payback

It’s hard to believe, but this is my 100th blog post.  I have to say, I’m feeling a teensy bit proud of sticking with it.  What’s more, I could not have concocted a more amazing “adventure” than the one I’m able to share with you today to celebrate the occasion.

A few nights ago, I was driving through an inner-city area with one of the teen guys I hang out with.  We were on our way to pick up another of the boys in this circle of friends with the plan of getting some ice cream together (shocker, I know).  But due to some major road construction including a stretch of street lights being out, I missed a turn.  I pulled up a short side road and into an abandoned gas station in order to turn around.

What I didn’t realize in the dark was that the entire lot of the gas station had been dug out and planed.  My car dove off a squared 10-inch cliff, crunching loudly into what amounted to a shallow swimming pool.  The noise of it alone announced that the car had sustained significant damage.

Fortunately, there was a section of the lot where gravel graded upward making a sort of ramp.  I clunked up and out into the dirt street.

My car was already old and not in the best shape.  With inspection due next month, the list of necessary repairs was already — I’ll use the euphemism “challenging.”  Now, the car trembled with a deafening sound, as if an entire pack of motorcycles were passing on both sides.  The exhaust had severed.  Somewhere within the din, I was aware of a clank and rattle, as well.  Would I lose the entire muffler?  As we emerged from the construction zone onto more level pavement, the wheel shimmied violently.  Axle damage.

Well, we found our friend (his whole neighborhood heard us coming) and we went right ahead and had our ice cream anyway, laughing together at our predicament.  Well aware of my philosophy on finding the positive, Ben suggested that my broken muffler made my car sound like it had a souped-up modification.  I added that at least I would not have to worry about the muffler going before inspection — because now it had already blown.

Afterward, I called John in a cry for help.   If you don’t know who John is by now, do click the link and read about our connection; it’s important to the story.  But the short version is that I took John in about 20 years ago and we recently reconnected.  He is now a mechanic with his own shop.

John saw me immediately.  In addition to the exhaust and axle damage, he pointed out the myriad other problems the car had — both those that would need to be fixed before I’d pass inspection, and those that were causing other issues.  Among them were CV joints, wheel bearings, rusted gas tank connector, seized pulleys, sensors, bracings.  The list went on and on.  I knew there were issues.  He made it clear exactly how many there really were.  I asked him if he could just fix what needed to be fixed for now, and I’d find the money to make it work.

The next day, John asked me to come down so he could explain the work.  He was in the middle of replacing an axle.  He took me around the car and showed me all of the things he had already fixed — many of them certainly not necessities.  I began to secretly sweat a little as my mental cash register starting chinging figures.  At the same time, I noticed a sign in the shop:

CASH ONLY

NO CHECKS OR CREDIT CARDS

I had less than $100 in the bank.

As nonchalantly as I could, I asked him what the bill might look like so that I could have the cash ready the next day.  I secretly held my breath.

“Well, I’ll give you a bill, but you won’t pay what it says.  That’s just so you have a record for all the warrantied parts.”

He’d used new parts instead of used or reconditioned.  I sucked in a slow breath and my heart rate picked up as that mental register kept cha-chinging.

“Ok,” I said.  “Well, can you give me a ballpark on the bill.”

“You have it,” he said matter-of-factly.

I literally looked down at my hands.  Had he given me a bill and I’d forgotten?  Scary.

No bill.

“I don’t understand,” I admitted, feeling a bit swimmy.

“You have it,” he repeated more emphatically, looking right at me with a sly little smile.

For some reason, it wasn’t kicking in.  I still thought he was trying to tell me that he was giving me a labor discount or even perhaps free labor, which would have been too much.  “John, don’t discount this.  You have to make a living.”

“Listen, Erik — shut up,” John said.  “You took me in for years.  Paid for my rent, food, transportation, books.  You took me to movies and out to eat more times than I could count over the course of five years.  You need to let me do this.  I want to.  So stop arguing and just accept it.”

Then it dawned on me.  John had done thousands of dollars of work on my car and was charging me nothing.

No labor.

No parts.

Free.

Of course, I welled up.  So did he.  I hugged him — he in his grease monkey suit covered in oil and I in my white T-shirt.  I didn’t care.  I wanted that grease on me.  I planned to proudly wear that shirt with those stains as long as its threads held together.

Today, I picked up the car.  I thanked him as profusely as I could.  A few things remain to be done, involving parts that will arrive next week.  As I drove away, I was overwhelmed with emotion again.  Then, hitting the highway, I laughed — full and hard.  Why the sudden outburst?  I realized that I was hearing something I hadn’t heard for many years while driving that car.

Silence.

There was not one knock, ting, rattle, whir or chirrup.  No vibration in the wheel.  No galumph as I went over bumps in the road.  It was as solid as the day I bought it.

I don’t know how long John spent on it.  I suspect he stayed into the night yesterday and came early today.  I know that he set aside all work on other customers’ cars.  John had not only fixed the musts but a whole host of wish-list items — things I’d never even dreamed of having done.  Tightened screws and bolts and belts.  Everything.  To say I was overwhelmed is truly an understatement.  I felt elated.

I felt loved.

I do not believe we ever give to get something in return.  But sometimes — we do get payback.  I can’t adequately describe the joy I felt, realizing that kindness I’d given freely 20 years ago had come around at such a perfect time and in such a wonderfully unexpected way.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, stories or questions. I invite you to leave your comments below.


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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

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