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Lessons From The Institute of Hardknocks: First Car

Served in the U.S. Army, attended and graduated from The University of Texas-Arlington with a bachelors in psychology and minor in sociology


In the beginning

I've decided to initiate a series regarding life lessons I had the privilege of learning under the tutelage of my father. It's my hope that you will read, understand, and reflect on your own childhoods. Maybe call your parents and let them know they weren't so terrible after all. A tear...

My father was a career soldier. He was a cavalry scout and a drill sergeant. WAIT, IT GETS BETTER. He was also a stereotypical overbearing Mexican dad. In teaching his life lessons, if his kids lost their life while refusing to listen, it was OK. He would have used it as a valuable teaching tool for my surviving brother and sisters: "Augustine didn't want to empty the dishwasher either, NOW HE'S DEAD."


He was forever ashamed and annoyed of me because I was a Mexicant. Allow me to share....
According to my father, it was our genetic birthright to become Mexican engineers. A Mexican engineer is someone of Mexican or Hispanic descent that can make anything with their hands and feet from ANY INANIMATE OBJECT. Got a piece of tinfoil and a mirror? Hello satellite dish. Have some worn out curtains and sewing thread? Hello back to school clothes. Don't even get me started on what can be made from chicken wire and masking tape...

My father was in awe of auto mechanics. He was impressed of their ability to take pieces of junk, and turn them into working pieces of junk. Unfortunately, my dad was not much better than a chimpanzee in manipulating hand tools. Didn't stop him from trying to be a mechanic, or from forcing us to learn.
Before we could even consider getting a car, we had to learn how to fix it. According to my father, if you wanted a car, you better learn how to fix it. And so began my journey into the underworld of shade tree mechanics.


While stationed in West Germany during the year of our Lord 19 and 87, my dad and his friends got an epiphany. If they found junk cars, they could fix them and sell them to soldiers who wanted a ride. Never mind that Europe has the best network of trains and railways, and let's not talk about the the cheap taxi network that is the stuff of legends. No. Americans need their own car so that they can drive 4 blocks to the commissary, go 85 miles per hour on the 180mph autobahn. OH, and a mobile bedroom so that soldiers wouldn't have to sneak German women into the barracks. Best part, these cars can't be imported back the US because of emissions standards, so they would have to sell the cars before going back to the states. A renewable revenue source.


My brother and I started our unpaid internship in the base auto shop. There were free garages on base where soldiers can have access to tools and car lifts. My dad and his friends would get cars, spend a little time to fix them, and sell them. If I was told to get tools, parts, or cigarettes, I would have to jump and go. My brother was responsible for opening and closing toolboxes since he was younger. We hated it. We soon discovered however, a way to get out of working on cars. When my dad asked for a wrench, I gave him a hammer. When he sent me to buy cigarettes with my ration card for his friends, I would buy menthol instead of Marlboro's. When he needed me to engage the park brake so that a car wouldn't roll and potentially pin him against a wall, I released it. I mounted an anti-car repair insurgency. I even left an exhaust hose inside the garage while a car was running, causing it to be evacuated. Don't judge me...


It worked, and eventually my father got so mad that he started throwing tools at me like they were those Chinese throwing stars. I was banned from working on cars in front of his friends, however my brother was stuck opening and closing toolboxes. I hated to leave him on the battlefield, but he has since forgiven me. Only took 25 years...

My dad never was hugged as a child. So he never heard of kindness or positive reinforcement. Before I could drive, he made me buy a car he was selling. It was 1973 VW beetle, and it was a lemon; he sold me a junk car that would break down. Not many fathers would do that to their sons, but not many fathers were like my dad. It taught me a valuable lesson, NEVER TRUST FAMILY. He was determined to make me work on cars, even at the expense of my own life. On the plus side, ever since then I've been nicer to my brother and meaner to my dad.


So, in this shitty German death trap I learned how to drive. Of course, I could do nothing right. I couldn't even get in the car right, because the drivers side door wouldn't open. It was welded shut at the hinges. So when I got in the drivers seat, I had to be careful because if I didn't then I could accidentally sit on the stick shifter. The roof was shallow in the car, so if you clenched your butt cheeks in recoil after sitting on the shifter, you could knock yourself out. I was not going to be THAT GUY knocked out with a shifter in my ass, so I had to be careful.

My dad would sit next to me while driving, yelling at me like I was in basic training. He would swat my hands, shift the gears for me while I was driving, make me get out and leave me on the corner if I made him mad. For some reason I passed my driving test. I couldn't believe it either. While driving on the autobahn back home, I placed my feet on the floorboard, and they went through! The floor board fell away, I even lost my shoe. I had to rest my feet on the gas and clutch all the way home. I refused to fix it, and just avoided driving during rain so that my seat wouldn't get wet. When the engine fell out of it when I was trying to start the car in gear, my dad had enough. He took the car and junked it for parts, and I rode the train everywhere I needed to go.

To this day, I refuse to fix my own car. Moral of the story? This story has no morality...

© 2015 Augustine A Zavala