Twenty years ago, I dated a car mechanic who got tired of me asking questions that led to servicing my car at girlfriend rates.
“What should I do when the check engine light on the dashboard comes on?” I remember asking, trying to decipher the code that guys seemed to understand innately.
I wanted to figure out whether I had a real issue or if I was witnessing a ploy to keep dealer shops in business?
“You know what you need to do?” he asked rhetorically, “Cover that light on the dash with electrical tape.”
Out of sight. Out of mind. Right? We both laughed.
I’ve been thinking about this exchange a lot this week. My car’s tire pressure light went on a few days ago, just a couple weeks after I had the oil changed and other routine maintenance tasks performed.
I was in the habit of checking tire pressure when I was about to take a road trip but didn’t think about doing this regularly. The car wasn’t pulling to one side or the other, but it seemed that the light was coming on every few weeks.
Fewer gas stations seem to be equipped with air pumps these days, so my approach was to drive in to a Jiffy Lube, explain that I didn’t want to get an oil change, but I needed to have my tires checked.
I offered to pay. I don’t think of myself as the princess type, but I didn’t want to add air myself.
No one from a quick lube place ever took my money, although I had to pull my car into one of the queues and wait my turn.
I recall pulling into a Jiffy Lube for air last August in Michigan City while I was visiting friends at their cottage. I got the air in my tires topped off when I had my annual winter inspection around my birthday in November. I probably visited three different Jiffy Lube locations for air since the new year.
I think I deliberately avoided going to the same one twice, begging for air, as if they’d remember me. I was not a paying customer and felt guilty that I was slowing down their operations.
When I took my car to my mechanic earlier in the month, I asked to have the tires checked to explore the problem; why the air pressure alert on the dash lit up so often. I was told to come back when the light went on again,
Only six days later, I brought my Toyota back to Eliot’s Complete Auto Care, bought myself an iced tea at a nearby Starbucks and returned when I got a text notifying me that the car was ready.
Eliot seemed to be proud of his work. He showed me a slightly rusted, relatively straight nail, announcing. “It was hard to find. It was very deep.”
So that was the culprit, I pondered. It seemed innocuous enough. I had a slow leak. And while I suppose I wasn’t in imminent danger driving about town, there was something that needed attention and repair.
All sorts of reasons to be grateful came up.
Yes, I was happy that cars, among other things, are designed to send alerts when something is not right and needs to be checked.
I was grateful that it wasn’t hard to find quick lube places everywhere, and that getting my tires topped off with air until I could have things inspected more thoroughly was basically free.
I was grateful that I paid attention to how the car drove, to warning lights, to the diminishing time between short-term fixes and such.
I was glad that I was able to identify someone with the right expertise and patience to uncover the source of the problem and patch the tire.
Sometimes, the solution to a problem becomes obvious in a sort of revelatory moment. Sometimes, patience, is required. A puzzle often comes into focus in layers.
I’m grateful that I didn’t treat the problem as an emergency but didn’t ignore it either. It’s easy to get numb to a minor imperfection or nagging irritation that you have gotten used to living with.
Most of us have gotten used to acting in reaction to something that seems critical and often do not give much time to deliberate gestures.
Giving attention to what’s important — not just to what seems urgent — is no small thing.
Re-printed with permission.