By Ken Bradbury
The guy was a literary genius. I kid you not. I sat there in the service department of Nissan and got a graduate course in the use of the English language. I can’t testify to the skill of the mechanics since I’d been six weeks without my car, but the fellow who was handling the customers . . . wow. A Shakespeare of the crankshaft.
A sweet little lady perched herself on the stool opposite his to inquire about why her car seemed to rumble when it went down the interstate. Dan spread his expansive hands across his desk and said, “Did you ever have a coaster wagon when you were little?” She said that she did indeed once own a Radio Line wagon when she was a girl. Dan smiled and said, “You remember when you first got it . . . how smooth it would run down the sidewalk? Then the more you used it, the more it would sort of bump up and down?” The lady nodded. Dan was a mind reader. “That’s what happens when your tires get out of alignment,” he said. The lady looked at him as if he’d just explained the secrets of the universe. It was a master class in communication.
Sitting for three hours in the Nissan service department I had the choice of reading a book, thumbing through the magazines, or watching Fox News, but instead I kept my seat close to Dan, the Explainer in Chief, anxiously awaiting his next diagnosis. I was in this predicament because of a fender bender that had occurred weeks earlier, but as the various layers of fender were pulled away, things had become more complicated. In Dan’s soothing words, “It’s like you took your laptop computer and dropped it from about six feet in the air. You know that something’s busted but the innards are so complicated that it takes a long time to figure out what you busted.”
A young couple was the next to walk up to Dan the Diviner’s desk. He quickly scanned the diagnostic chart provided him by the mechanics, sighed, and told them, “I used to spend some weekends with my grandparents who lived out by New Berlin. Grandpa milked and kept cows in the barn during the winter. Trouble was, there was no water running into the barn. We had to pump it out of the well with a hand pump then shoot it up this long pipe to the barn. The water was in the well, the cows were in the barn, so we had to use the pump to get it there. That’s sort of what a fuel pump does.” I was spellbound. “You’ve got gas . . . that’s the well, and you’ve got the engine . . . that’s the cows. Trouble is you’re not getting the water to the cows. That’s why you need a new fuel pump.” I swear that if the young couple had had a plate of milk and cookies they’d have felt like they were in Miss Nissan’s story time. He wasn’t selling them anything since I assume he was telling the truth, but he was making the truth a less bitter pill with such a bit of creative metaphor. I sat there trying to remember the last time I heard symbolism and allegory used in auto mechanics.
I was on my third cup of industrial coffee when the pushiest woman in Springfield announced her presence. She was loud enough that the other waiting customers looked up. She had her cell phone in one hand, briefcase in the other, and looked as if she was preparing to eat a good-sized grizzly bear. Dan smiled. “Help you, Ma’am?” Without so much as giving her name or any other sort of pleasantry, she lit into him about this being her third trip in with her Nissan Altima and that she wasn’t about to stand for any foolishness. Dan agreed that foolishness had no place in a car dealership, pulled her file, and sighed. “You ever heard of the little boy who cried wolf?” I cringed. This lad was in no mood for fairy tales and I wondered if her briefcase was a cover for her conceal-and-carry gun license, but Dan went on, undaunted. He said, “That little check engine light can be a real rascal. It’s designed to keep you safe and tell you when you might have a problem, but sometimes it just has a mind of its own. I’m truly sorry about that. Your car is fine. We just need to adjust a sensor.” It reminded me of when Grandma offered me vanilla pudding to cure my smashed finger. The cure had nothing to do with the wound, but somehow it worked and the lady left satisfied.
When Dan called my name and told me the total of damages on my car I was tempted to say, “You know Dan, my Uncle Bob once had a hole in his pocket. When he left for town he swore he had enough money to pay for this pig feed, but when he looked into his pocket . . . ”