The bright orange, four-point racing restraints had been sitting in a box in the dining room for a month before Norman and I got a chance to install them in the back seat of my 1988 Toyota Landcruiser, The Boyota. Late model Landcruisers are coveted by two distinct group of car freak, a geographically disparate, socio-economically diverse tribe of native-born, white men for whom collecting and restoring the trucks is a single-minded pursuit; and any male, 35 years or older, born in any one of 25 nations in the Caribbean (for those counting, I have excluded Cuba). This second group covets the late-model Landcruiser because it can be effectively kept on the road using coat hangers and the application of a willy nilly variety of ingenious homespun, curb-side mechanical remedies and hand hewn parts.
By birth I belong to the first group, but share the motivations of the second.
The racing restraints are for the kids and replace the factory-installed lap belts now rejected as more dangerous than using no restraints at all. I can generally shrug off the trembling forecasts of doom-oriented parenting, but, truth is, standing by the curb with the parking break engaged The Boyota constitutes a moral hazard of sorts, and so the terrible tales of bifurcated babies reached in, gripped my heart and haunt me still. But with the racing restraints installed the children are effectively pinned to the back of their seats–safe as houses–with the not entirely unintended ancillary benefit that they can’t lash out and swat each other.
A moment of good cheer followed the successful and surprisingly seamless installation of the new belts but nothing lasts forever.
Norman called from underneath the truck. There was a situation that required my immediate attention. A weld at the top of the rear right shock where it meets the chasis at what is called the “shock tube” had sheered and, while rattling around loose under the truck the shock had severed the emergency break cable. “You need to get this fixed,” said Norman.
Last Friday afternoon I stopped by Big S Springs a few minutes before five and was waved off. “Closed,” barked a white whiskered man in oily, blue coveralls.
“You open Saturday?”
“No. We’re open all week. Come back Monday.”
“I got a shock with a busted weld.”
“Monday. We open at 8:30.”
I stopped by the next Wednesday (time’s like that), introduced Myself to Mike and asked him to have a look at the rear end of The Boyota. He declined. “Those guys there just brought in that truck,” he said gesturing to at least three men lying under a home heating oil delivery truck with a bright red cab. “I’m gonna be here al night.”
I don’t know if he recognized me or the truck from the week before, but during a dramatic pause we shared while staring at the bright red cab of the lame truck, Mike seemed to relent. “Come back at 5:30, I’ll do what i can.”
“You’re slammed. I’ll come back tomorrow morning.”
“We open at 8:30.”
This morning Mike directs me to park in front of the lift in the last bay of his shop. “I’ll see what I can do,” he offers, projecting no hope of a speedy resolution.
Standing together under The Boyota, Mike expresses first shock and then grudging respect at the work done some months ago just off Utica Avenue. “Who did this work?”
“It’s a long story,” I reply.
“I bet it is,” he says, looking over his shoulder at me. Whoever he is, he’s a good welder, but he used the wrong piece of steel. This is galvanized, it’s a friggin’ fence post. But, I’ll tell you what, he did a good job. Really. He even put the bar on brackets,” he says, and instructs one of his mechanics, a man named Whoops, to get him a wrench. “Let’s see how the hell he put this together.”
A blizzard of parts and hypothesis follow, we strip the shock and consider various complimentary strategies to work with what we have, before Mike concludes, “Nah, that galvanized is your problem. It’s too hard to weld right. Jes’ take it back to the guy. Get him to fix what he did.”
“I’m here now, Mike. let me give you the work.”
“No way to do it right. You gotta order the part. They got all sorts of parts books, you’ll find it. Look it up. Call the guy. Ask him. It’ll cost you nothing, like $150.”
Mike, inspired by the ingenuity of the creator of this mess, seems to have a sudden change of heart and marches out from under the truck in search of a rubber sleeve he thinks might make a fix possible. When he disappears I ask his man, Whoops if he wouldn’t mind unscrewing the remaining bolt that holds the dead shock to the chassis. Whoops nods and fetches the wrench he has just put back in its box. “Better than having it banging around under the truck,” I say.
“That’s what I’d do,” Agrees Whoops.
Mike returns from his office shaking his head, “No sleeve that fits. Jes’ order the part from the book, it won’t cost you more than $150.”
“I just want to keep it on the road a few more miles, Mike. how about you try to weld it here, now. I don’t want to drive around on three springs anymore.”
“You kidding? This truck could drive around on three springs all the way to California. These things rot out like crazy,” he says, pulling a strip of rust from the the bottom of a panel and throws it on the floor of the shop, “but they never die. Never.”
“That’s why I want you to fix it today.”
“I can’t. My welder’s out with the Chicken Pox,” he says, shrugging with his eyebrows. “I got my cousin coming in all the way from Bayonne–Bayonne!–just to help me cover, but I gotta pay for him to get here.”
“And you gotta pass that cost on,” I say, trying to remain reasonable, sympathetic even.
“And I gotta take my piece… No! Order the piece. Come back. I’ll see what I can do.”