The Calming Power Of The Wrench

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I've always loved cars, but all of my childhood posters and Hot Wheels collections never instilled in me the kind of love for cars that came with working on them. I don't mean to suggest that those who don't turn wrenches themselves can't be enthusiasts, that would be like saying only a psychiatrist could experience human love, but I have always been the kind of person who gains a deeper appreciation for something when I know how it works.

I don't mean this in a purely intellectual sense though. A young surgeon once told me that his firsthand knowledge of the complexity and fragility of the human body gave him a sense that he was more connected with humanity. I won't pretend that working on cars is as difficult as being a surgeon, but I felt like I had an idea of what he meant, in that even the dullest car's exhaust note sounds like beautiful music when it comes from an engine you've had down to the bare block. Not that the work you do to cars needs to be that complex in order for you to gain a deeper appreciation of them.

The best times I've had working on cars have been simple jobs. Jobs that were done in someone's garage or driveway, with a few beers and Social Distortion playing in the background (if there is a better band to listen to while turning wrenches, I've certainly never heard of them). Engine work is serious business, after all, and serious things are rarely fun. Dealership work isn't fun either. I went to work as a dealership technician figuring it would be pure joy, all day every day. In truth, most of the people you run into at a dealership don't care about cars. The technicians do, and the sales staff and service writers often do as well.

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The bosses, on the other hand, care far more about money and the cars you're working on belong to people who tend to view them as nothing more than transportation. Working on a car when I cared more about it than its owner did is something I could only take for so long. Speed and restoration shops are the last refuge of the professionally passionate, and if someone elbow-deep in a '32 Ford ever starts to tell you something about cars, you'd better make damn sure you listen. With the weather warming up, I'm looking forward to another season of driveway tune-ups, brake jobs and whatever else is easy to do with four or five Dortmunders in me.

Just as the best drives are the ones with little or no purpose, hanging out with friends and taking all afternoon to do a job that would be done in an hour at a dealership is one of the great ways your car can help you to take the time to enjoy life. That and Mike Ness's I'm in Love with My Car, if that song doesn't speak to you, then cars aren't your thing and you should get into knitting.

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