Mechanic Culture Shock
When you go to another country with their own set of values and way of doing things, you soon find yourself making comparisons to your own surroundings, and how much things are different than you’re used to. Being there yourself you’ll see things the way they really are, and not how the evening news or the documentary channels portrays it. Recently my wife and I took some time off for a trip to Mexico. We enjoyed the beautiful ocean breezes, the spectacular palms and other tropical vegetation. We spent the days lounging around the pool, and then watched the beautiful sunsets every night at a little cabana café while sipping on the local brew. Even though we had other reasons for being there, and work wasn’t one of them, I still was interested in checking out how the local mechanic operated.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico thrives on tourism. Large ocean cruise ships dock near the downtown area daily. Taxis are waiting everywhere to take the tourist to all the hot spots in town. Cars zoom past each other on the main thoroughfare with just inches to spare. (You can always tell who’s the new arrivals are by the death grip they’ll have on the back of the seat in the taxi.) After a while though, you get pretty used to the zipping between cars and the sudden lane changes or the odd stop light arrangements, just sit back and enjoy the views.
On one of our hair raising taxi adventures the driver asked, “Donde es usted?” (Where are you from?) and then he asked, “A que se dedica?” (What do you do for a living?). I told him where I was from, and that I was a mechanic. He replied in perfect English, “Are you a good one?” (Wouldn’t ya know it, I go miles and miles from home and ya still get the same responses when you tell someone you’re a mechanic.) Apparently, good mechanics are hard to find everywhere, Mexico included.
One morning we decided to take in some of the local sites, but we also wanted to see some of the local areas that generally are off the usual tourist spots. We found an understanding taxi driver who spoke very good English who understood what we wanted. I told him that I was interested in seeing a few mechanic shops as well. Not a problem, since his uncle owned a small shop here in PV.
We drove by a few new car dealers on the main street areas where all the service bays are open air; you could see every inch of floor space, the lifts, tools, etc... The floors, walls, and the mechanics were spotless. Our taxi driver said that he doesn’t get his vehicles fixed at the dealer, because they were so much higher than the local independent shops. (Sounds familiar doesn’t it.) He went on to tell me that most locals don’t go to the dealer either. It’s just too expensive for them.
Very few independent shops are visible from the main thoroughfare, so it was time to venture into the local scenes. As we turned off the neatly hand laid brick main streets, we soon reached the uneven and bumpy cobblestone roads that are common throughout this part of the world. These are teeth jarring, bone rattling, and suspension beating roads that require the dexterity of a surgeon to navigate them without bouncing your passengers around like rag dolls. Our driver definitely was up to the task. Formula one speed when needed, and then back to tiptoeing around like a butterfly with sore feet. Amazing driving skills to say the least.
The streets twist and turn or gain attitude so quickly you think the cab is getting ready to launch into space sometimes, and without any type of emission standards in place the fumes in certain areas, or in the two main tunnels in town can be a bit much for someone not used to it. There’s not a lot of room for error with the streets so narrow but with a soft toot on the horn or a simple wave, a non-spoken language is communicated between drivers and they all manage to avoid tangling bumpers. (amazing…)
Most of the independent shops were dirt floor, with one or two lifts. Parking is hard to come by because every available space is used, front parking is rare and you can forget about anything you might call a waiting area … it just doesn’t exist. Part stores aren’t big or elaborate either. They are very small, and I mean small! Parts are hard to come by, so a lot of mechanics spend hours repairing the original parts as best as possible. (Try that in the states.) From what I was told, every effort is made to repair things (no matter what it takes), rather than to replace parts. A carburetor that would be considered unbuildable in the states is nothing for the crafty Mexican mechanic. They’ll tinker on the thing for days or weeks if needed, just to get it to work again. Our taxi driver said it is very rare that anyone ever gets upset that it takes so long to get their car repaired. “It’s just the way things are here,” he said.
Scanners and modern tools are not very common place; if possible, electrical related problems are generally pushed off to the side, while more effort is concentrated on getting the cars running and rolling again. There are a lot of electrical repair shops, though. They’ll spend the time to change a single bearing out of an alternator and put it back together, even if the brushes and other components are barely reusable… but being still usable, means they still work. Nothing is wasted.
The whole atmosphere of the shops and the customers is more of a carefree attitude, and not so much the hustle and bustle like in the states. (OK, except for when they’re behind the wheel of a car… yikes watch out then.) And after spending the day driving around observing the work habits and conditions these shops owners and mechanics go through on a daily basis it got me to thinking. “What was more important today, the car or the customer?” Now if I have to explain that one to you… you definitely need a vacation.
This attitude goes both ways; from the customer’s anticipation of getting their car repaired to the mechanic trying to make the repairs, our hurried society puts a lot of pressure on solving things quickly and efficiently just so we can all stay on that fast paced life style we seemed to have become accustomed too. Here in the USA it seems to me that if we stopped long enough to see the fading sunset, or took a moment to witness the last rays of sunlight to disappear, the second after it disappears over the horizon somebody will be in a hurry to go somewhere else and ruin the moment.
Yea, it was a culture shock to see how the other side of the world handles auto repair… but, after a few cervezas, a few more of those beautiful sunsets, I think I could get used to the local pace and learn how to slow down and enjoy life too.