Thursday, March 12, 2009

An evenings story, to replace the days story

This evening I was to teach class, but instead came home a little under the weather. Rather than bore anyone (again) with how my day went, I'll reach back in the past and pull up a nugget. Here's a tale from a few years ago, and I hope it lends a chuckle.

A car tech's story:

Many years ago, in a former life, I picked up a job as head tech in a small shop. The place was in St. Petersburg, Florida, and was owned by a Palestinian
immigrant named 'Sam'. His real name was unusual to an American and it took me days to learn to say it correctly. Once I got it down pat, he beamed at me and said "YES! That's my name! Do you like it?". I said "NO! It's a pain in the butt! I'll just call you Sam like everyone else!"

Getting to the Renault part of this story..... when I began working for Sam, I noticed a Renault out behind the shop, all lonely like. Now, the general public may not know this, but car repair shops sometimes collect unusual cars for unusual reasons. They break down and the owner can't, or won't, fix them. Sometimes parts are impossible to find. Sometimes it's just the wrong phase of the moon. When this happens the car can become a 'lot lump' and just sit there.

This Renault had a story. Sam knew it,and somebody who owned the car knew it. The person who did not know it, and did not want to know it, was me. There were enough Renault stories haunting my nightmares, and one more was not welcome.

This car sat back there a year, and I was quite happy to leave that bear in his cave. Until.... Sam called me to his office.....

"There is a Renault out back.. I just bought it......."

I knew what was coming. I stuck my fingers in my ears and started singing my favorite opera, and I HATE opera. La LAALAA Oh LAAlooo LOOOO lAAA..... He literally had to pull my fingers from my ears and wave money to make me pay attention.

The story: The car had been towed in several years before. It had overheated and lost a head gasket, but not before it had tossed a timing belt and bent most of the valves. At the time, the engine was taken apart for diagnosis and estimate. The owner of the car, when given the estimate, had fainted dead away, only to wake up cursing in French, a language he swore he never knew before that moment.

The guy went away and the car.... just...... sat....... there.

Until the day Sam called me to the office.

Sam wanted me to put it back together and make it run.
BWAHAHAHAHAHahahahah......... BWAHAHAHAHAHahahaha......

I lost my breath for a while. What Sam was asking for was a miracle.
Not only are Renaults hard enough to work on, as they generally break faster than anyone can repair them, but this one had been taken apart years before and left in pieces. That's a possible death blow to even a good car, let alone this Franco boat anchor.

Sam was serious. He had just bought the car for scrap value, and wanted me to put it together so he could make a serious profit. Sam was serious about money. He paid me serious cash every week, and we never joked about money. Seriously.

Ok.... I said to myself: "Self, you have to blow Sam off this idea he's going to make money or he will never let this go".

Out back we went, to look over the Renault. Parts in boxes, parts on the seats, parts under the hood, milk cartons full of bolts....... "Gulp....."
"Sam, it needs the head rebuilt at the machine shop. It needs all the exhaust valves replaced. It needs a head gasket set. It needs a timing belt. It needs a serpentine belt because it's missing. It needs oil, filters, plugs, and wires. It needs a thermostat. It needs........"

Sam: "I already have that stuff on the way and the machine shop will have the head back on Monday".


Me: "Ok.... Sam.... I didn't take it apart. It's a 1.7 liter engine and we have no documentation on it. It's a night mare from the word go and will take me days to put together. I'll have to figure everything out as I go, and.... I'll do it for three times book" (that means three times whatever the labor book says the job should pay).

Sam: "DONE!" without a blink.

DOUBLE MERDE! He was ready for that. I should have said five times book.

It took me one day to make it run. (There was a time when I was really, really, good at this stuff).

Now, I told you all this stuff just so I could tell you this last part, which is classic Renault.

Remember when I said the serpentine belt was missing, and I hadn't taken it off? Well.... it took me one day to make the car run, and run sweet. It took me another half a day to put on the belt, and that should have taken five minutes.

No matter what I tried, the belt would not fit right. A serpentine belt is called that because one belt 'snakes' around all the pulleys. In this case, it was seven pulleys in a very tight space. No matter how I put the belt on, it would not fit.... and there was no book to look this car up in. I ordered a new belt, figuring the one I had must be wrong. No soap. I mapped all the pulleys, including which way they had to turn, in reference to the ribs on the belt, and tried the belt in the only two possible ways it could possibly fit.

I...... TRIED....... EVERYTHING....... and it beat me senseless.

By lunch time I was looking at my tool boxes wondering how hard it would be to just move them back home and quit. I went to lunch completely defeated.

Over an adult beverage with lunch.... I talked to myself. It wasn't pretty, and other people moved away. Far away. Some left the restaurant altogether. It really was not pretty....... Till it hit me.

Like a ton of great big buttery French bricks, it HIT ME. I was going about it all wrong! I was approaching it all WRONG! This was a RENAULT!!

I should not have been figureing out the best way to put the belt on.

I should have been thinking of the STUPIDEST WAY TO PUT THE BELT ON!!

I tossed a twenty next to my plate and left my uneaten lunch behind. Racing back to work, I pictured in my head the most ignorant, stupid, utterly impossible way to put that Renault belt on that ignorant, impossible French engine.

Five minutes after I drove my car into the next bay, (jumped out, leaving my car running) ...... I had the belt on the Renault and I was leaving on a test drive.

The car was finished. I was done.... and I WON!!

Then.. Sam.. sold.. the.. car.. to.. our.. office.. girl.......

It was never going to leave.

%$#@!$% Renault.


derrick38 said...

Love it! Just found your site. Now you're a must read. I'm a bike mechanic, and I can completely relate that anything French designed is atrociously designed. Thanks for linking anotherairgunblog, too. Derrick

Bryn, North Wales, UK said...

I agree that French cars can be a little..... idiosyncratic.... perhaps even eccentric....
I currently own & drive my fourth Citroen Xantia; fortunately I have a partly-tamed & only slightly psychotic Citroen mechanic as a friend...... :-)