Smithology: Perhaps we should run to the parts store and buy more Brakleen

Getty Images/The Good Brigade

Five minutes after I get to the shop, I am at work.

This is not my day job. It was once and won’t be again, and that’s fine. I enjoyed working on cars for a living but was never quick enough. And anyway, it is a Sunday, and there is work to do on my own wheeled garbage, and it is extremely important to leave the house now, especially when the yard is at least six weeks overdue for attention from the weed whacker.

It is so very important to be punctual with yard work! Else, of course, the neighbors will think you some kind of drug lord-hoarder-underworld trash human, with your regular parking of $1800 rustbucket garbage-cars outside an otherwise respectable house, with your watching of various trashy television shows, are you not a reprehensible social mistake who is single-handedly dragging down the arc of modern civilization? You are, of course you are, you know you are, just straighten up and go buy some Ethan Allen already.

I mean, really, it’s more like six minutes.

Though it is sometimes almost never very much occasionally longer than seven minutes.

Except when it is very definitely ten minutes.

At work a mere five minutes after arrival! I get to the shop so rarely. So rare it is, that I hop in that car and leave the house by myself! Tending my hobbies and pastimes without distraction from children or phone alerts! How crucial that we not dawdle! That we think fondly on the dreaded tiny humans my wife produced several years ago, those ungrateful mooches, but also be thrilled by their absence.

Caterham Seven keys detail
Sam Smith

Nothing with children, by the way, ever happens in just five minutes. At home, they are six and eight years old and perpetually taking forever to do anything. Walking into the room to drop their opaque problems at your feet, BOO HOO SHE TOOK THE BLUE ONE I WANTED THE BLUE ONE. Or perhaps Why, my lovely daughter, did you require 40 minutes to find a pair of pants and put them on?

The answer is inevitably some crucial gibberish like IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO FIND PANTS BECAUSE MY SISTER SAID I WILL NEVER BE A PONY PRINCESS PASTRY CHEF. And then you have to say—because you are trying to be a compassionate individual rooted in reality—I’m sorry, sweetheart, we don’t always get the blue ones we want in life, and perhaps you can be a pony-princess pastry chef if you work hard and read many books and go to college. Or at least if you find yourself attending an internationally accredited and suitably respectable trade school for pony-pastry royalty.

Alternately, you conclude, with a sigh, because this is America, one could simply get adopted by a wealthy family of legacy-pony-princess pastry chefs, and then one’s new trust fund would cover both tuition and a life of pre-made connections where one never has to worry about retirement and is instead free to harp ceaselessly about the #grind on social.

“Daddy,” the child inevitably replies, “you are silly.”

“Your mother and I just want you to be happy,” you say.

“Okay. Then why do you go to the shop so often?”

“Well,” you reply, “sometimes living in this world takes a bit out of yer ol’ dad, and he needs to empty the spit valve. We don’t have room for a workshop at the house, so I rent a small shop with friends. But I only go there on Sundays and occasional Saturdays and sometimes in the evening during the week, when you are definitely fast asleep.”

At this point, the child, satisfied, runs off to eat a bag of fruit snacks and leave the wrapper somewhere it will irreversibly stain a piece of good furniture.

Old Car Repair Shop Interior
Getty Images/Ivan

These conversations do not happen when you are at the shop. The freedom of their absence is glorious and must be leaned into. So: Five minutes after I get to the shop, your narrator is at work.

Except when he is cleaning up from where he accidentally kicked that oil drain pan into a spill, where it has irreversibly stained a piece of good concrete floor.

Maybe it’s 15 minutes?

And of course, there would be no working without finding the proper album for the stereo. This often takes between three and five minutes, a doddle. And yet before we do that, look! We must sort the small pile of nuts and bolts I have just found on this shelf. It might be needed one day.

Wait! Look at this bag of used rod bolts! Just lying there at the bottom of a box of loose hardware, as if it owned the place! Why do I have a bag of used rod bolts? Answer: What am I, some kind of heartless Marie Kondo? You never know when you might need to spark some yet-unknown joy! Or perhaps it will help some other project continue, when said job is otherwise stalled for parts!

