My friend, Albert, has a saying about equipment. 'Machines only stop twice, once on your schedule when you maintain it, and once on its schedule.' The latter is inevitably when you need it most.
I was reminded of this on Memorial Day, our shared day off, as we sat on the porch drinking a beer and staring at the John Deere gator. The immobile green hunk had been suffering for weeks. A bad starter. A bad solenoid. A bad something.
When it turned over, or didn’t as the case was, I chose the path that I often choose when moving too fast. I ignored it. Got a bigger hammer. And now here we sat, trying to relax on our day off, as it nagged us, needing to be repaired.
Fortunately, we’re both what you’d call “workers”. Neither of us can sit still for long and before you knew it we’d disassembled a few things and had a bucket full of washers, nuts and screws.
The gator project was my first real lesson in small engine repair. As bizarre as it sounds, this is something I’d been dreaming of for a long, long time.
There are few times in my life that I feel as helpless and frustrated as when a piece of equipment breaks leaving me stranded with no idea of what to do. ‘I’ve added gas,’ I say out loud. ‘I’ve added oil. What else do you want!?’
After fuming and fretting, the best solution I come up with is to call someone with a trailer, haul it to someone else who is going to charge me an ungodly sum of money to fix a thingy-ma-jig. Considering the life I’m currently living, this is a really dumb solution.
An hour or so into the lesson, somewhere between learning how to manipulate a socket wrench and learning to diagnose the problem by working through the list of symptoms, I started to laugh. This was so much fun!
I was learning more than small engine repair. Suddenly a whole world revealed itself. The communication between generations of fathers and sons, between best friends and buddies. We drank beer. We cursed when tools slipped off the bolts. We found each other’s rhythm and worked like operating room colleagues, anticipating what was needed next.
There was a beauty in that time spent under a shade tree with greasy fingers working on a shared problem.
Unfortunately, the big green hunk is still stranded in the front yard, blocking passage from the porch. This weekend I’ll use a car or a bike to make it up and down the driveway between the house and the stand. I’ll grouse at the gator, wishing it was magically fixed.
But a new starter will arrive in the next couple of days. And hopefully, when we both have a shared day off, lesson two will get under way.