of complete knowledge is disappearing.

Anonymous said...

Beachcomber, I just posted a huge post about this very subject on your comment page and it just erased itself. Dang.

I know several guys around Mark's age who learned the mechanic skills. My older brother for one. Went to work at the school bus garage school right after graduation.

Another friend of mine has probably a 5th grade education, yet he can repair nearly anything. And Weld? Man, he is a ace with a welding torch.

Where did it all go? Well, at Eureka High they gutted the machine shop at the high school and built a big brand new video production lab. There are your priorities. Kid's can't change their own oil, but they can score huge points on video games.

Mark may be the end of an era. I sure as Hell hope not. But with the vocational classes declining at both the high school and community college level....what are we going to turn to?

Hey, do you guys watch AX Men on the History Channel? Great show on Oregon Loggers. By the way, a cat skinner was a Caterpiller operator who logged with a cable attached to the back to skid the logs up to the landing. If that makes any sense.