Nirvana...and not the grunge kind neither.
Some have certainly accused me of being a few chicken McNuggets shy of a Happy Meal, but everyone has different things that turn them on. Since Kali is doing a fantastic job on the other kind, I'll say that "turn ons" in this case can be used interchangably with "interests".
I work a technical job all day long, thinking hard, more or less, with nothing physical to show for it. Grinding away on a computer, sending e-mail, making phone calls. While this may create a nice bank account, for a guy like me it lacks satisfaction. I need something I can get my hands on. For fun, I work on cars.
A sunday afternoon garage session is all fine and good. A couple of buddies come over and you wrestle an engine back into the car. Jokes and stories fly around about the time when someone did something or another. Thats all fine, but I like the late night solo thrash.
Normal folks are asleep, or at least nestled in front of the TV for the night. I slip on my coveralls, put on some music, rockabilly is best in this case, and set to work. It's peaceful. Occasionally, the clink of a wrench slipping out of my hand and hitting the ground, but otherwise quiet. Parts are assembled into components, components assembled into things. There is order. There is organization. Lying on the cool concrete floor on my back while I nudge that transmission back into its slot with my knees, a healthy clunk, then click as it notches into place. Fit. Just as it should be.
This is what mechanical things are folks. Metal. Oil. The smell of a freshly painted engine block that hasn't yet been fired. Tab A fits into slot B, but it ALWAYS takes more time and effort that expected. Making them fit together without turning it into a nasty hack job is what separates the faithful few from the legions of butchers that mangle things beyond recognition.
Sure, assembly line workers might have stuffed that same transmission into this car 50 years ago in Detriot and never thought a thing about it, but they made thousands of cars and it only had to just go together. It had to work, but it didn't have to be "right". This one is being assembled by hand, with love and care, to be perfect. The reward is nothing more than a job well done and maybe, if you're lucky, a few more horsepower or a shifter that feels just a wee bit better than the others as it slots into gear at the stoplight. Every single time that shifter moves, you know that you built the gearbox on the other end. It's yours.
Finally, it's together. The last nut is tightened, the oil is checked, the lights all work. It's late, much too late to go for a test drive, but I'm done. Lean back against the bench, pieces of rust and dirt in my hair, in my ears. A big sitcom smudge of grease on my face where I wiped the sweat off with a dirty hand. Take a look.
For better or for worse, I did it. If it falls apart, there's no one to blame but me.
To be continued...
Johnny Cash - One Piece at a Time
That's terrific. I hear you about the grind of a think job and there's nothing better than working on something more tactile to exercise another part of your brain. For me, it's usually yard work. But I used to help a buddy with a bit of auto body work and back in college had fun working on the body and repainting my rusty '64 Dodge Dart (straight six, push-button tranny). There's something soothing about grinding and sanding away rust, smoothing putty over a fender, applying a strip of fiberglass, sanding some more, priming and painting that machine. The care was crap but it looked great after I got done with it.
Posted by: Andrew | September 15, 2006 7:16 AM
Fantastic piece, Bob. I love the zen like state you get into when working on something by yourself like that. Unfortunately for me, I will never see it when working on a car, as mechanical things do nothing but confound me. I really enjoyed the article, though. Thanks.
Posted by: thefinn | September 15, 2006 7:47 AM
I have one of those jobs too, and there's nothing better than getting home and getting up to your elbows in something. I don't work on cars either but I can sure relate.
Good work Bob!
Posted by: Dan | September 15, 2006 8:43 AM
Great piece, Bob.
I don't work on cars, but I can defintely relate. The feel of working hard on something, putting it all together and then watching as it all clicks into place - that's awesome.
But I do love to watch people work on cars. There's something about the grime and dirt and the satisfying sound of the engine turning when they are done.
Posted by: michele | September 15, 2006 8:46 AM
i get the same way working on my bike. and it's always too fucking late to start her up by the time i get her back together...
and don't forget about the scraped knuckles. i'm forever taking a layer of skin or two off of my fucking knuckles.
hey... sometimes it doesn't fit until you cuss at it...
uh, that sounds dirty.
Posted by: kali | September 15, 2006 9:13 AM
Thanks for the compliments.
I just like mechanical things. I like watches and clocks. I like printing presses, the old kind. Skateboards. Bicycles.
I like guns, not so much for the killing, but the feel of the steel, the positive clicks, the craftsmanship. It's all the same arena for me.
Of course, a clock doesn't make your friends scream and clutch the dashboard and beg for mercy...unless you beat them with it.
I guess a gun might do that, but I do my very best not to shoot my friends.
Posted by: Bob | September 15, 2006 9:19 AM
What do you ride?
Posted by: Bob | September 15, 2006 9:21 AM
Great story. I had that same Cash song in my head as I was reading it, and there it is at the bottom of the post. Nicely done!
Posted by: Ernie | September 15, 2006 9:36 AM
Nice article Bob!
You captured the clink thunk of things going together so well I could hear it.
But did you really need to tell everyone about the clutching the dashboard, screaming and begging for mercy?? now all the cool kids think I'm a wuss.
Posted by: Chris | September 15, 2006 10:21 AM
right now i'm riding a '96 suzuki gsxr 750...
always the jap bikes with me. cheaper. faster.
when i lived in california this last time i was riding a 1978 CB750. i miss that fucking bag o'bolts. always something to do on the weekend!
Posted by: kali | September 15, 2006 10:47 AM
here it is
and no i didn't pay $1k for the matching leathers and helmet...
Posted by: kali | September 15, 2006 10:52 AM
Ohh yeah, I know 'em. I've always had a soft spot for the old gixxers, the air/oil cooled ones. The newer ones are cool too. Had a ride on an 86 GSX-R 1100 that scarred me for life. Vance-Hines pipe, louder than FUCK and the thing would just stand up on the back wheel and beg if you nudged the throttle. Bags of go. Bags. I spent about 6 years as a parts guy at a Japanese bike shop. Came up on Hondas, dirt bikes mainly.
Confessional: I have lust in my heart for Ducati. All of them. Maybe a Monster, maybe a 900SS. I am bitten. Nothing else will scratch that itch. Nothing sounds that good, 'cept maybe a 1960's Ferrari 12 cylinder.
Posted by: Bob | September 15, 2006 11:11 AM
i love love love ducati. now that i've gotten use to the sound of that dry clutch...
i just fucking HATE most ducati owners...
i like the aprillas
Posted by: Anonymous | September 15, 2006 1:53 PM
that was me
Posted by: kali | September 15, 2006 1:53 PM
Oh totally on the Aprilias. Yeah.
If you wanna spend real bank, the MV Agusta is the way to go. I could buy lots of other toys for what one a dem cost though.
There WILL be a Ducati post from my keyboard. For sure. I have some ideas. I have some sound bites that make the hair on my arms stand up. MMMMMMmmmmm
Posted by: Bob | September 15, 2006 2:07 PM
Those projects are the best. I've got one that's been going for about six years now - a '64 Volvo P1800 (like Roger Moore drove in The Saint TV series). After mind numbing office idiocy, it's good to bust my knuckles every now and then. It's a frame up restoration, and I may only get a day a month on it, but it's what keeps me sane. That and cheap beer.
Posted by: Josh | September 18, 2006 3:43 PM