“Hi…? Bob…?” the fellow offered, almost quizzically, as he stepped out of his 1995 Honda Accord sedan at the edge of my driveway and sidled slowly over to me: “My name’s Jake Jenkins and I talked a couple days ago to your brother, Tommy, back East. He mentioned your name… said you lived nearby here in Arizona.”
I leaned my rake up against the garage door and stepped over to shake hands with this shabbily-dressed fellow. I noticed his left shoe untied and tobacco juice stains on his beard and coveralls. “Tommy and I have been friends ever since he drove a race car a few years ago. I never drove in the races myself but we met at the diner after he won the main race that last Sunday in August a few years ago… just to shake his hand, mind ya. I don’t know squat about cars or engines or that kinda stuff but I really enjoyed goin’ to the Sunday afternoon stock car races.”
I figured that it had to be many, many years ago because my brother Tom, is 83 years old. Jake had to be as old, if not older, judging by his grey pigtail that hung mostly sideways and was held together by a blue rubber band. He spat out a stream of tobacco juice that barely missed his shoe. I’d guess he had to be at least in the mid-80s by his appearance and partly because chewing tobacco is just not that popular these days.
“He told me to give you a call to just say ‘howdy.’ I recall him sayin’ you three brothers bought a 1950 Ford that was totaled and y’all worked on it together to give it a new life and then put it back on the road. That really impressed me and since I’m now in Arizona I figured I’d give ya a call, maybe even stop over. And then I figured that you, bein’ younger, might still remember all that car stuff and maybe you could give me an opinion on somethin’ goin’ on with this car of mine.”
Did this guy Jake, think I was a retired mechanic? Aha, free advice, that’s it! “Well, sure, —I guess.” I hesitated — “but I’m not promising a thing. I’m not a mechanic,” I said, hoping he’d have some simple little thing going on with this now 21-year-old clunker. “Anyway, what’s it doin’ that doesn’t sound right?” I asked.
“Well, it all started yesterday after I left my friend’s place out in the boondocks. We were havin’ a couple beers, playin’ cards, just chewin’ the fat when I finally figured it was about time to get goin’ back home. I went over and got in, cranked ‘er up and the most God-awful thump and noise came from under the hood; still doin’ it, too, a kinda grindin’ noise.”
“When’s the last time you had it in the shop to have it checked over?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s been a year or two, maybe longer — can’t rightly remember,” he mused, wiping his mouth and beard, wet with tobacco juice.
“Oil change, fan belts checked, fluids OK?”
“Don’t know, can’t remember.”
“You know, you really need to have things like that checked on a regular basis. You’ve got 151,000 miles on this car, so maybe you’re really pretty lucky anyhow,” I replied. He seemed indifferent to the comment as he spat out a plug of tobacco and readied another one. Tobacco seemed to have more of his attention than my comment but he went on to talk about how he loved being here in Arizona, especially in the winter.
“I live in a place called Apache Junction over yonder,” he drawled, pointing the wrong way but evidently still very content with just being away from the snow in the Hudson Valley of New York State. “And it don’t get no better than this, no shovelin’, just takin’ ‘er easy.”
“Let’s take a look”, I offered. “Pop the hood open and we’ll take a quick peek.”
It took me no longer than five seconds to see the problem. A clump of gray hair mixed with what looked like a bone was caught in the fan belt and it rubbed against the power steering pulley. “Looks most likely that a cat or something got up inside by the engine where it was nice and warm and then forgot to come out while you were playing cards. You can figure out what happened next. I’m sure you’ll guess.” Judging by the expression on his face he knew exactly what had happened.
“Well, dang, in the mornin’ when I get a chance I’ll get that crap all cleaned out and she’ll be good as new.”
“Hey, s’posin’ we get together for a beer sometime? Ya up ta that?
I’ll hafta tell Tommy what a smart feller he has fer a brother… yeah!
Well, take ‘er easy and I’ll stop over once in a while! Oh, do I owe ya somethin’?”
“No, not a thing,” I replied.
He jumped in, started the now-smooth-running car, popped the clutch and rattled off down the street. I never told him he should get his muffler replaced before doing anything else, lest a cop pull him over.
It’s funny the kind of people you meet here in Arizona. Nice to have met a friend of my brother, Tom, but kind of glad, too, that he lived way out in Apache Junction.