Benny the auto mechanic is a major bulwark in my personal transportation system. A skilled, seasoned repairer of older (and newer) vehicles, Benny keeps my aging gas-powered sedan running smoothly and efficiently. After a 2021 move to California, I was fortunate to get our first annual “smog check” at the small nearby auto shop where Benny now works. I was even more fortunate when Benny returned to the shop after a while away. His coworkers put up a big banner, “Benny’s back.” Since his return, Benny has completed regular routine maintenance plus a couple of fairly major repair jobs on our car.
In the area where I now live, the transition to electric vehicles and other transportation options is accelerating. Still, it will be a while before our family finances and electric capacity will accommodate a next-generation car. My guess is that this is the case for many other families. In the meantime, we need the Bennys of the world to tend our aging personal transportation. Whatever the newest automotive trends turn out to be, we will always need their skill and their wisdom. We need, too, the reminder that manual work skillfully done is just as important as “knowledge work.” Often, it requires just as much knowledge, anyway.
Our family tradition includes maintaining cars, aided by skilled local mechanics, until they can’t be driven any more. My mother’s Plymouth Valiant became the stuff of legend. A 1963 or 1964 model, it was the little car I learned to drive on—manual transmission, three forward gears plus reverse, small enough to be easier than most to parallel park (a real boon during every teen’s nightmare back then: the road test to qualify for a driver’s license.)
The Valiant survived two early accidents, repaired by our local small town mechanics, back in the days when insurance claims were much less formal, repair delays much less severe. As it reached middle age, the Valiant served in turn as my sister’s, then my brothers’ “learner” car. At some point, our family drove it on a vacation to New Hampshire, returning with the proud bumper sticker, “This Car Climbed Mount Washington.” After that trip, my mom drove the car for nearly a dozen more years. As the original paint chipped or rusted in Maryland’s weather, she did a yeoman’s paint job with wall paint that nearly matched the car’s original color. Her brush strokes, she thought, just added a custom touch. Later, she decided that vinyl contact paper would better serve.
The day finally came, though, when the salt and slush of successive Maryland winters proved too much for the little car. Mom took it to her local shop, Just Rite Motors, after she noticed yet another rust spot, this time a see-through area in the floor of the trunk.
“Can you do one more weld for me?“ she inquired.
After a brief inspection, the mechanic reluctantly responded: “Sorry, ma’am, but there’s no longer anything to weld to.” The Valiant, its faded bumper sticker still intact, was sadly dispatched to the car graveyard.
My first car in adulthood proved incompatible with city living. Though I had access to good mechanics, courtesy of a friend’s father, living in Baltimore apartments required expensive and/or inconvenient parking options. After a frustrating year of rising pre-dawn to move the car from one side of the street to the other to accommodate city alternate-day parking restrictions, I sold my little Chevy II. For the next year or so, I relied on local public transportation, friends, walking, or an occasional train or long-distance bus. Then my husband and I moved to Vermont. We bought a true fixer-upper of a house at the edge of Montpelier, the state’s small town capital city. We found we needed a reliable vehicle with enough storage capacity for frequent trips to the local hardware store, the lumber yard, the town dump.
We acquired “Fred,” a brand new cherry red Datsun pickup truck. Fred served us well through much home repair work, three moves, a long road trip, and then the arrival of children. With a second child imminent, we realized we’d require a bigger vehicle as a backup “family car,” but we were unwilling to relinquish Fred. He’d become almost a member of the family, with his own personality. Once they were vocal, our kids would argue over who got to ride on local errands in Fred.
By a dozen years and over 100 thousand miles after purchase, Fred, too, had rusted pretty badly. The passenger side door would no longer open from inside—whoever sat in the passenger seat had to wait for the driver to walk around the truck to let him/her out. The original clutch had been replaced, twice. When the third started to slip, we acknowledged it was finally time to let Fred go. It took a while for our kids to forgive us.
It’s getting more and more practical to manufacture cars and trucks that are less reliant on fossil fuels and friendlier for the environment. Eventually their prices will come down. Someday I hope to own (or lease) an all-electric vehicle of some kind. In the meantime, I’m so very grateful for auto mechanics like Benny and the crucial, important work they do to keep our existing pre-electric vehicles functioning as smoothly and efficiently as possible.