A machine divided and waiting on a cycled-out torque-to-yield bolt cannot stand, as Abraham Lincoln said. Freedom matters.

Smithology Red Snap On Tool Box
Sam Smith

Speaking of! We are smack in the meat of the day. So much left to do! Just as soon as I finish sorting these 4×5 photos I found in a top drawer of the toolbox. Look! There’s a significantly younger you, in the paddock at Gateway International, climbing out of somebody’s race car! There’s you at a track day at Putnam Park in 2003! Why did you wear those pants? Those pants are awful. No one should ever wear those pants. They should have gone straight into the trash, or the recycling bin, or wherever it is that people send clothing too awful to besmirch a human frame.

Tangential observation: The shop recycling bin is full. We should probably put the bin into the trunk of the car, then drive across town to the recycle center.

[Loads car, drives to recycling center, comes back.]

A peckishness has entered the chat. Is it noon already?

Caterham Seven wheel packaged
Sam Smith

Diversion: A friend of mine got extremely stoned in college and actually said aloud the old stoner line, Have you ever really looked at your hands? And of course, we were all sitting around drinking one night, because it was college, so each of us immediately began examining our hands. Which were not that interesting, because we were not stoned, but in situations like that, you play along.

On that note, I have to ask you, because I was struck by this question upon walking across the shop: Have you ever really looked at a chrome bumper?

How did it get to be two o’clock?

Sometimes, the knowledge of your own mortality can be exhausting. Should probably recover by sitting down and finishing the remains of the morning coffee, stare at a bumper for a few minutes. Overwork, as they say in Latin cultures: the devil’s cocaina.

Three in the afternoon, eh? Where has the day gone? We should now check the calibration of all our torque wrenches against each other for no reason. Mostly because the small one in the corner is just sitting there all innocent. Might be up to something.

Where did I put those gloves? Are we out of Brakleen? Why is this place perpetually on the verge of the precipice of being almost just about to run out of Brakleen?

Perhaps we should run to the parts store and buy more Brakleen.

What else did I need at the parts store? Why can I never remember?

[An hour later, returning from parts-store run.] Hondabond! And anti-seize!

[An hour later, after running out for anti-seize and Hondabond.] Lord, this place is a mess. Should probably sweep up before we really get started. Right after I look at this random shop manual I just found on this shelf. How do you torque the head on a late-nineties Porsche 911, anyway?

I mean, why do we have a shop manual for old 911s? When has anyone who shares this rental space ever owned an old 911?

You ever wonder how much of an old Porsche can be effectively recycled? What would Ferdinand Piëch listen to while recycling a 993?

Four o’clock, eh? Isn’t four reasonable for a break? Wouldn’t want to run out of steam too early. Need enough strength to tackle through the rest of the day. What’s in the shop beer fridge? Where is that beer-drinking-and-sitting stool that is always there and waiting to help during Four O’Clock Beer Time?

old shop stool black white
Getty Images/Tom Lindboe

I mean, I say Four O’Clock Beer Time, but the actual time is less important than the sitting and the thinking. Or the thinking and the sitting. It’s where future projects get planned. That new flywheel, for example, in a box in the corner. Eight pounds of CNC’d steel from some speed shop in Australia. When we bolt it to the BMW, tach needle’s gonna jump like a horny rabbit. Have to get the car up in the air, though, first. Driveshaft and gearbox out. And the steering box needs to be replaced, too, because there’s nasty galling on the roller gear, or… was it the worm? Both?

No sense doing a flywheel without swapping the clutch, now. Long as you’re in there. And no sense swapping a clutch without a new pilot bearing. And without a new pilot bearing, well, how are we going to get started?

Maybe I have a new pilot bearing around here somewhere?

Probably on that shelf in the back.

Probably after another beer?

Look at the time! Seven already? Sundown. Should go home. No sense staying late. Already got so much done. Probably because I am hard at work, no lie, religiously, every single time, five minutes after hitting the shop.

(Six on a Sunday, if I’m honest. But who’s counting?)

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