This Is Why He’s My Main Man Because a Good Mechanic Is Hard to Find

Celebrating the Unsung heroes who help us navigate the unexpected potholes in life.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s tough out there.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been, quite literally, kicked to the curb a few times over the years.

And that includes a dropkick from each of the three big contenders that figure prominently in the life-sucking-psychic-energy department: romance, work, and customer service.

But in one area of my life, there’s been a person who for the past twenty-two years has alleviated stress and kept my days, as well as my 1993 Volvo 240 wagon running smoothly. He’s not only a wizard, he’s also generous, passionate, honest, and damned pleasant.

It’s early evening and the dark winter sky is a gun metal gray. As I’m driving down a busy interstate after work, the dashboard lights up and the engine lets out a slow, dying exhale. Panic puts me in a choke hold because there’s nothing worse than sitting in the break down lane, alone.

I pull the car over and call Peter. He immediately answers the phone. The problem is diagnosed on the spot, and he instructs me to turn off the radio and any other malfunctioning accessories. After limping another 10 miles back to the garage, he’s waiting for me and proceeds to replace the alternator in record time while I wait — and I want to cry not only because are I’m relieved but also because there’s still money in the checking account. I can’t count the number of times I’ve incredulously blurted out, “Is that all?!” after getting the bill.

Such generosity of time and labor is unheard of except from the best of friends.

Passionate about his work he recognizes that same passion in his customers and is willing to barter. Lucky for me he loves art, and on three separate occasions over the years, when the cost of a repair was substantial, I’ve traded my paintings with him.

I can always trust that I’m getting the best deal possible because he is a genius at rebuilding expensive parts or designing new ones. If I need a head gasket, I know Peter will explore every avenue to make it less painful.

He’s a gentleman — I’ve never seen him get angry — and he has that rare ability to make you feel like you’re a favorite customer. Maybe that’s because he operates by his well known quote, “NO Rules, NO Fools.”

Three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer. I learned he had no insurance. I did the only thing I could do and gave him my wagon with new tires and the head gasket he had recently put in. Because after years of good will and stellar service, you pay it forward.

Peter died April 20, 2020, at 62.

I now drive an old Subaru Forester.

Through word of mouth, I’ve been blessed again and found another perfect match. Like Peter before him, Sal runs a small, independent garage in the country and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

At most other places, they would have told me I needed to replace the catalytic converter. But not Sal. The only problem was it was hanging loose, so he fashioned a clamp (because they don’t make them) that secured it in place, and it’s been good to go for the past two years.

During another visit to replace a costly ball joint, he drove to a friend’s garage to borrow a tool he knew the guy had that made the labor intensive job a lot easier. I saved hundreds of dollars.

My driving now often includes harrowing trips on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. As I white-knuckle-it entering the on ramp, my anxiety is lessened because I’ve had my six month check up at the garage back home.

It’s funny how you can become so attached to a vehicle. But I think it has more to do with the person who makes the magic happen. (It’s magic to me)

Life will always be a bumpy ride.

Thanks for absorbing a lot of the shocks along the way.

You gotta love these guys.

And I do.

How “Nomadland” Wandering Can Make You Happy and Young Again

The nomadic instinct is a human instinct — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Having a “Lucy” on the stoop in Brooklyn, NY. A single cigarette at the local bodega is $1.00.Photo of the author by Jack Liakas

After a couple of years of deep contemplation, I decided I was tired of living a life of not quite… quiet desperation…but lingering melancholy. 

I felt my life shrinking when it should be expanding. Routine had sidled up, tapped me on the shoulder, and suddenly uttered Boo!

I remembered “The Songlines,” a terrific book I had been given just prior to a nine month, solo trip I’d taken to New Zealand and Australia five years ago. A best seller in 1987, the author Bruce Chatwin is credited with transforming travel writing. His book is part travel adventure and personal philosophy as he explores the meaning and origins of ancient Aboriginal “Dream Tracks,” invisible roadways left by the totem ancestors as they “sang the natural world into existence.” 

What stuck with me was that Chatwin postulated we humans have a nomadic instinct. Staying in one place, sedentary desk jobs, and our excessive accumulation of stuff are unnatural and don’t make us happy. 

He was right.

The pandemic has reinforced this. After a year of zoomed out working tethered to laptops, a lot of young people are having a YOLO (you only live once) epiphany severing the ties to secure jobs and pursuing entrepreneurial dreams and travel.

Like a lot of older people, this year has forced me to look at my own mortality and fortified what I learned traveling alone five years ago: The older we get, we tend to like things predictable and safe, and our lives tend to shrink. The older we get, we’re less likely to take risks, and we limit ourselves because great risks are rewarded with great opportunities and adventure. The older we get, time seems to accelerate, and we’re left wondering where the hell did the years go? 

Conversely, being fluid and mobile slows time down. Visiting new places and engaging with the beauty of nature keeps us curious, sparks creativity, and expands our lives.

That’s why the movie “Nomadland,” which swept the Oscars for best picture, director, and actress this year totally grabbed me. Based on the nonfiction book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” author Jessica Bruder followed an ever increasing number of nomads,often called rubber tramps, for three years. A lot of them are older people who have given up traditional housing and travel by car, van, or RV across America searching for work and staying at communal campgrounds. 

Though some choose this lifestyle — I remember the grey nomads of Australia — for most, this evolves out of necessity. The fictional character, Fern in the movie version is a widow who leaves her home and economically devastated town and heads out on the road in her van. This isn’t an easy way to live, and in no way does the movie romanticize it. Yet, there’s a certain hard won beauty about living life on your own terms. Fern and the real nomads she meets are inspiring because of the kindness and compassion they show each other and the self sufficiency and fierce independence they model. 

