Saturday, June 18, 2011

Epilogue: Grow Some

There is a sixth sense in every human being, a sense of intuition that no rules of physics can fathom. It is the innate conception of one's own life path, of one's own direction. This is the big lesson I derived from this trip, which I had the opportunity to apply in a dark, twisted instant of panic.

The decision of quitting the instability of my current shop was inevitable, so I soon started a search for automobile restorers in the San Francisco area. Phone call after phone call, I got denial after denial. No one is hiring anyone, some are even downsizing; from big muscle car shops to air-cooled Volkswagen specialists, not to mention every old Mercedes diesel shop I could find on Google maps in the East, West, North and South sides of the Bay.

Almost at the verge of giving up and moving to a decision between doing media work exclusively or moving down to Los Angeles (Bodie Stroud Hot Rods had a secretary position available), I scratched my eyes in discomfort, and, as soon as I focused my vision back to my computer, I found a modest, understated offer on the CraigsList directory I had been browsing. It was a shop in Cloverdale, specializing in 60's and 70's cars, with an impressive array of equipment and techniques. Their name was West Coast Auto Craft.

Escaping boredom, curious about the Northern part of Sonoma county, I drove up for about one hour to visit the shop. Unfortunately, Garmin did not identify the street, given that the industrial complex was relatively new. I asked in the local NAPA store, where they very kindly gave me a map. Now, with clear directions on where it was, I had lunch in a local burger drive-in, Pick's; rather mediocre, run-down and overpriced. A very talkative lady sat next to me.

Her: "How are we doing today, sir?"
Me: "Not bad... how are you?"
Her: "Meh, trying not to kill myself"

The conversation that followed got even stranger. I started thinking that Cloverdale could be one of those strange little towns in Meth territory.

Her: "How's the burguer?"
Me: "It's okay. Bacon is quite good, actually"
Her: "Ah. I do not like meat. I am very picky"
Me: "Really? How so?"
Her: "When I was in jail I could barely eat anything!"
Me: (Gosh, why me? Please do not kill me)
Her: "I was so picky, I lost ten pounds in ten days!"
Me: "I guess no magazine diet can beat that!"

The conversation kept rolling, but, despite her awkwardness and my garbled accent, I managed to understand that she had high-functioning autism and was very, very lonely. Looking meditative at the 10-year old behind the counter, she murmured to herself how she would like to make someone happy. We kept chatting about life, about travel and society, and then went out on our respective ways.

The shop was small, but full of talent and machinery. Lots of gorgeous cars, mostly American. Chris, the owner, gave me a short tour and invited me to start the internship as soon as I pleased. I would be hired in a matter of two months or so, after this trial period. Fine by me, as long as the US government is cool with me doing film there!

The next day I woke up, and put on the T-Shirt that Hogweed had made. I drove to Cloverdale once again, and slowly met each of the members of the shop. We pushed a few cars out of the way and got to work. That day I stripped some paint our of an old Camaro SS, and learned to thread glass, which –with all modesty– I nailed in a '39 Chevy. Pretty cool, but still missing the Metric system and the three-pointed star. At that point I had nothing to lose, so I decided to skip Friday to keep looking for Mercedes shops. In the 190SL forum I found an obscure one that seemed to have very good reviews in Yelp. The choice would be between that one, or WCAC in Cloverdale. So be it.

The next day I crossed the Golden Gate. Something magical happens every time I go through; all the dreams of the Promised Land swell and push in my chest. I was there, San Francisco: the Victorians, the trolleys, Harvey Milk, the Pacific Ocean, the steep hills, Chinatown, the heritage of the sixties... in short, a beautiful city where people speak up for what they believe in. Now it was time to see if I could really work on a job I could love in its entirety, every day, every week, every year.

I pulled behind a gas station and started seeing Mercedes. They had diesels! Good points on my book. I kept moving towards the main door, little by little. A W108 280SE sedan. A run-down 190SL. Pretty cool. And then, next to it, I find a shiny, pristine Mercedes SLR transporter, one of the very few to leave Stuttgart, right there, in sunny California, in front of me, in the open air. Now, these are major words.

I walk through the door. Bada-bing! A 300SL gullwing, with shelves of 190SL's and a 600 SWB Limousine in the background. Four men in uniforms were ceremonially huddled in the center of the shop.

"Excuse me"
"Uh... Um... To make a long story short, I love Mercedes. I can tinker on them, but I really want to know them inside out, how to... work on them. Could I talk to your manager?"

The shortest in the crowd pointed at a man of solemn expression.

"What can you do?"
"Not much. But I am eager to learn. I have other skills I can offer the shop, like video and website building!"
"What would you expect for pay?"
"I do not know. I am fresh off school"

Yes, big mistake to be so honest. But somehow, he pointed back at the shorter man. He was born in Chile, so we discussed the terms in Spanish. The shop's apprentice was going to go to school in August, leaving a vacant position. I was told I should not have high expectations on doing great jobs, because I just did not have the skill; and that I should be perfectly complacent with the smallest of tasks, but still eager to learn.

And boy, I was.

"Wanna start on July 1st? You can stop by the shop earlier if you want"
"Thank you very much!"
"Are you new in the area?"
"I came here a week ago. Currently I am staying in Petaluma"
"Avoid Half Moon Bay and La Honda, too far, and much traffic. San Mateo is cheaper than Burlingame. Stay away from the railroad tracks, but if it is at the side of the mountain, you are fine."

We shook hands a couple times, and I left with the widest, most beaming grin I have had in my entire life. My dreams of learning from a true European immigrant (not quite German, my solemn boss is Swiss) who owned a Mercedes restoration shop in the Bay Area was now a reality. And it happened because I had the relentless faith and perseverance in finding it, no giving up to hopelessness or content; always fueled by the passion for doing what I love for a profession, to the thought of waking every morning to a day I will enjoy in its entirety.

If you have read this far, this is the lesson that –at least– I would like to leave in print, hovering over the net. Do what you like! Do what you are passionate about, what you can provide more to than your time –your soul, yourself–; make it into an art, make it your life, find something that gives meaning to your efforts. Fashion yourself into your greatest masterpiece, because you are your best accomplishment. And do not be afraid of change. I am a filmmaker... but I would have never felt complete if I did not start learning about how things are put together, especially the vehicles for my travels. Be the modern Renaissance Man/Woman, be well rounded. Carry other people's legacy and knowledge with pride, do not let ancient skills die, and, most importantly, make sure to walk happy out of this world when the day comes.

1 comment:

  1. Rock on, Miguel. I didn't read/understand much of the car talk but it seems like you are finding yourself and enjoying life. AWESOOOOME. I felt you were lost the past year and I'm happy for you.

    Still continuing my dreams. I'm thinking of starting a studio when I graduate. I need a producer. Have the car people completely stolen you away?