Gonzo's Toolbox: Handling Temporary Helpers

Gonzo’s Toolbox: Handling Temporary Helpers

There are times when I find I have more helpers in the shop than I have on the payroll. I didn't ask for this extra help, but there they are, right in the middle of the shop. Who are they, and where did they come from? Ah, yes, it's those customers who want to keep an extra eye on their ride.

There are times when I find I have more helpers in the shop than I have on the payroll. I didn’t ask for this extra help, but there they are, right in the middle of the shop. Who are they, and where did they come from? Ah, yes, it’s those customers who want to keep an extra eye on their ride.

It’s pretty sneaky how they manage to get past the front desk, the waiting area, through the service door and then squeeze by the tire racks. For safety reasons, it’s best that customers stay in the waiting room. But some of these adventurous ­individuals are compelled to help me out, no matter what.

There are too many hoses, cords and dangerous types of equipment to be spending the afternoon in a place with which you are not familiar. A lot of times, an unsuspecting “helper” won’t notice that floor jack, or those sharp tools at the edge of the workbench. The possibility of encountering danger just doesn’t matter to some of these new helpers. They’ll still want to wander into the bay and “help” me out.

I can usually spot who’s going to be the next shop helper. All I have to do is pull their car into the shop. If there’s a fresh, icy drink in the cup holder, an open pack of cigarettes and lighter lying on the passenger seat, and a book or a laptop, there’s a good chance they’ll be popping their head around the corner.

“Do you mind if I get my drink out of the car?” my new shop helper will ask.

Well, I just can’t say no. Now, sometimes they’ll grab their drink and head right back to the waiting room. Other times, I’m not that lucky. It’s their perfect excuse to hang around the car.

Soon, the new shop helper is leaning over the fender with their ice-cold drink, watching the process of me figuring out what’s up with their ride.

At times, it’s rather ­interesting; at other times, it’s simply annoying. I can never tell until the conversation starts. If the first question is, “What do you think it is?” I know it’s going to be one of those days. Like most new helpers, they’re unaware of the dangers of posing such an inappropriate and pointless question at this point in time. I’d rather not guess at this stuff. If I’m wrong, the next thing you know is that I’m trying to explain why whatever I thought it was is “not the problem.” Thinking just gets me into trouble. It’s ­always best to verify, diagnose and then repair the problem.

“Let’s run some tests, and then we’ll know for sure,” I tell them. Some realize that they’re out of place and should probably stick to watching the ice in their drink melt. But, for others, it wouldn’t take much to have them reach over and pick up a wrench or two. They’ll lean on the A/C recovery machine while it’s running as if it’s an old-fashioned hitching post, or stick their head through the passenger window while I’m under a dash.

I have to keep from laughing as I watch their jumpy reactions to the recovery machines’ unexpected clicks and groans, while they stand there trying to act casual. And, no matter how clumsy they may look with all of their uncoordinated ­antics, they’re still going to keep a firm grip on that drink.

This little trip into the back of the shop isn’t so much to check up on their car, but a way to observe the process of diagnosing the problem. It’s as if it were some sort of ­exhibition. They’ll look high and low throughout the shop, take a few sips from their drink and then pay attention to what I’m doing to see how I determine what’s wrong.

The new help will concentrate on what I’m doing, so they can go home and tell their friends about some sort of crazy-looking machine, or detail a technique they watched me perform on their car.

I guess in another decade or two, I’ll be the old guy hanging around the next generation’s repair tech. There’s no doubt I’ll be that unwanted temporary helper telling stories about how I used to fix cars, too. Yep, that day is coming. I don’t know when, but it’s coming. Guess I better prepare. Now where did I put that ice-cold drink?

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