2 February 2016

Real struggles in real garages, hold the sugar-coating

Let’s face it: Not everyone has a warm, cozy shop with plenty of work space and storage. There are those of us out there who regularly dream of the day that we’ll finally own a full-fledged shop with a furnace, plumbing and perhaps even a drainage system. And a plasma cutter, hydraulic press and a lift — oh, the epitome of my dreams, a lift!

Well, at least we can all take comfort in knowing that we are not alone; thousands of dedicated gearheads get by with a tiny garage or even just a driveway. And cheers to the diehards in cold-weather climates who work on their vehicles in these less-than-desirable conditions year round. Hopefully you’ll find a little comic relief as you relate to my story — a typical January evening in Northern Michigan in my two-car (one-car, when stuffed with tools) garage…

Finally, after a long day at work I was ready to head out into the garage, my completed hot rod project fantasy rippling through my mind. As I bundled up in a hoodie and my favorite black Carhartt jacket, I opened the creaky door to the garage and flipped the light switch. In response, a slow flicker echoed through the darkness. A rush of cold blasted my face as I closed the door behind me and reached to turn on the small gas-powered heater. The lights eventually leveled at a constant fast flicker.

I squeezed between the back wall and the rear end of my 1952 Ford Crestline Victoria to spend the first 10 minutes searching for the extra-small flathead screwdriver needed to remove the interior trim securing the headliner. Once I found it hiding in my red, beaten-up tool chest’s depths, the screws came off easily, but the trim was fused on. After returning to the tool box’s abyss and spending what seemed like another 10 minutes looking for the single bright blue trim removing tool, I was able to gingerly pry the trim away from the rotting headliner and carefully climbed to the top of a 6-foot ladder in order to store it safely on an upper shelf.

With safety glasses positioned, I crawled back into the Ford, squeezing through the narrow doorway, which was doomed to always be more closed than opened due to the wall being only a foot away. As I tugged at the edges of the headliner with my gloved hands, the fabric seemed to disintegrate. Eventually I found its stronger points and ripped it down in one large chunk as a cloud of dark grey dust and lumps of mouse feces-caked nesting material rained down on me. I exited the giant putrid nest and decided that while waiting for the toxic dust to settle (as to avoid a massive allergy attack), I would continue grinding the last night’s rear fender repair welds.

“Where’s that darn angle grinder?” I asked myself. I looked around the Ford where I was using it the night before, but of course it wasn’t there. Maybe it was on top of the tool chest — nope. After searching a few more minutes, then getting distracted by other things (like uninstalling what remained of the dashboard, which in turn caused another (shorter) search for a Phillips screwdriver and more trips up-and-down the ladder to store the remnants), I finally found the grinder right where it belonged in the first place, in the old repurposed filing cabinet drawer, of course.

After spending an extensive amount of time with no choice other than to maintain a full squat while grinding, I was finally able to stand for the last small portion. Suddenly, I found myself at an odd angle and the grinder kicked back, cutting into my inner thigh before I could let go of the safety switch. With a defeated sigh, and perhaps after a few expletives deleted, I made sure that first, everything else down there was unharmed, and second, that the cut would stop bleeding on its own, then I continued grinding down the remaining welds.

I was tired, dirty and extra sore from the excessive amount of yoga and tai-chi moves needed to work in the tight space between the car and the shelves sticking out of the wall at perfect concussion height. Out of the corner of my weeping, allergy-fogged eyes I saw a welcoming stool directly behind me. In an effort to relieve my legs for just a moment, I leaned my weight onto my gloved hand, and the split second of relief for my leg muscles came and went just as quickly as the burning pain searing through my glove. I leapt away, ripped the glove off, and threw it on the ground in disgust beside the space heater that now smelled of burned rubber, and maybe a little skin.

With my soul broken, sinuses clogged and blood drained, I decided that tomorrow was another day. After another 30 minutes spent looking for and storing all of the tools, I swept up the scattered remains of the moldy headliner and rodent feces. On my way back inside, I turned off the heater, pausing to scowl at the permanent black rubber handprint pressed neatly on its surface, and then I gave the freezing florescent lights a rest while I limped back inside for a stiff drink, a shower, some bandages and burn cream, and a good night’s sleep in anticipation of the next day’s progress. The completed hot rod dream endures.

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