Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So what are we supposed to do with our weekends now?

Grandpa Squirrel brought over some Toronto papers last weekend, including several auto sections he had saved up for Mr. Fixit. I don't usually read the car pages, but the front page of the September 16th Globe Drive section stood out: there was a hand holding a wrench, and the headline "The death of do-it-yourself auto repair."

It turned out to be a column by Peter Cheney, with the subtitle "The art of home auto repair has been shuffled to the scrap heap."
"Knowing how to fix a car used to mean something. In university, I studied the classics. My abiding memory was of Odysseus returning home to slay the suitors who had invaded his house. To me, overhauling an engine was a less dramatic version of the same process – I had driven out the forces of mechanical disorder.

"So how could I imagine that the golden age of the home mechanic was approaching its end?"
My own dad was never much of a do-it-yourselfer when it came to cars; he knew his limits and preferred to trust Ernie's garage on the corner. But my mom's brothers were die-hard wrench twisters from way back; I've heard the stories about how, lacking a hoist, they pulled up the front end of their jalopy using a rope and a nearby tree branch. And when I married Mr. Fixit, most of our cars (until emissions testing killed off the Caprices) were still the kind you had to tune up; the kind you COULD tune up. I got used to sitting in the front seat during brake jobs and pressing down on the pedal, while he crawled underneath or had his head under the hood. Vrm vrm...Again...Vrm vrm...Again...Vrm vrm...this usually went on for awhile.
"To [car designer Pete] Brock, a good machine is the elegant, real-world expression of an idea, not just something to be used and cast aside when it breaks. Machines are philosophies, expressed in metal."
And yet times change. Peter Cheney says that he used to be a professional mechanic but now rarely works on his own car himself. It's the same for Mr. Fixit, and that's only partly because of middling-aged back and knee problems. It's more just a matter of, as Cheney says, our newer cars now not "needing us" as much as they used to; and, in many instances, not being able to access the parts or supplies we used to get, or finding newer cars deliberately designed too complicated for home mechanics to deal with.

If cars aren't your thing (they're not mine really--I just pressed the pedal down when requested and appreciated Mr. Fixit's talents), consider this: that's only one example of the general death, or perhaps assassination, of self-sufficiency. At what point will there be nothing left at all that we can fix, clean up, make ourselves? Will we stop even comprehending Bible verses like "where moth and rust corrupt," because there we won't have anything that lasts long enough to get moth-eaten or rusty?

Your opinions?


Birdie said...

Interesting thoughts. Both of our vehicles fit into the 15 to 20 year old range and still need an occasional repair. While it might be nice to have something newer and a bit more reliable, we are really grateful for what we have.

Donna-Jean Breckenridge said...

My husband always, always, always changed the oil in our car. The newer cars then made it so difficult to do, so hard to get to, he finally stopped, and now pays to have it done. He still works on what he can - but now he tries to fix our computers :-)

I'm reading "Shop Class as Soul Craft" and it addresses some of what you're saying, though. I think it's a loss, because what we can fix, what we can do ourselves, we value more.