Search Lobsterland

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Honest Tradesmen

I had to take the Black Box to Vee Village—the breaks were making an alarming noise so I was hoping it was just pads or shoes or whatever, not calipers and rotors and whatnot.

My mechanical understanding of automobiles is legendary, folks. Legendary in the sense that it's mostly fictitious.

I can, and have, navigated an oil change on my own, but that's as deep as I've gotten in terms of DIY car maintenance. What I mainly know is you need to find a mechanic you can trust.

I had one in Gardner, less than a mile from my house, R&J Automotive. The first time I took a car there, it was an old Honda Accord with disintegrated 'half shafts.' I know what the drive shaft of a car looks like, I had one fly out from under an F-150 I used to drive and go skittering off into a farmer's field, but I guess with front wheel drive it's a shorter piece and there's a pair of them.

I don't remember exact numbers now, but when I took the Honda in to R&J, I was told it'd be something like $300. Then when it was done, I went to pick it up and the total was closer to $200.

"I'm not going to argue with you," I said. "But that's less than you bid it at."

Robert explained that he'd gotten rebuilt half shafts, but that he'd bid it with new ones because he wasn't sure he'd be able to get rebuilts.

So he could have pocketed that $100, because one thing I'm incapable of doing is looking under my car and telling the difference between a new and a rebuilt half shaft. Instead, he made a steady little revenue stream fixing the small fleet of jalopies I drove over the following 13 or 14 years. A mechanic that honest, you keep him.

Then, when you call the cops on a neighbor for beating her kid and she decides to get revenge on you by putting cat litter and water in your gas tank, and R&J tells you the damage is around $900, you can be pretty sure he's not just taking advantage, that your neighbor really did a number on your car.

But it's impractical for me to take my car to a shop 35 miles from where I now live, so I needed a different mechanic. Corinna has been taking her car to Vee Village for years, and we know the owner through cycling circles. But cars are such a secondary thing for Corinna, I was still a little iffy. But it was still better than trusting my brakes to a stranger, and it's an easy ride from there to home so I put my Surly on the rack and drove over there.

Which is the part of the story where you find out why there's all these graffiti photos in a post about car mechanics. Vee Village is in the Crossroads district, and after dropping my car off I found a bunch of updated walls. I've shot some of these walls before, not that long ago, but the 'West Bottoms Art Society' has been busy lately.

I don't know if every mid-sized city in America has a culture of great tag art like Kansas City does or if this is a unique deal. I'm sure Brooklyn, Chicago, L.A., big cities in general, have tons of this stuff if you know where to look. But my impression is that Kansas City is exceptional in this area, kind of like how we're an awfully small city to have the high-caliber museums and performing arts centers we have—all that stuff with Kemper, Kauffman, and Nelson in their names, for a start.

To my dismay, some really beautiful tags get covered over by city employees with gray paint, and gangster-wannabes sometimes deface good tags with their bullshit, but between legal walls and stuff that has escaped the government censors, there's a lot of great murals around, especially in the Crossroads and West Bottoms.

While I was in one of these alley's, a gentleman struck up a conversation about the tags. I said something about how we had a pretty high class of vandals in the city.

He said something about how he wasn't sure they were vandals. I pointed to the one that said, 'Real KC Vandals! Fuck tha haters.'

But no, it's clearly not vandalism.

We chatted a bit, and he allowed that he knew or had met a couple of these artists, and I have too, but I started to suspect that he was one of them.

I'm not sure why he would be coy about it with someone so obviously not a cop (me in my Hawaiian shirt and pink helmet mohawk astride a bike covered in stickers, avidly photographing tags like a surreal tourist, I really doubt there's an undercover graffiti squad run with enough imagination to come up with me.)

Besides, this was pretty obviously a legal wall.

I'm sure he had his reasons, if he was one of the contributors and preferred anonymity. Or maybe he thought I was a dork, or that I'd identify him on my blog (though I didn't try to take his picture). I know he wasn't Sikes or Scribe, and maybe he was just another fan like me.

The next day Vee Village called about my Scion. That horrible grinding, squeaking noise, they said, was dust in the brake drum in back. Which they emptied out. The shoes and pads were all above 30%, no need to replace those but I did appear to be due for an oil change. Which was true, I'd forgotten about it and was actually about 200 miles past 3000.

So I got my car back for less than anticipated even with adding the oil change to the equation, and that means Vee Village is my new mechanic.

I don't drive a lot by American standards, but I do tend to drive older cars. This is the newest car I've owned in 20 years, I think, and it's an '06 with 120,000 miles. I hope to still be driving it ten years from now, and that will mean some repairs.

Hell, if it hadn't Bermuda Triangulated, I'd probably still be driving the '97 Accord that was stolen from my driveway a couple years back. The KCK police department sent me a survey asking how satisfied I was.

Which is a silly question: they never recovered the car, never caught the thief, so my basic assessment is that they suck at their job. Then, insult was added to injury when they wrote me a bullshit parking ticket while I was getting the Black Box plated, because while car thievery is seen as a nuisance, expired meters and cars that don't have legal tags (because I was in the courthouse getting the tags), these are real crimes.

Re-reading this, I can't help but be struck with what a rambling post this is. Sprawling. Failing to follow a coherent narrative.

I guess I could go back and rewrite it, but I think I'll leave it like this and hope you at least enjoy the pictures. To sum up: R&J Automotive in Gardner and Vee Village in KC good; Car thieves and overzealous parking cops bad; Tag art good; gangbanger types and government painting crews bad. Afternoon photo safaris awesome.

1 comment:

TigressHabi said...

Steve's Jeep Wrangler that was left to him when his dad died, was stolen in KCK from right in front of our home. It was not recovered by the police nor was the thief caught. We got the same survey and have been terribly tempted to write in answers which really explain how we feel about their lack of performance.