Planes, Trains And Automobiles

He's no wild and crazy guy, but that's not what you want in car repair, now is it?

His name is Steve Martin and he's heard them all. In the past 25 years, not one original remark. No, he's not wild and crazy. No, he doesn't get small. And while it's probably reasonable to assume that he likes large American breasts, it's really none of our business, now is it?

Did he ever consider changing his name? "Why should I? I was Steve Martin before that other guy became famous. Besides, if it helps people remember my name, more the better."

Steve has one of those jobs that most people just know they wouldn't be able to handle. You know--neurosurgeon, bomb disposal, telling people which repairs their cars need. Steve works at Dobbs Honda in the Tucson Auto Mall. That isn't a plug; I just didn't want to go the rest of the column referring to "the Honda place that isn't Beaudry's."

I drive Hondas because they run until they stop running and that's usually a long time. Then I go get another one. Some people think I drive Hondas because I write for the Weekly and it's all I can afford. Not true. Even if I was making what that guy at the Star makes, I'd still buy a Honda, only it would have a radio in it.

I get my service stuff done at Dobbs partly because of my in-laws. I married for love, but I couldn't help but notice that she had a large family. But then all of her siblings went to college, got degrees and became engineers, teachers and nurses. Not one of them had the decency to become a mechanic. The three greatest relatives anyone can have are a mechanic, a lawyer and somebody who's got the hook-up at a sporting goods store.

So, without a blood tie, I had to search around for someone I could trust. I met those Israeli guys--Eric and Shalom--back when they opened their first Brake Masters on Columbus and Grant. Now, those guys I trust completely. But Brake Masters only does certain things, so you have to find somebody else to take care of the rest of the junk that you're sure to screw up sooner or later.

(I have no doubt that there are dozens of competent, trustworthy and honest mechanics in this town, but it's like going on some really horrible blind date based on the recommendation of a mutual acquaintance. If it doesn't work out, it leaves one financially drained and emotionally scarred. It's like once bitten, nine times shy. Honest to God, the last independent mechanic I dealt with tried to involve me in an illegal scheme.)

Also, when you need to get your car fixed, everybody's got an opinion. They all "know this guy." The only thing they're 100 percent unanimous about is that you shouldn't take the car to the dealership. "Don't do it," they warn you. "Those people will milk you for all you're worth." Well, since I'm not worth very much, I figure, let 'em milk away.

I've known Steve for several years now, and he seems very honest and decent. I'm sure that it's none of my business that he's having a custom home built on a bluff overlooking the Ventana Canyon Resort. He always tells you what you need and if you choose not to have it done, at least he has it on file that he warned you that your timing belt with 150,000 miles on it was going to snap like a twig. And when it does and you have to get towed back in, he tries his best not to be smug about it. There's not much more that you could ask from a guy in his position.

Anyway, I had to get something done the other day, so Steve and I sat around and talked while the mechanic (who apparently gets more per hour than a plumber!) worked on my car. Actually, he sat and I tried to get comfortable in this stool-like contraption where, if you sit in the seat, your legs don't reach the floor. You end up either sitting atop the thing like a third-grader on detention or doing this half-sit/half-stand thing where you just pray that you don't have a hole in the back of your pants. The things were obviously designed by a Nazi psychologist to get you to sign the estimate so you can go back to standing up.

I asked him who the worst customers are. He delicately mentioned that he gets his share of know-it-alls who want to argue about everything, but the worst are the ones who try to pull scams.

"This one woman brought her car in to get fixed. The next day, she comes back and there's a dent in the front bumper. She says that we did it. I took my finger and rubbed the dent and a good quarter-inch worth of dirt came off. The dent had to have been there for weeks, if not months. I told her that she couldn't have picked up that much dirt in a day if she had driven through the Sahara."

As we spoke, a couple mechanics and another service guy gathered around. I asked the group to tell me who, in general, is hardest on cars. The consensus is that, for whatever reason, teen-age girls are worst on brakes, teen-agers in general are toughest on clutches, but those who are worst overall are the so-called Gen-Xers.

"You know," Steve explains, "Baby Boomers grew up taking care of their cars, doing general maintenance. But the group between 25-35 just tends to drive them into the ground. It's like they don't understand that a car is a machine and machines wear out, even with the best of care."

When my car came, I turned to Steve and asked, "So, when you did that dirt thing with that one customer, did you use your Bowfinger?"

He looked at me like I had sneezed on his shirt. As I walked away, defeated, he sat back down, put that fake arrow thing on his head and got back to work.

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