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

Pandemic Restrictions Have Left Families Reeling. But Take Comfort: We Don’t Die Alone.

My 91 year-old mother died this month in an assisted living/memory care facility in Maine. I wasn’t allowed to be with her.

As a resident of NYC for the past year, I would have had to quarantine for two weeks making a visit impossible, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the other residents and the staff who so lovingly cared for her and, remarkably, managed to keep her home Covid free.

Since she had been ill for the past ten years with a couple of close calls, my family had hoped she would make it a few more months when restrictions would be lifted, but the cold winter and dark days provided the perfect atmosphere for death to court and finally win her. As the saying goes, Death waits for no man—and if he does, he doesn’t wait for very long.

Like many families who have lost someone this year, my grief and guilt was compounded by the pandemic visitor restrictions which kept me from comforting her and holding her hand. It was especially difficult because I knew my mother, who at the tender age of three, was sent to boarding school. I could never imagine the feelings of abandonment and trauma she must have suffered, and in the last few years of her life, having slipped in and out of the fog of dementia, often came to believe she was back at school and repeatedly asked when her parents were coming to pick her up. In the past, leaving her after such a visit was agonizing. She’d walk me to the door holding my hand, and as we kissed and said goodbye, I promised to come back soon. As the door slowly closed, the lingering image of her child-like face and wide, beseeching eyes haunted me.

I couldn’t help but wonder if my not being at her deathbed caused her to suffer. Had she been waiting for me?

To come to grips with these feelings and memories at the news of her death, I tried to recall stories I’d read and second hand accounts I’d heard of the dying who saw beautiful lights or reached out and called to mothers, fathers, and children. My hope was that death was a redemptive, loving reunion with departed family who helped us cross over. Oddly enough, three days later, I was forwarded an article about this very thing that had originally posted online on the exact day that my mother died.

Trained as a medical doctor and scientist to defy death and save lives, Christopher Kerr, early in his career began paying attention and listening to his dying patients who often described having dreams and visions of deceased relatives who came to visit them.

Kerr eventually became a hospice doctor, and over the course of ten years, he and his research team recorded the testimonies of 1,400 dying patients and families. His findings revealed that over 80 % of his patients, regardless of age, and from all walks of life had dreams and visitations from loved ones. These end-of-life experiences increased in frequency as they got closer to death and were overwhelmingly positive and a source of comfort. Many reported difficult relationships forgiven, and old wounds healed.

In one instance, Mary, in the presence of her four children, cradled her arms and began rocking a baby and calling out Danny. It wasn’t until the next day that they discovered from Mary’s visiting sister that her first child had been born stillborn.

In a Tedx Talk Kerr gave, Jeannie, another patient described seeing people walking very slowly by her her bed. On right side they were people she didn’t know but were friendly and touched her gently on the hand or arm in comfort. On the left side, their faces vivid, were her mother, father, uncle and other deceased relatives who did the same thing. Kerr also reported that many children were visited by former pets.

In conversations with my own family, I discovered my mother’s brother, who passed away two months earlier, had talked to his son about seeing a little boy who wanted my uncle to follow him. A grandson had died many years ago of SIDS.

My family was fortunate that two of our six siblings were able to be with my mother in the end, although they had to visit separately. The day before she died, one sister described how my mother, who was no longer able to feed herself or communicate verbally, suddenly moved her line of vision to a corner of the room, and with a look of peace, slowly raised her arms like a child wanting to be picked up. Slowly she lowered them and then looked from the corner of the room to the side of her bed, and again, with only one arm this time, gracefully like a ballerina, raised and lowered her arm.

On the morning she died, my other sister had a similar experience. Gently holding her hand, my mother opened her eyes, raised that arm, and expired.

I’ve always wanted to believe that we don’t die alone but are met with loving beings who help us make the transition. Dr. Kerr’s work helped confirm this.
The death of my mother has been painful, especially not gathering with family and friends for closure that a wake or funeral would bring. But what has been a great source of solace was knowing that, at the end, my mother was lovingly welcomed into the arms of her deceased family and finally taken home.

Cat-Like In The Window, The Day’s Drama Plays Out Before Me.

Although my view of the world has literally narrowed, it is no less entertaining,yet, intimately, human.

Michael Hollander for Unsplash

And it seems that when we think no one is looking, whether under the cover of darkness, or in plain light of day, someone is. 

In mid March, after the state of emergency was declared, much like Prospero and his guests in The Mask of the Red Death, people began fleeing the city to country homes. One early evening, I looked out my window to see a middle aged man (not from this Bed Stuy neighborhood) across the street furtively removing his NY plates from, first the front, then the back of his Audi SUV. He quickly stashed them on the floor of the back seat, got in, and drove away plateless, to … I can only assume… a suddenly sprouted pandemic entrepreneur who would attach a set of out of state plates so he could covertly blend in. 

I was indignant. What a coward. Selfishly exposing a community with limited heath care facilities. But then I caught myself.

I Took a moment to be still, rather than running away with judgment and asked myself the question, would I do the same if there was a second home somewhere with lots of space and fresh air to enjoy? Ah.. probably, yes. But I’d like to think no.

