Calendars with look-alikes of Marilyn Monroe would be tucked into a darker corner of the workbench. But not so hidden that they couldn't peek out and inspire or be peeked-in-at and aspired to by some burley guy who looked like no woman would ever talk to. These guys just had a look that didn’t fit much with anything—meaning you wouldn’t figure them to be smart enough to do their job by listening to them speak or by taking stock of their appearance. And it seemed to always work out that the guy who looked the most inept or incompetent or didn’t measure up to some ideal you had of him was the one who saved the day. He was the one who brought life to some block of iron that every other mechanic in the place had been stymied over. It was entering the fun house, really. In those Buick garages of the 1950’s there was no such thing as insurance restrictions or health codes or any kind of codes imposed from the outside. The codes of those days were implied and learned and they weren’t written down anywhere. You could wonder in and out at will, but if you wondered in you became a part of the landscape and had to play your part. Your part would be whatever anyone threw at you, because you would be noticed and you would not be ignored. Some guy with grease up to his elbows, sweat on his forehead, and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth would eventually stop cursing long enough to ask you to grab that rag over there so’s he could stop the bleeding from that blankety blank wrench that just slipped from his hand and landed at your feet. And then, as if nothing had just happened out of the ordinary, he might ask you, "What, no school today kid?" Or,"Hey, how ‘bout them Pirates—those damn Yankees don’t stand a chance now, do they?" And then he’d return to trying to bloody another knuckle like you were never there. But he’d watch you and at break time he’d get the other guys on you by pointing out to them some personal tick of yours they could all tease you about. It was adventureland, it was street theater, it was exciting, because you would be made a part and you never knew how it might happen. You were included—not because of your Buick, though that was a given—not because your old man worked for the company, though that was a plus—not because of your age, though that might be considered. You were included because you were there, breathing, and taking up space.
Today I stood in an antiseptic, modern, well lit garage for two hours where the only thing on the walls were warnings about casualty and obligation and the only thing said was “we’ll call you when it’s ready—oh, you were thinking of waiting for that?????"