Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Tools, Rabbits and First Rides
I use Margery Williams' "The Velveteen Rabbit" and Dr Seuss' " Oh the places you'll go!" all the time both as a parent of five children and in business.
Velveteen rabbit moments are rare in life but you know when you have one. They are those times when it dawns on you that you have become "real". The birth of a true car guy is usually after removing and reinstalling an engine in a car. Your first major car repair or project whether brought on by necessity as a broke 20 year old that blew up an MGA engine in college or as a fun hobby at the age of 60 makes you a car guy and you become "real". You can't fake real...you just are at a certain point. Changing your own brakes or bolting in a new alternator is a good start...but you are just beginning the process. You will know when you are a true car guy after you are one, that's how it works. At that point the signs will be there. Dirty fingernails as you go to the Hospital if you are a doctor. A bandaged cut on your hand as you go into your law firm. Staying late at the car dealership to work on your own car even though you put in a full week working on customer cars. Tools that take on a familiar feel in your hand instead of still being in the original plastic holders. Paint and bondo in the creases of your hands from sanding and spraying...they all are signs you are a real car guy. Normal people and the want-a-be crowd can't really play in this league...you know things about machines and how they work from doing it yourself.
I gave my old 1999 Navigator to my Dad a few years ago since he drives quick trips around town as a deacon and needed another car. The car promptly broke and cost my Dad a thousand bucks to keep it going...nice gift eh. The car then served its purpose and went unused for a bit when my 16 year old spotted it idle in the driveway one holiday. All Brendan saw was the super stereo I had put in years ago when it was my daily driver. The classic "i gotta have it" look that all 16 year old boys have regarding their first ride emerged. My Dad said sure since it had been sitting for a while. Well to get the car home I had to go up to Wellesley and get the car with him. We went to start it...nothing. Battery dead...no problem. The first c-note of many and a new battery was in...my gift to the new driver and his new car. The old truck fired right off for my son as if it had been waiting for him. The truck was so excited that when Brendan stepped on the brakes all the brake fluid came out from some over rusty hydraulic line down underneath the middle of the car. Being an hour from home and after autozone had closed for the day we packed it in and headed back to Dartmouth discouraged but hopeful that the next trip would see a quick spliced brake line fix and a ride home for Brendan in his Navigator.
A few days later I grabbed the boy and we drove back up on a school night after I had grabbed the fittings and sections of hydraulic line. I went into my Dad's garage to get the the tools and was hit like a truck with the familiar layout of my Dad's craftsman red tool box. Each drawer was as it was the last time I used it back when I lived at home. Each tool familiar and in a comfortable place. Certain tools you use all the time fixing cars and they get worn in to your hand and show wear from use. You can't fake being real. My Dad's tools were also my tools as a young man with too much project courage. They and my dad had nursed me through the fixing of each of my many rides. Vw Baja Bug, VW autostick Bug, Pontiac grand ville 455, MGA, Jaguar E-type, Jaguar xk120(never finished), Jaguar XJS... all possible because of the hours spent with those tools. Real has many signs. Without his love of the right tool for the job I probably never could have started messing with cars as a 15 year old dreamer.
Brendan and I cut and flared the brake line with a quick lesson...it is still hard to do a bubble flare even after you have done it a hundred times by the way...and we filled up the reservoir with brake fluid. Smiles all around. Off we went around the block to test. The brakes were not the best as we wore off the rust on the discs but they got better after a few stops and we decided the car was ok to drive home. We parked and went in to say our good byes to grampa and grandma, triumphantly got in the Navi and...nothing....wouldnt even crank over.
Looking deeper the terminals and the whole starter solenoid were corroded and the starter needed replacement...another trip home without the car since auto zone was closed. There is no easy way to learn the meaning of a free car than to try to get a free car home. Three days later we returned to the car and my dad, Brendan and I replaced the starter, fired the truck up and finally said goodbye and rolled out the driveway. The grin on my son's face is exactly the grin we all had with our first car...priceless and full of potential.
Bren's ownership experience continues to teach through broken rear control arms, brake leaks, and the amazingly poor mileage that a Navigator from 1999 can achieve. He is not a car guy yet. He may be some day, but he is just starting out. I love watching the replay of my own life through my boys. The car experience is about the freedom it gives these budding adults and there is nothing quite like it for a young male. I am helping with the control arms tonight when I get home and I can't wait. Timmy called to me in to his room the other night...he is looking at older jettas on craig's list...1.8T versions...with a certain look in his eye....he is 16 in August:)