Monday, September 12, 2005

Thirty Years and 5 Minutes

I got a call today from a fellow who’d broken a key off in his ignition switch. He spoke almost no English and I had a friend of mine talk to him on the phone to figure out what was wrong, what kind of car it was, where he was and finally what the probable charge would be to repair the damage and get him on his way. I explained, via the interpreter, that it would cost somewhere between $ 75 and $ 100; just in case he needed a new ignition switch. Once that had been agreed upon I headed in his direction; only a little over a mile from my house and in some apartments behind a strip mall where I get my hair cut.

I showed up and met with the owner who’d been working hard to take the car apart. The plastic clam shell that wraps around the working innards of the steering column was sitting on the floor board along with a hand full of tools he’d used to pry at the opening of the ignition switch to get at the broken key fragment. After studying the situation for a moment I determined that I might be able to snag the broken piece of key with some “screw wire”, a simple device that grabs into the soft brass milling of the key and can be yanked out when done properly. I was right and it jumped into my hand. It looked more like a house key than a Ford key which is why he’d had the problem to begin with. He pulled a ring of keys from his pocket and found that he still had the car key after all and it still worked.

He then balked at paying me since it had only taken five minutes from the time I arrived to the time I was done. Spanish or English the body language was the same; he didn’t think he owed me anything since I’d made it look so easy. It wasn’t worth making a big deal over, not to me anyway. I took the piece of broken key and pushed it back into the ignition switch, closed my tool box and left. If my talent wasn’t going to be appreciated then he could spend the time to learn the tricks of the trade; of course it only took me 30 years to make it look that easy, 30 years and 5 minutes.

Like the punch line that went with an off color joke, one my dad used to tell, “…and that goes for the horse you came in on!” I hope he has lots of Gatorade and another ride to work tomorrow and the next day and the next day and…

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