Paid Life Experience 

I’ve always felt that one way to measure a person’s quality of life is by the quality of the stories they tell. That is why I have held over 10 different jobs since I started working for my father’s business at the age of 16.

I apply for jobs I have always been curious about, and leave once I get the gist of it. I’ve worked from warehouses to office jobs and almost everything in-between. This multiple part series will be about the things I witnessed and experienced while working in all my automotive related jobs, so far.

Starting with the summer of 2012, when I worked at a garage in Laredo, Texas, as a mechanic assistant. No names or businesses will be mentioned. Enjoy!

Greasy Pay Check

The garage was one of those 10 min oil change places. They did basic mechanical services like lube jobs, brakes, transmission, and state inspections. I was 19, and since I was the only young guy working there, they put me in charge of inputting the whole shop’s inventory into their new computer system. I knew nothing about computers at the time. (Still don’t).

That summer it was unusual if the temperature dropped before 98 degrees, so I was always a mess trying to contain the gallons of sweat pouring down my face when I greeted customers. Being down in the basement counting the inventory of air filters and oil drums by hand was like being in the hot-box of an old-school Texas prison.

Heat aside, what I will never forget about my time working there is just how badly some people treated their cars.

Mud in the Engine

One time this woman drove up in a faded green, mid-1990’s Ford Explorer that looked like it hadn’t stopped running since it left the assembly plant. It looked beat and exhausted. She wanted an oil change and I popped the hood and took off the oil cap. That’s when the smell of dirty water slapped me across the face and I noticed that the bottom of the oil cap was covered in what looked like mud.

The mechanic underneath quickly came upstairs to ground level and informed me that the engine was full of water! When we explained this to the customer she did not seem surprised at all and just told us to pour the thickest oil we had, Pennzoil 20w 50. I topped it off and she drove off like a jockey whipping his race horse. That Ford either stopped dead 50 miles later or is still running to the day. Closest thing I’ve ever seen to Uncle Buck’s Mercury.

The 20,000 Mile Virgin

This happened during my first week working there. An adorable little light blue 2-door 2010 Ford Focus rolled into the shop. I talked to the owner to see what oil she wanted and she told me, “I’m not sure, this is the first oil change.” At first I thought she meant it was the first oil change during her ownership. Maybe this was a pre-owned car she just picked up off a lot. Then she told me that it was the first oil change ever! I checked the clock and the Focus had clocked over 20,000 miles on the same oil it left the factory with. The oil was so bad it didn’t pour out, it fell out in clunks like 2-week old milk, and darker than a tar-pit.

Needless to say, I tried to inform her about the vital importance of running a car on clean oil. Sadly, I could tell it was going in one ear and out the other because her phone was vibrating in her purse and her eyes wanted to reach for it. Doubt that car is still on the road today.

A Woman’s Scorned Chevy Avalanche

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, is what came to mind when this 2008 silver Chevy Avalanche came in for a brake job. The word, “Puto”, had been written across the hood, tailgate, and both sides of the truck… with a key. It must have been a key or something very sharp because you could see bare metal starting to rust where the paint and primer had been scratched away.

The word “Puto” is a Spanish curse word, equivalent to being called a man-whore or an asshole. One could only suspect that the owner had been caught with his hand in a different cookie jar and his truck had paid the price. I cannot say whether he deserved it or not, but I can say that the truck certainly didn’t need to suffer for his behavior.

Willie Nelson Air-freshener

This brand new F-150 nearly ran over my foot when it screeched into the garage. Black with a 3’’ inch lift, the truck smelled like a Willie Nelson concert parking lot. Crushed beer cans fell out of the cab when the driver and his four passengers climbed out of the Murica-mobile. Trying his best to look sober, the red-faced driver asked for an oil change. I greeted them and put their paranoia at ease by making them feel like I couldn’t tell they were buzzing like a honey bee in the garden section of a Home Depot.

I let them know they could wait in the office and all four of these Duck Dynasty looking frat boys collected a six pack worth of empty beer cans, each, and threw them away in the recycling pin. Eco-friendly drunks.

“Can I Finished My Beer First?”

A similar incident happened when a blue Ford Escape pulled into the parking lot instead of the garage and waited. The driver never got out and it had been at least 15 minutes since he parked. My boss asked me to go check to see what he wanted. The driver looked nervous as I approached his car, an older man who was probably in the transitional between middle-aged and senior citizen. When I asked him if he needed anything, he responded that he needed an oil change but followed with, “But can I finish my beer first?” That’s when he held up a tallie of Bud light.

Not sure how to answer the question, I told him that I wasn’t the owner so it didn’t matter to me. I went back and told my boss who he got a good chuckle out of it. He spent another 10 minutes or so in his Escape before pulling in for a service. No idea how someone can sit in a car, in the middle of summer, peacefully sipping on a generic light beer that parallels its condensation with the beads of sweat off their face.

Lemon Lot

The street where the garage was located on was a main street where you have nothing but used car lots, auto part stores, and body shops on either side. Like the Vegas strip of automotive care. So we would always get cars from used car dealers who needed to top off the fluids in their newly acquired repo auction inventory. Some of these cars were real sour lemons. One Jeep Grand Cherokee, that I’ll never forget, looked good to the untrained eye.

New black paint made it look like a one owner pre-owned machine, until you open the hood and see the underside of it was a different color. Open the passenger side doors and realized that each door was once a different color. This car was a Frankenstein’s monster of wrecked Jeeps slapped together and covered in a contour of black paint. Wouldn’t be surprised if the check engine light fuse had been disconnected.

What I Took From this Job

I learned that a lot car owners treat automotive care like doing laundry. Waiting until the last pair of two-day old socks before loading up the washing machine. They care more about the price instead of what is better for their car because, “who cares it’s just a lease”, and they’ll be in a new car within 3-5 years. You can learn a lot about a person by how they treat their ride.

Also, I was surprised at how many people in South Texas drive around with open containers as if it was no big deal. Climbing in and out of car-interiors all summer, I lost count how many half-drank beer bottles I saw in cup holders. Not sure if that’s a Lone Star thing, or its just a common norm in the whole country. Overall, it was a fun job where I learned certain things I still use today.

If you have a story related to this, please feel free to tell me about it. I love a good story! – J.R. Garcia