A few weeks later, meat packing facilities are stricken with positive tests and must be shut down. Will hoarding of meat begin? I look out my window as a pickup truck pulls up, double parks, and a neighbor comes out to collect what looks like eight to ten large packages of assorted cuts of beef. It’s started already. 

But then I remember the same guy who lives alone with his dog and who speaks lovingly and takes this pit bull mix out each morning and afternoon for a walk. Could this stash be a treat not only for him but also his companion, a reward for unconditional love in times of loneliness?

On Sunday morning, a homeless man sporting a huge, flapping coat and Nike flip flops shuffles by pushing his shopping cart overflowing with scavenged goods. He stops, carefully unpacks items from a plastic bag one by one, and selects an article I can’t quite see. He rolls it on in quick, short strokes to his mustache, rubbing it in, then his scruffy beard and neck and gives them a good rub too. It isn’t until he reaches under his coat and shirt and applies it to his under arms that I realize what it is. 

I’ve worn the same clothes for a week and haven’t washed my hair in days. I’ve even skipped deodorant a few times in the process, yet I have the same warm, safe place to stay every night.

It’s Saturday night and a car pulls up and idles out front. A woman ambles to the side window, and an exchange is made. She quickly does an about face and returns inside. In these times of high anxiety, we can all use a little help from our friends, be it Johnny Walker or Crimea Blue. People gotta stay medicated in this plagued economy. 

My drug of choice is chocolate, so I play the odds taking unnecessary trips to the local bodega.

Since the world has been put on pause, this virus has brought into focus our human frailties. Those frailties come from a place of fear. A fear of separateness.

Perhaps if we practice loving-kindness with ourselves and then mirror it back to others, we just might be a little more forgiving all the way around — get through this in one peaceful piece.

A NYC Pandemic Vignette

Photo by Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash


Friday and the news is ever dire.

In one night, the death toll climbs to 100.

People respond with care. Many not so much.

Judging proves fruitless.

Taking in the sun and taking in the view. A car pulls up

an exchange is made.

Anxieties slip away like

so many droplets hitching a ride on an innocent breath.

Liquor stores are essential in a plagued economy

And my son texts,

People gotta stay medicated.

My Taking a "Gap Year" at 67 to Live in NYC Will Now Include Surviving a Pandemic.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Oh, the irony.

This past October, I answered a call to adventure and moved from Maine to NYC to experience the dizzying din of a city that never sleeps. Four months into it, all the enticements that drew me here have been shut down, and I’ve been put to bed without my supper. Along with the city’s other 8.5 million residents, I’ve been asked to stay home, avoid crowds, and practice self distancing.

I was, initially, peeved.

I am now working to suck it up, to surrender.

Up until a week ago, I’ve had a rather cavalier attitude about going out in the city. Having traveled by subway both ways with stops at Grand Central, I attended a Broadway show matinee, and the next day the blackout was announced. Now the only show in town is the real Theater of the Absurd we are living.

Shortly after, the mayor declared a state of emergency and banned large gatherings. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with my 30 year-old son sitting on the stoop at his apartment that the seriousness of it hit me.

Not feeling well the night before, he and his girlfriend decided to self quarantine. After our initial no-touch greeting, he reassured me they were feeling much better. And then he looked directly into my eyes. Because there is no one whose opinion I value more, or whose gentle criticisms of me I intently listen to and take to heart, I knew what he was going to say was important: “Mom, you need to be more careful. I want you to be safe.”

Apparently, I’m not the only parent getting this kind advice. Later on Facebook, I read a post from a friend from Maine who asked if anyone else’s millennial son or daughter had sat them down and explained how serious the situation was. My friend’s daughter had contacted her from Brooklyn alerting her to what was potentially coming. I also heard from a sister in Maine whose son and daughter chided both of them about their plans to attend a play. Their father has suffered two heart attacks and currently has a stent in place.

Things are getting real.

We all need to be careful including young people who naturally feel invincible. There are those who avoid large public gatherings and work from home by day and avoid the customary night life, and others who throw caution to the wind and risk spreading this invisible infection and insist on going out. It was just a week ago that I walked home and looked across the street into the open door of a popular watering hole that was filled with young people. The business didn’t look to be running at half capacity allowing for safe distancing as suggested. Patrons didn’t seem to be taking the necessary cautions either.

That has since changed.

I can’t just blame this behavior on the young people who are a lower risk. I’m healthy, take no medications, and have no medical conditions. Until recently, I’ve displayed hubris taking more chances then I should even though people in my age group have been issued guidance by the federal government how to stay safe.

So I’ve decided to become more conscious and regularly monitor my attitude. I accept that this is my NYC experience, and I am grateful to be here near my son. I will take better care not only of myself but also my fellow man because we are all in this together.

When I was called to this adventure, I knew there were bound to be risks, uncertainties, and trials along the way. I had no idea the extent to which I’d be tested.

I will practice taking one day at a time. Because:

This was not what I had planned.

This is pretty absurd.

To quote Camus: “To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer.”