Howdy and Happy Monday!
I had to get a flat fixed on Friday.
On my way to my favorite place for that sort of thing, a small business not far from my house that sells wheels, there is a field of mustard greens.
Waiting to get out on the main highway, I watched the guys who were harvesting the mustard greens. Standing, three of them, each with a small cloth sack under one arm and a machete in the other hand, they bent from the waist, pulled a plant and separated the leaves from the stalk with the machete. Quickly, with a free hand they removed a tie from the cloth pouch, secured the bunch, and tossed it to the every growing pile of greens – in about 20 seconds.
I thought to myself, they make it look easy.
And I realized, to describe them I would have to say they were graceful.
There prowess would be nothing compared to the ballet I was fixin’ to witness.
I must confess, I like mechanics’ shops. There is an appealing mystery about them, because they strike me as being a window into what it means to be male, something women don’t usually ‘get’.
The moment you enter, the greasy, heavy air hovers above an always concrete floor, where bins and racks hold tools and parts or in this case, wheels. They are at once clean and dirty. I have never been in a good mechanic shop that wasn’t swept clean and organized. Dirt and clutter is different than grease and stained. One is about laziness and the other is about getting the job done.
I parked at the shop, jumped out, lowered the tailgate and was just about to man-handle the tire out, when I heard the shop worker.
“You need the flat fixed?”
His English wasn’t the best.
He wasn’t much taller than me, but he picked up the tire like it was nothing.
All the while he was rolling and bouncing the tire into the open door, he was chattering and I noticed he was light on his feet and had kind of .. well, he kind of had a bounce in his step.
Like a dancer warming up.
There is no other way to describe it.
He didn’t have many teeth. Some were clearly rotten and some looked like they might have suffered a fist or two and I decided that was at least part of the reason he was so difficult to understand.
I followed him in.
Shops don’t have much natural light unless it coming through a garage door and this one was closed. Men will hang up any kind of poster, especially if it’s one with a pretty girl on it, so the windows weren’t giving much light either because that was where a lot of the pinups resided.
But what light there was… it shimmered off the wheels, shelves of them, gleaming shiny chrome.
That kind of display must be for men a little bit like women looking at jewelry. They were beautiful and even as much as I couldn’t tell you what kind of rims the car I drive has on it, I could have picked out some nice ones, they were so glittery and shiney.
In the meantime, the shop guy has accepted my invasion into his shop, in the way that is unique to men. He just simply accepted me and went to work. All I saw was the back of his do-rag as he adjusted the radio to just above hammering volume.
We both nodded our heads in rhythm to the rock and roll and for the next 5 minutes he partnered with the rubber and the rim, as he repaired the tire.
It was quite something.
Arms slender, no fat on his body and a broad back for his size, he performed the steps, a mechanics choreography, never missing a beat, never mishitting a lick, never faltering in moving the tire from one piece of machinery to another, fluid and graceful and masterful. He made the motions of work seem like a dance.
In between the hissing of air and drilling of rubber for patches, he would talk to me.
I only got bits and pieces.
“Where do you live”?
Down the street I said.
“Yeah, me too”.. a grin and he adds, “the jail, I have been there too much”.
I am a bit surprised but I in his territory so I just accept his confession.
He turns the tire, using strength and timing to bounce the weight and settle it on the tire changer.
Amid the music and air compressor, he looks at me, brings two fingers in a pinch to his lips and pretends to inhale and then shakes his head.
“Trying to be a good man now though.”
He looks up to Heaven, I clearly hear “Dios mio” and for a very small, moment, genuflecting, he seems serious.
Moment past, twinkling eyes, he finishes the job, and just as if the performance is over, walks over and turns the music down.
“Sorry senora, must be 12 dollars, big patch”.
He puts the tire on my truck, returns the spare to the back, I wave a good bye and consider my 12 dollar dance.
My pleasure, I decide, a bargain ballet, as far as I am concerned.
Physical grace is physical grace, whether you are watching a son swim less than a minute in a hot summer pool, a major league outfielder catch a line drive and throw a rocket into home, mustard green harvest, or a Brownville native give you the front row seat to the flat tire ballet.