Opinion: Finding Meaning


Car Doctors

Here’s a confession that might not surprise—I’m wary of fashion. Always have been. My college car was a used Studebaker Lark, long on value if short on style. My current ride is a Bronco II, so old it’s coming back into fashion. Consequently, there’s one thing I do appreciate: a good mechanic.

The Bronco is a reliable ride but over the years deferred-maintenance has piled up. The headlight switch stopped working so I got a new switch to install myself. Problem was you had to work upside down in a cramped position and have an arm with two elbows to fix it. Because the car always started, I simply did my driving by day. There were other issues but one day it didn’t start. In our mobile society, that’s a problem. So, I did what regular folks would have done years ago—consult a mechanic.

The basic neighborhood auto garage fascinates me. I don’t mean the dealership where you talk to a sales guy in snappy clothes and they put you in a shiny lounge with free snacks and you never see what happens and get a scary bill. I’m talking about your local garage where tools and parts compete for scarce space and if you stay out of the way you can see and smell the whole greasy process. I like that; it’s real.

The modern car is complex, a lot can go wrong so it takes a lot of skill and knowledge to diagnose and repair the problem. But for the neighborhood garage, it’s not one kind of car, there’s an endless variety of makes and models. With all the changes in technology, it’s incredibly complex. Here’s my conclusion: it’s easier to complete a PhD than become a competent mechanic.

I took the Bronco to my favorite garage, Auto Repair of Laguna Beach. I hung around and watched, chatting with the mechanics about their training. My conclusion is it takes about 10 years of hands-on work and a high I.Q. to become a journeyman mechanic. Ethan, a local Laguna guy, was the youngest, he was about three years into his education, which included college automotive classes. Rafael seemed the most experienced, he had 23 years in Laguna plus time in his native Argentina. The third mechanic was J.P., from the same Argentine village as Rafael, and he knows what he’s doing. Jim is the guy in the office. He’s from Scotland, describes life here as “living the dream” and is usually sincere. He’s run his business for 13 years, helping folks in automotive distress.

I really like these guys. They’re smart, skilled, friendly and fair. They live in the real world of problems that must be solved. The only thing is we seem upside down in our society. People with this range of knowledge and skills deserve more respect. Maybe a title or two. I just hope they don’t make me call them Doctor, or Sir. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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  1. Ann,
    Thank you for your tribute to Bonnie Hano. Arnold’s passing was a tough act to follow but you did her justice. I do believe my grandkids generation of LBHS kids has the right focus of justice for all.


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