The mechanic leaned out of the window. “Excuse me, ma’am, but could you move your car?” she asked, “I need to get this van into the bay, and I need that space to maneuver.”
I’d only just found the parking space, the last remaining in the lot, so I grumbled as I moved out and parked on the street. She pulled the van into the garage and I pretty much forgot her until she dropped off my car.
I invited her in while I grabbed my purse. “Oh no, ma’am, I’d get the place dirty,” she said, but I don’t think you CAN get a household dirtier than Victory Brown sculpture wax, so I shooed her inside to wait.
“I’m Patty,” she said, and we shook hands. She stood there in overalls, oil-stained fingers and Elvis Costello spectacles, hair packed up tightly under a baseball cap. I got the idea that she was carefully tamping down any smidgen of female that might think about escaping and, imagining the testosterone-laden world where she worked, decided it was probably necessary.
We chatted as I drove her back to the garage. “Yours is one of two bad Nissan computers we’ve found this week,” she said, “I found the second one this morning right after I got in from class.”
“Class? What’s your major?”
“Mechanics,” she said, and blushed. “I know that sounds dumb, but I really love it.”
It doesn’t sound dumb at all if it’s what you want to do, I suggested, and she grinned. “It’s right where I want to be. My dad, my brothers, my uncle, my cousins, my grandfather–they all either fix cars or sell them, so I guess it’s in the blood.”
“They wouldn’t teach me about cars, they wanted me to get my four-year degree and get an office job,” and she shook her head, “But that’s just not for me. I used to be a creative writing major, and then I was a Web design major, but Web design really wasn’t as visual as I need. And creative writing, well, I like it, but at the end of the day you’ve got to have something that pays the bills, right?”
I mentioned, a bit dryly, that writing actually CAN pay the bills quite well, but she shook her head.
“Yeah, maybe,” she said skeptically, “but what it all boils down to is I just like to fix cars. And I’m good at it, and I can make good money at it. And who says fixing cars isn’t creative?”
Not me, certainly.
“Electrical problems like the one you’ve had? I love those. It’s like a detective game. And I’m not like a lot of the guys, even guys younger than me. I’m not afraid of computers and I like all the new test equipment. It’s a whole new ballgame, fixing new cars.”
Her eyes lit up–she had a really beautiful smile when she used it–and she settled in to explain about new cars. How they even things up for women, because strength isn’t so important any longer. “Older guys, they’re afraid of this stuff. They want gasoline engines you can tear into.”
“But me, I’m interested in alternative fuels, and electric cars and hybrids. I think that gives me the edge, especially in Oregon. One of my big dreams is to rebuild an old muscle car as an electric. I told my professor that at school and he said, ‘Little Missy, how do you expect to take a muscle car apart, no bigger than you are?”
“I think,” she said judiciously, “They just say that stuff because they know it fires me up and makes me work harder. You don’t have to be stronger than everyone else, you just need a bigger lever. I’ve got a three-foot crowbar, so I can do as much as anybody.”
I allowed as to how she was probably right, and she grinned.