MOST of the various piles of metal that have grudgingly transported me from yon to hither any given year have been of that species diplomatically described in the classifieds as ``gd trnsprtn'': not much to look at but, then again, not very mechanically sound, either. There are some positive aspects to owning a car in the ``gd trnsprtn'' category -- life is rarely tedious and long journeys in particular are never dull, and on the road people give you the kind of breathing room otherwise accorded only to presidential motorcades and Hell's Angels touring parties.
But about a year and a half ago, yearning for a simpler way of life, I took possession of a vehicle that was, for me, significantly upscale: a nice little yellow four-cylinder Toyota, quite clean, with only about 50,000 miles on the clock. Nevertheless, considering that I am barely mechanical enough to sharpen a pencil, I knew that I had to locate or invent a ``gd mchnc'' to maintain it, especially after I began having trouble with my fuel whoosit. The car stank of gasoline. I spoke to many gd mchncs and trusted none. As my anxiety mounted to Wagnerian proportions, I took refuge in fantastical reverie: I was poor but my car needed me. I'd find a repair shop with plants, a receptionist: ``The mechanic will see you now.'' He'd inspect the car meticulously, make reassuring noises. It was when he named a figure that the dream turned ugly. I gasped in horror, shrinking back.
``Ah, so you are new to carburetor work.'' He gave a brief smile, revealing teeth filed to points.
Then, in the midst of all this Sturm und Drang over the car, a friend scrawled something on a piece of paper and surreptitiously slipped it to me with a whisper that it was the phone number of a ``good, honest, cheap'' mchnc.
So I drove my poor Toyota (so redolent of gasoline fumes by this time that when I pulled up at a stoplight people snickered and looked away) to the street on the outskirts of town where the mchnc's shop was supposed to be. My friend had given me directions and a description but no address. I couldn't find it. I called the shop.
``Listen, Joey,'' I said. ``I had directions but I can't find you. What's the street address?''
A pause. ``You know, I don't know. I don't think it has one.'' With his help, I finally found him, the Last Original Counterculture Mechanic.
He was in his late 30s, with very long hair, a full beard, and mechanic's coveralls that hadn't been washed this decade. He shuffled over to me, not smiling. I explained the problem. ``Well, I suppose I could take a look at it,'' he muttered.
He opened the hood and peered around in there. ``Turn it over,'' he said.
I complied, keeping up a line of nervously obsequious chatter.
A split second later: ``Turn it off!''
``You're lucky it hasn't caught fire on you,'' he said. ``This is your problem.'' He extracted a small metal part about the size of a match head and showed it to me. ``See? It's cracked.''
In a surge of gratitude, I told him that the other mechanics had had me pricing new fuel pumps and new carburetors. ``Oh yeah? Bandits.''
In short, he fixed it. I asked him what I owed him. ``Ah, 10 bucks,'' he said.
Joey is never an easy man to find, in more ways than one. ``He just took off a little while ago, I don't know when he'll be back,'' a voice on his phone says. But of saints one can't expect consistency; punctuality is beyond their ken, for they move in Other Realms. I can wait.