The van began complaining a few months back. I didn’t pay much attention to it. I’m used to vehicles that complain and groan and even try to kill me on occasion. I ignored its whining to see if maybe it would reconsider its lot in life and go back to working without complaining. It didn’t. Soon the engine bay began emitting sounds that made your face wince involuntarily. You know when you try to cut a car in half with a chain saw? It sounded like that. I finally decided I should do something about it, mostly because we were going to drive to Florida in a few days and I decided I’d rather work on the van in my driveway than on an interstate in North Carolina. I know I’m pretty picky about my work environment but I pride myself on my exacting standards.
I’m not a particularly smart man though I have learned a few things in life. Several times I have attempted to fix cars by replacing parts until the noises stop. This gets expensive because there’s more noises in my car than there is dollars in my wallet. So this time I figured I’d take the van to a shop and get them to diagnose the problem. Then I could skip the part where I single handedly cause Advance Auto Part’s stock prices to skyrocket. I would wander nonchalantly into the parts store and buy, with laser accuracy, only the parts I needed in one single trip.
I told the garage plainly up front, “I want to fix the van myself so charge me for your time. Don’t do a free estimate because you are expecting a repair job out of the deal.”
They called me and casually mentioned that if they fixed everything that was wrong with it, it would cost me $2,700. I casually snorted half a cup of coffee through my nose. They must have sensed some hostility because they then clarified that they could fix only the really important things for about $700.
I mumbled something about finding some liquidity in my assets and if I could just have the written diagnostic sheet for reference, that’d be great.
I got the sheet and ordered the needed parts from my phone for only about $200. The essential repair list involved a new belt, a new water pump, a new belt tensioner, and a new alternator decoupling bearing.
I ordered the parts and planned on working on the van that Saturday when it was forecasted to be a balmy forty degrees. But somehow, miraculously, the clocks spun faster that day and I couldn’t quite squeeze the van repair in.
Then a guy quit unexpectedly at work and my boss got me to do his work, as well as my work.
I finally started the project one evening and got far enough so that the van was torn apart and completely unusable. I promptly got sidetracked by some trivial task like sleep, work, or paying bills. The van sat for several days looking like a hospital patient waiting to file a malpractice lawsuit. My wife began dropping subtle hints about not having a car.
“Hey honey, do you know why the fridge is empty?” She’d ask. “BECAUSE I CAN’T GO BUY GROCERIES!!”
I explained that since she always complained about the treadmill we could now sell it and she could walk places instead! Strangely she and insisted even more loudly that the van should be fixed.
Naturally the only available time to work on the van occurred immediately after a cold front moved in and the temperature dipped to 5 degrees. That’s perfect weather for replacing small bolts in a cramped engine bay while laying on a stone driveway.
I was out making a second run to Advance Auto Parts to buy a 10mm ratcheting wrench. When I got back, my neighbor from Honduras was in my driveway inspecting my van which was in an obvious state of distress, all splayed out on jacks with mismatched tools strewn all around. My neighbor, let’s call him Alberto, can hardly speak English. He was wearing a Russian style bomber hat with the flats buttoned firmly under his chin. He had several coats on and had a look of concern on his face.
“Mucho frio!!” He reinforced this statement by shivering violently enough to dislodge his bomber hat, had it not been fastened well. He got it across to me that he wanted me to put the van into his garage so I wouldn’t freeze to death. “I care about people” he managed to say. I tried to explain that because the Dodge Caravan was designed by insane people, I had my engine half out of the car so I could replace my water pump. I couldn’t move the van without more headache and agony than I was already in. The conversation went nowhere and after I thanked him for his concern he wandered back into his home to thaw out. I really do have awesome neighbors. At least I think they are awesome. I can’t understand him. Maybe he was making fun of me for not having a garage. I dunno.
I finally got the van fixed (or at least the things that were really bad) and it sounds much better. Janice was even more surprised than I was at it’s completion. She drove it to the grocery store without any ear protection so that’s an improvement. It does need some more seals and gaskets which I will get to speedily in the next few years.
As bad as I make it sound, I actually really enjoy this sort of thing. I love the satisfaction of getting something back to a well functioning thing (whatever it may be). It’s becoming more and more clear to me that God calls us to things that surprise us, but actually make sense when it’s all said and done. God knows your talents better than you do. Just follow him. He doesn’t call the qualified but qualifies those he calls!
Also, I was informed by a man older (and presumably wiser) than myself that women, no matter what they say, want a Valentines gift. Last year I was assured by my wife that she didn’t need one and not being a fan of the holiday, I obliged. I was told later by other men that I was a “Putz” and that I should always, ALWAYS get a Valentines gift. The shopping has commenced.
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