 Let’s face it, life is tough, and the one thing you can count on is change in all its guts and glory. But this subculture seems to be able to toss convention to the wind and tackle, head on, all the unexpected interceptions life tends to throw.

Not quite rubber tramp, but happy wanderer

In my own way, I’ve been bitten by this itinerant bug too.

After two years back home in Maine living alone and time running a marathon, I once again felt the urge to bust out.

I rented my house for a second time and moved to NYC in November of 2019, a life-long dream. Yeah, I know. Then disaster struck. Talk about change. But I’ve learned that pain motivates progress, and The Big Apple is still the greatest city in the world, even in a pandemic.

There are, of course, drawbacks to my semi-nomadic wanderings. I’m not living out of my car, but it has become a bit of a mini storage unit since the bulk of my scant belongings are stored hither and thither, and I’m constantly loosing stuff or leaving things behind. Since my means are limited, I am subleasing a couple of furnished rooms. After forty years, I have a roommate again. I often get lost. 

And…

I’ve never been happier and feel like a younger, but better, wiser version of myself. Like Fern, I have a strong support system that includes close siblings and the compassionate friendship of strong, capable women who look out for each other. I’ve discovered the freedom of becoming a minimalist, and an unexpected surprise is I enjoy having the company of a roommate.

The plan was to move back to my house in June of this year, but the nomadic instinct has taken root in my boomer-age-tenants as well. So we’ve decided that I’ll move back to my house with all their furnishings from June to October, and after enjoying a summer on the coast, they’ll rent my house again until mid May of 2022. 

That could change.

Because, as you know, a lot can happen in a year. 

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep my old car serviced, and I’ll renew my AAA membership. 

Best of all, there are fewer and fewer bouts of melancholy and more and more moments of pure joy.

I’m not really a smoker. Just having fun. Photo of the author by Jack Liakas

Keep the Pedal to the Metal Because Age Measures Nothing

Photo by Jonathan Sanchez

The amazing Helen Mirren is credited with this quote:

Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. your 60s are fab. Your 70s are F*@ing awsome.

When I first read it, the 40s, 50s, and 60s decades resonated. But the 70s? F*@ing Awesome? 

I tried hard to believe her — I really did . But I wasn’t totally buying it. 

Until recently.

Looking back:

The 40s were good. I got married, had a son, enjoyed being young and healthy. But before the decade was done, dissatisfaction cast its shadow and darkened into a full fledged storm of divorce. Better things were coming. I managed.

I’ll agree the 50s were great. I felt some discrimination for the first time in this youth-obsessed, Instagramed culture we’re fed. Fifty seemed the invisible tipping point that toppled me over to the silver singles realm of on-line dating. It kinda pissed me off. Yet… at the same time I got smarter and began learning to have a relationship with myself… and enjoyed my freedom! 

The 60s, where I’m currently running out the clock, have been fab. I’ve stopped both trying too hard and taking myself too seriously. I’ve gotten away with scamming fear a few times and even traveled solo half way around the world, and I’ve come to accept and like the skin I’m in (well most of the time). 

Which brings us to the 70s being awesome. I wasn’t buying it initially. Why was that? 

Well, for starters Covid-19 has hit this age group and older the hardest not only with infections but also with deaths. And many of us, myself included, have shamefully accepted this as less serious. 

I’ve heard from women in mid life complaining of feeling invisible. Just wait a couple of more decades. Another wrote about the benefits of being invisible. What?? No way. I see no possible benefits to being invisible. I still want to be deemed relevant in the world. Invisibility be damned! 

But as I stewed on these self imposed, narrow perceptions, I noticed that the world, and even social media are slowly changing, and elders are being recognized for their sex appeal, style, and talent, as well as wisdom and experience.

Just look at the actor Stanley Tucci, an Instagram star with a huge following mixing cocktails for his wife in his slim- fitting black polo. 

There’s been an explosion of gorgeous, silver-haired models and social media influencers selling, very successfully, I might add, beauty products. 

But what has really kicked out the jams of my faulty thinking and prejudice are the recent Academy Award nominations of actors who not only represent diversity but also elders in their 70s. Their perseverance and stories are inspirational. 

Self taught Korean star, Yuh-Jung Youn, up for best supporting actress for her role in “Minari,” spent 50 years in TV and movies in her homeland before being recognized here in the US. She is the first Korean woman to be nominated: “Me, a 73-year-old Asian woman could have never even dreamed about being nominated for an Oscar.” A divorcee who raised two sons Youn decided when turning 60 that she would only take on projects with people whom she trusted exemplifying the philosophy that I want to embrace. That is: to live and age on my own terms. 

Seventy-two-year old actor, Paul Raci, also nominated for best supporting actor in the film “Sound of Metal,” had been playing bit parts in Hollywood for the past 40 years before he was discovered by Director Darius Marder for the role of a deaf, recovering, Vietnam vet. He always felt he was capable of more, and when nothing happened, he continued to hope and pray for a break through. 

To realize that dreams can still come true in ones 70s, even after decades of dead ends, is truly remarkable. They’ve both shown us that this is a time for refirement not retirement, modeling that the best can still be… yet to come.  

So I’ve changed my perspective. At a time when I thought I should be content driving through life on cruise control, I’m going to put my pedal to the medal…and mettle… and never look back in the rear view mirror of the past. 

The 70s are going to be f*@cking awesome.