By David Armstrong
Tommy drove an old 1990 Ford Mustang. It was in bad shape, but he loved his decrepit car. He bought it in the hopes of restoring it someday, but for the time being, while he went to school and worked part-time delivering pizza, he would have to make do with the few repairs he could accomplish on his own.
One afternoon on his way to the pizzeria, his rusty old car stalled at an intersection and wouldn’t start again. So he tried to push his car out of the intersection. Just then, a fellow in a stunningly beautiful blue, sleek convertible sports car with wide tires and a chrome roll bar behind the driver’s seat pulled up behind Tommy, turned on his four-ways, and offered to help Tommy push his bucket of bolts to the curb.
Once the broken-down car was out of the stream of traffic, Tommy caught his breath. “Thanks.”
The man put his hands on his hips. “Looks like you need a tow. I know a guy. He’ll have his rig here in fifteen minutes, and he can fix whatever’s wrong, guaranteed.”
Tommy shook his head. “I can’t afford a tow truck. I’ll call a friend.”
“No worries. This mechanic friend of mine does great work, his rates are reasonable, and he’ll not only fix your car, he’ll make it better.”
Tommy pulled out his wallet. It contained no cash, but he fingered the blue credit card his dad had given him in case of an emergency. “Will the mechanic take a credit card?”
“No, but he’ll work out terms with you. He specializes in credit.”
Tommy stuck the wallet back into his pocket. “Okay, I guess that’s where I’m going. Thanks.”
The man pulled out his phone. A minute later he gave Tommy a thumbs-up, returned to his car, and pulled out into traffic. Tommy had never seen another car like it. He looked for a manufacturer’s logo on the trunk as it drove away, but no identifying symbols were present.
The tow truck arrived and hoisted Tommy’s derelict car onto the flatbed. The truck driver looked to be about Tommy’s age. Black tattoos covered his forearms and neck, and long, stringy hair hung into his collar. He motioned to Tommy to climb into the cab.
Tommy held out the credit card. “This is all I’ve got.”
The driver smiled. “I don’t take payment. Talk to the boss.”
The short drive to the auto mechanic shop passed in silence. As Tommy’s car slid off the flatbed in the shop’s parking lot, a man in blue overalls with silver hair and greasy hands walked out of an open bay. His smile gently curved the corners of his mouth. “What’s the problem?”
“My car just stopped running. If the repair is expensive, I may not be able to afford it.”
The mechanic’s smile brightened. “Let me take a look before you give up on it. Maybe it’s something minor.”
“I’ll appreciate whatever you can do.”
Tommy sat in a little waiting room while the master mechanic and a couple helpers pushed the old Mustang into an empty bay. Shortly, the mechanic entered the waiting room, wiping his hands with a blue towel. “I got her running again. It was just a loose battery cable.”
Tommy jumped up. “Oh, wow! That’s great. What do I owe you?”
The mechanic shook his head. “No charge, son. It was an easy fix.”
Tommy’s eyes popped open. “No charge?”
The mechanic’s expression softened. “Well, actually, there is something you could do for me.”
“Sure! Whatever you need.”
“I want a piece of your old car.”
“A piece of my car?” Tommy’s eyebrows arched.
“That’s right. I collect and fix up old cars. It’s my hobby. I could use a set of Mustang wheel covers. I’ll replace yours with new wheels. Deal?”
Tommy scratched his head. “I don’t know. Those are the original hubcaps. I was hoping I could use them when I restored this old wreck.”
“Listen, your tires are about shot anyway, and those old wheels have a lot of rust on them. I doubt you could salvage them, but I could do something with them. I’ll put new wheels and tires on for you. Take me just a few minutes. What do you say?”
Tommy shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”
The silver-haired mechanic disappeared into the shop and returned a few minutes later. “Okay, she’s ready to roll.”
Tommy found his car parked in the parking lot, the motor idling. The top-of-the-line, low-profile, puncture-proof, run-flat tires mounted on chrome-plated alloy wheels looked rather out of place on his rust-bucket car. He was a bit disappointed that the iconic Mustang symbols on the hubs were missing, but it was a small loss compared to the beautiful new wheels. “You sure you’re good with this? It hardly seems like a fair trade.”
“Oh yeah, the old wheels are exactly what I want. Tell you what, I could use some other parts from your old car. How about you come back on your next day off, and I’ll swap out a couple other things for you?”
This was really weird, but the old man seemed like a nice guy. “I’ll think about it.”
The man waved a greasy rag and walked back into his shop.
More curious than hopeful, Tommy drove back to the master mechanic’s shop on Saturday. The man beamed at Tommy. “I’m so glad you came back. What’ve you got on that old jalopy that’s not working so good?”
