The young man let out a long, low hum, and ended it with a grunt.
That’s not a good sign when the man is a mechanic and he’s looking under your hood.
It’s an even worse sign when you’re 200 miles from home.
“We don’t have that part in stock, I’m sure.” He stated firmly, “and I’m not sure where we can find it.”
Again, not good news.
Having grown up around auto and tractor repair, though, I learned at an early age that few people around a repair shop earn more respect than a “parts man.”
Show a good parts man just the broken end of a rusty thing-a-ma-bob and the best ones can tell you what year and model it came from and why that particular one is slightly different from thing-a-ma-bobs from the year before and after.
With that said, he will usually make a half-turn, reach back up over his head, without looking, and place a shiny new version in your hand and tell you the price without looking it up.
Parts men keep those huge volumes spread open on the counter in front of them, I learned long ago, just to remind the boss of how much knowledge they keep in their head.
Parts men are smart, valuable people.
I met one once in Griffin. His name was Todd and he worked at Coates Foreign Car Parts and Service.
Although the mechanic was right, Todd didn’t have the “diesel fuel injector line” I needed in stock, that didn’t stop him from searching half of Atlanta for it — unsuccessfully.
It’s at this point that most folks will give you a shake of their head, a shrug and say: “Sorry, pal, looks like you’re going to have to take your problem elsewhere.”
Todd came out from behind the parts counter and stuck his head under my car’s hood. He leaned against the fender a moment, rubbed his chin and finally said:
“This requires us to think. If we think hard enough, we can figure something out here to help you get home.”
I hated to tell Todd that all my thoughts concerning the inner workings of a car were pretty much used up once I tugged on the hood latch.
With a mumbled “let me try something a minute,” Todd wandered off back into the garage area. He was a busy man and, despite constant pagings over the shop intercom and being interrupted to man the parts counter, Todd managed to jury-rig about three different kinds of fuel lines into one Rube Goldberg-looking contraption that, although it wasn’t sleek and pretty, it fed the fuel to the engine just dandy and got us all 200 miles back home without a hitch!
I don’t know how much Todd gets paid, but it ain’t enough. Parts men are valuable people.
Robert M. Williams Jr. is an Effingham native and publisher of several Georgia weekly newspapers. His commentaries can also be heard on Georgia Public Radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.