I took the truck to Reyes yesterday morning. It took a while to get there. Two tries, in fact. The ’87 F-150 had become almost impossible to shift. That model has a hydraulic clutch; I hoped it just needed bleeding. Believe me, this was an insider trip. As far as I can tell, the guy’s shop isn’t even in the phone book.* But Reyes was the best, my source said, the man I wanted to see. He also told me to tell him I knew Steve. Now this is what you want.
“It’s behind the Southside Spa,” were my only directions and should have been enough. I’ve driven down that hill a hundred times and always see the sign: “Southside Spa,” with a great big arrow. All I had to do was drive behind it. A garage is a garage, right? Well, no. The first thing was, I drove right past my turn because I never saw any sign. This was somewhat awkward because my wife was following behind to take me home. We got separated and had to do a little phone tag. I stopped to ask directions—Christ, I’m old—relayed the info to my wife, and went back about a mile the way we’d come to where the spa should be. “You’ll see the sign,” the mini-mart cashier said. (Remember: first we find the spa, and then we go behind it…)
There was no sign, but I turned anyway. For all the years I’ve lived here, there’s always been a sign, although I’d never driven back there. Still, I found the spa where I’d always thought it was and wanted to ask them what they’d done with the goddamned sign, but kept on going. I’m one intuitive boy; “behind” it should have worked. All I could see, however, was a field beside a muddy road leading to a little neighborhood of old adobes, nary a pair of greasy coveralls in sight. Oh Lord in heaven. I had the guy’s number in my email, but guess which idiot here is still without a smartphone? (There’s an explanation for this, but it makes my honey’s stomach hurt.) Forgetting completely that I’d probably called him yesterday on my cell phone and could just redial the last few numbers, I turned the expedition around and headed all the way back home to find the freaking email. Down the Paseo, past the Ranchos Post Office, up the long road with the silly “speed humps,” and finally to the Muddy Road from Hell and home. I dialed. No one was there!
The lady had had enough. After I thought of someone else to call who might know where to go, she told me was staying home and I could call her when I finally found the place, but now I had directions. Real magic beans. She relented, in some stress, and off we went again. I had to take the muddy road beside the field, turn left, take another muddy road, and look for a big three-bay garage and “a pile of cars parked all around.” I had her park at the spa to save her from the mud while I proceeded. The road reminded me of ours.
As soon as I saw the place, I knew the Ford was in good hands. There must have been three dozen trucks and cars crammed in tight around a big blue metal building, tools and parts and pieces everywhere, the kind of place they outlaw in the suburbs. A faded yellow F-150 much older than mine was up on jack stands out in front, where a guy was lying on a tarp and messing with the rear brakes. Reyes wasn’t there, but a friendly fellow took my info and said, “Those old trucks just keep on going. See that one? [the yellow Ford on stands] That’s an ’81. The guy uses it for a wood truck. He brought it in the other day and said, ‘I guess I finally ought to have the brakes worked on.’ There’s nothing else the matter with it.” I took this to mean the owner hadn’t had the shoes replaced in thirty-four years, but I mythologize anything I hear in such surroundings.
Reyes showed up ten minutes later. As soon as I met him, I knew I was in the presence of a master. Stocky, strong, and pure intelligence. I felt like he could disassemble engines with his eyes.
Later that day he called me. I’ve never had as detailed and lengthy an explanation of anything a mechanic’s done in all my years upon this Earth. He’d done the thing I wanted—bled the clutch hydraulic system—and half a dozen other diagnostic tests besides. The clarity and rationality were stunning, without a trace of haste or condescension. Why is this man not in charge of everything, I wondered? It came down to the pressure plate, however, so the fix was not so simple. But he was ready to order a clutch kit, drop the transmission, and get me on the road for “five and quarter.” I doubt the truck is worth three hundred dollars, much less five. I told him I needed to ponder overnight, and he was cool with that.
Last night my wife and I discussed my choices. She knew where she was coming from and had been for some years. “Shouldn’t you be thinking of some fun?” she asked. I was leaning toward the fix, just to stay on the road a little longer and make dump runs. Other than driving to a couple of trailheads close to town, the old Ford’s highway days are over; I’d have it back but still be stuck. No day trips to photography locations, no back roads exploring, no errands to Santa Fe. My wife, exasperated to the point of illness by my eternal self-abusing frugal ways, declared her stomach hurt and wanted to throw up.
“Your deprivation is my deprivation,” she said.
“I know. It’s like this field of negativity… But how—”
Her fury boiled over. She turned to face me, leaned in close, and yelled, “How old are you, anyway?!? What about a life with passion?”
I can put off anything forever except death. Her knife of lightning cut straight into the memories that roamed behind my eyes. This is why you marry, this is why you live. A few miles away, a rusty pickup shuddered in the rain.
* Shame on me, I was looking up his name: try ASE Automotive!