Tommy scratched his head. Really, not much worked well on his old car, but he wasn’t sure what the old man had in mind. “The crank for opening the driver side window sticks a lot. The plastic knob broke off years ago. But they’re the originals, and I was hoping to use them—”
The man put up his hands. “I know, when you get around to restoring your precious baby. But I need some old window cranks. What else?”
Tommy hesitated. “Uh, the cup holder is cracked.”
The old mechanic rubbed his hands together. “Oh, great suggestion! I’ll have your car ready in just a few minutes.”
Tommy watched as the mechanic removed the old window cranks. Then he removed the door panels and installed electric motors with little switches to lower and raise the windows. Next, he pulled out not just the cracked cup holder but the entire center console between the worn leather seats. It took more than an hour, but when Tommy got in the car and tried the new electric windows, they worked perfectly. He ran a hand over the wood-grained center console. Not only were the cup holders padded, but the storage compartment was wider and deeper than the original, and the lid lifted on hydraulics with a touch of a button. Tommy could not suppress a grin, but his stomach twisted into a knot. “What do I owe you for this?”
The mechanic smiled. “Nothing. I got the old cranks and cup holders I wanted, and you’ve got working windows and better cup holders. I’m happy.”
Tommy squinted. “You sure?”
“Yep. Come back next week. I want to take a look at some other parts of your old car.”
Next Saturday Tommy returned to the shop, wondering what else the daffy old man could possibly want from his car. The master mechanic walked around the vehicle. “One of your taillights is cracked.”
Tommy hung his head. “Yeah, I need to replace it before I have to register again. But those three-bar taillights are hard to come by.”
“I could use those. I’ll replace them with LEDs. What do you say?”
Tommy grimaced. He hated the thought of giving up the iconic tail lights, but he’d never be able to replace them in time. “I guess.”
Instead of having Tommy sit in the waiting room, the old mechanic motioned for Tommy to follow him. Tommy fetched screwdrivers and parts as the master mechanic removed the old taillights and installed sleek new lights. The lenses didn’t exactly fit, but they worked, and they were much brighter than old ones. And the turn signals still flashed in sequence, just like a Mustang.
Tommy couldn’t believe his luck. The old guy wouldn’t take payment and kept replacing worn out junk with beautiful, new parts. Week after week Tommy returned to the shop. He offered up the headlights and bumpers, the front and back seats, the suspension system and brakes, the engine and transmission, the fenders and doors. His old junker looked less and less like a worn-out Mustang and began to look more and more like the blue convertible sports car the man was driving who had helped Tommy push his stalled car out of traffic. And each week Tommy worked beside the master mechanic, learning about tools, gears, electrical circuits, and hydraulic systems.
During the transition, it was hard to tell how the vehicle would turn out. The car certainly looked odd, and it was awkward to drive when all the parts didn’t match or fit together perfectly. He had to keep trusting that the master mechanic knew what he was doing. Tommy thought when he started that he was going to get a better Ford. But the mechanic had a much different outcome in mind.
On the last Saturday of the project, the final step was to cut off the roof, install the ragtop, and weld in the chrome roll bar behind the driver’s seat. Tommy was driving a stunningly beautiful, metallic blue sports car with sparkling chrome wheels, black butter-leather interior, a driver’s seat molded expertly to fit his body, and 500 horses under the hood.
As he drove his sleek new car out of the parking lot, Tommy could no longer avoid a question that had been nagging him for weeks.
He drove back to the shop. The master mechanic met Tommy in the parking lot. “Anything wrong?”
Tommy shook his head. “No, it’s perfect. But I still don’t get it. Why did you go to all this work for me? Why didn’t you just ask me to trade you my old car for this one?”
The mechanic smiled, but a touch of sadness shone in his eyes. “I don’t work that way. I’m not a car salesman, I’m a craftsman. I don’t want to simply trade cars. I want to custom build them. Besides, if I had told you at the beginning that I could turn your hunk of junk into this beauty, would you have believed me?”
Tommy shook his head. “Nope. I’d have thought you were crazy.”
The mechanic chuckled. “You still might be right. But there’s one more thing I’d like you to do for me.”
Tommy straightened his shoulders. “Just name it.”
“Starting Monday, I want you to come work for me full-time as my assistant.”
Tommy’s eyes popped. “Me?”
“Yes, sir. You know plenty about auto mechanics to be a real help, and I still have more to teach you. Deal?” The mechanic wiped his hand with a grease rag and stuck it out.
Tommy hesitated only a second before taking it. But then he furrowed his brows. “But why? What do you get out of all this except for a pile of old junk?”
The old man winked, a twinkle in his eye. “I get a pile of junk and a good mechanic to work with. It’s just what I do, son.”
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com
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