A cold chill pervaded the lunchroom, which I thought strange since we don’t have air conditioning. Tooner gnawed furiously on a chunk of beef jerky while Basil stared at a magazine, completely ignoring his triple chocolate donut.
“Alright, what’s eating you two?”
Tooner just growled. Basil put down his Tire Review and glared at me. “Slim, it’s Beanie. He’s become impossible to live with!”
“Yeah.” Tooner picked a piece of gristle from his teeth. “Ever since he got 98% on his tech school exam, he’s been too good for us!”
“So what’s wrong with feeling proud of your accomplishments?”
Basil slammed down a fist. “Being proud is one thing, but acting ornery and arrogant is quite another!” He glanced at Tooner. “Uh, no offense there, bud.”
“None taken.” Tooner poked a greasy finger at me. “Beanie did well, but he ain’t an experienced tech yet. He don’t even ask for help on a diagnosis anymore, and these days if ya don’t collaborate, ya run the risk of getting’ way off track.”
Tooner had a point; today’s modern vehicles contain more information than one man can digest. “Sorry, guys. I’ve been so busy up front that I haven’t noticed the change in Bean.” I opened up a soft drink. “Tell you what; I’ve got a special repair job waiting outside. Maybe we can use it to pull him back on the grid.”
I located our self-inflated technician and escorted him out to the parking lot. “This 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix has an annoying clunk when you turn the steering wheel back and forth.” I handed him the keys. “Don’t forget to check with Basil or Tooner if you need help.”
The Bean sniffed loudly. “The Jurassic Crew? Phooey. What do they know about a vehicle this new? Leave it to me, Slim I can handle it. Say, did I tell you about my 98%…?”
Quigley and I were in the front office when King Bean arrived to deliver his judgment. “The steering rack is shot, so I’ve ordered up a replacement.” He turned to go.
“Hold up,” I said. “How’d you come to that conclusion?”
He shrugged. “Easy. I checked out all the tie rod ends and ball joints; they’re nice and tight, as are the rack mounts. The clunk must be an internal rack problem probably a worn bushing or something.” He edged towards the door again.
“Wait! Did you get a second opinion?”
Beanie’s nostrils flared. “That’s a waste of time, Slim! Look, I don’t like ordering unnecessary parts any more than the next guy. What’s the matter; don’t you trust my work?” And with that he stomped out of the office.
Quigley was stunned. “Whoa! Are you gonna let him get away with that?!”
I hit the speed dial to Herkle’s Auto Parts. “No. And I know someone who can help.” I asked to speak to Samantha, Herk’s delivery girl and also Beanie’s girlfriend. “Sam,” I said, “I got a favor to ask…”
When she pulled up 30 minutes later, I just happened to be loitering by the bay door. I wasn’t going to miss this for the world.
Tossing her blond hair out of her eyes, Sam got out and reached into the back of the delivery truck for the rebuilt steering rack assembly. “Thanks for doing this, Sam,” I whispered as she went by. “I could just lower the boom on him, but…”
Sam’s blue eyes danced. “This will be fun! He’s needed an attitude adjustment for a while now.”
She located our errant apprentice slouched against his workbench, his head bobbing back and forth as he listened to his iPod. Reaching up and pulling out his ear buds, Sam began chatting as she handed over the part. Actually, Sam chatted; Beanie just listened with his mouth open.
After she left, Beanie dawdled around his bench for a while before shuffling over to where Basil and Tooner were working. “Uh, guys, I was just…I mean, before I install this rack…like, have you ever come across this problem before…?” Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead as his voice trailed off. Apparently, groveling is hard work.
Tooner spat into a garbage can. “About time, big shot.”
“Easy now we were all young once.” Basil turned to Beanie. “Confirming a diagnosis is wise. Like King Solomon once wrote, ‘there is safety in a multitude of counselors.’” He removed his spectacles and began to polish them with a soft cloth. “I believe you’ll find this clunking noise is a common complaint with these GM cars, as well as with GM trucks from around 1999 on up. Why don’t you check the online database?”
Beanie hoofed it over to the shop computer, relieved to be out from beneath Tooner’s withering glare. Before long he returned with a service bulletin in hand.
“Apparently it’s not a rack issue,” he admitted. “The problem is in the intermediate shaft between the steering column and the rack or steering box. The solution is to pull the shaft apart and lubricate it with a special grease from GM.” He sighed. “I guess I was premature in ordering up a new rack, huh?”
As I bit into my apple at afternoon coffee, I detected a much calmer atmosphere in the building. At least Tooner’s teeth weren’t grinding as he ate his sandwich.
“So Beanie, what made you finally ask for advice on that rack problem?”
Beanie grimaced. “It was Sam. She told me how lucky she was to be dating a guy who almost never returns a part because of a hasty diagnosis. Said she thinks guys who are ace troubleshooters are hot.”
Basil chuckled. “I’d say going from ‘Hot Shot’ to just being ‘Hot’ is a step in the right direction.”
“I guess.” He took a swig of his root beer. “What I can’t figure out is the timing. It’s like she knew I was about to blow it on that steering rack job.” He shook his head ruefully. “Man, she is one smart lady.”
I didn’t say anything. You see, like Beanie, I’ve learned two very important lessons in life: 1) Seek out good advice, and 2) Give all the credit to the ladies.
Do that and life will be a lot less clunky.
Rick Cogbill, a freelance writer and former shop owner in Summerland, B.C., has written The Car Side for a variety of trade magazines for the past 14 years. “A Fine Day for a Drive,” his first book based on the characters from this column, is now available for order at thecarside.com. A collection of his past The Car Side columns is also available at that website.