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A light pops up on the dashboard of my Ford Fusion. My stomach sinks to the floor.

“Check Oil.”

This isn’t an emergency, exactly—just a bit of a pickle. In our family, Jihong’s the oil changer. (I’m lucky if I can find the dipstick.) But he’s currently on a field expedition in the Arctic Circle. And, day after tomorrow, I’m set to leave on a weeks-long cross-country road trip.

The hour’s too late to get the car into a shop yet today. I’ll be lucky to even book a servicing for tomorrow, a Friday. Shop schedules are apt to be full.

I start dialing.

“Sorry . . .”

“Can’t help you . . .”

“Nope . . .”

My fourth call is to Ron’s Auto Repair. They can work me in. The price is reasonable.

“Have the car here by 7:30 in the morning,” the guy on the line says. “We’ll get it done by closing.”

I sigh with relief. But I’m also daunted by the thought of all the pre-trip errands I must do the next day. Instead of driving, I’ll be on my bike.

* * *

Friday morning breaks windy and cold, more like late October than mid-May. From the curb, Ron’s Auto Repair looks dark and deserted.

Thankfully the door opens when I push. Stepping inside the drab shop, I’m greeted by the commingled smells of old grease and oil and gas and dust. Nobody’s at the counter. There’s no silver bell to ring.

“Anybody around?” I say meekly into the gloom.

No response.

I peer through a doorway into the dimly lit repair bays, a mysterious inner sanctum where mechanic-priests prostrate themselves before the gods of engines and wheels, trying to redress all wrongs. (My younger brother belongs to the same Order of the Wrench. I’ve always been amazed by the wonders he can perform with his brain and hands.)

A middle-aged guy slouches out of the shadows. His name is embroidered in red on his blue work shirt.

“Good morning, Chuck!” I say, mustering some spirit. It isn’t easy. I haven’t had my coffee yet. “How you doing today?”

He rolls his eyes. “I hate Fridays.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“`Cause everybody wants their car done in time for the weekend, and I’ve got too many damn cars.

I grin. “I suppose `everybody’ includes me?”

He doesn’t smile. I doubt he’s had his coffee either.

“You need a courtesy ride home?” he says gruffly.

“No, it’s only a half-mile. I can hoof it.”

I thank him for squeezing my car into his schedule. Then, for the next few minutes, I stand at the counter yacking with him like he’s my kid brother, who enjoys shooting the breeze with his customers. I toss out a couple of friendly wisecracks. After a while, he starts lobbing them back.

Finally I head for the door. My hand’s on the grimy push bar when inspiration strikes.

“Hey,” I say, turning around to face Chuck, “you know how you hate Fridays because everybody wants their car done now?”


“Well . . . since I’ve buttered you up—” I grin again— “any chance you could get my car done by ten?”

He rolls his eyes again, this time in better humor.

“I know, I know,” I say, “that’s a really quick turnaround. But I have a ten o’clock appointment, and getting there will be quite a long haul on my bike—in this weather! Just thought I’d ask. No problem if you can’t.”

He mulls it over. “Tell you what . . . call me just before ten, and I’ll let you know if the car’s ready.”

* * *

Back at home, sipping my coffee, I hear rain begin to pelt against the windows. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I don’t want to bike around town in cold, windy drizzle.

I’ll have to get out my umbrella and walk to my 10:00 appointment. Which means departing the house much earlier than I’d intended. Which means calling Chuck much sooner than he’d said, in the faint hope he might have already serviced my car.

I hold off calling until 9:30. A nameless Holy Wrencher answers the phone.

“Hey, Chuck!” I hear the guy yell. “Lady wants to know if you got her oil changed. Silver Fusion.”

“Ready to go!” a voice bellows from the back of the shop.

* * *

Chuck’s making out my bill behind the counter. I praise him up and down for his quick help. “I can’t tell you what that means to me, especially on a day like today.”

“What d’ya mean?” he exclaims, punching numbers. “I love days like today!”

“Oh?” I say, my eyebrows shooting up. Hadn’t he just been griping about hating Fridays?

“I love it when it’s so cold back in the shop, I have to wear layers.” He tugs the sleeve of his navy-blue mechanic jacket, which now covers his sky-blue work shirt. “The air’s so brisk—I feel so alive . . .”

While completing the paperwork, he waxes lyrical about wrenching on such a day. He’s practically a poet.

What’s changed since 7:30? I ask myself, listening to his bright, happy words. Has he had ten cups of coffee?

“By the way,” he says, “I noticed you were out of windshield wiper fluid, so I filled that up. And I topped off the rest of your fluids, too.”

He lays my bill atop the counter. Even with all the extras, the total is $10 less than what he’d told me the serving would cost.

“Have a nice day,” he says with a grin.

“It is a fine day, isn’t it?” I give him a jolly wink. “Especially for a Friday?”

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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