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A Lesson in Coveralls

Many of my stories and life lessons involve my father.  Mainly due to the fact that he has had a profound impact on my approach to life and people in general.

Like most young couples after marriage, we were abundant with love but light on cash.  My father, a retired military officer, owned a couple of gas stations with auto repair services.  I would occasionally work on weekends to earn some extra money.  

My father, who worked in the defense contractor industry after military retirement, would occasionally relieve his mechanics from weekend duty and be the weekend mechanic at a gas station.  He grew up fixing cars with my grandfather and could fix anything mechanical.  When he was active duty military he would purchase a used car that needed mechanical work and rebuild the engine, resell it, and make some extra money.  Unfortunately, I did not absorb all that mechanical knowledge through my youth.  Besides being proficient in auto repair, he held two college degrees and multiple security clearances.

I don’t know that many people under the age of 30 realize the “convenience” portion of a gas station used to be a rack of stale Little Debbie cakes and a soda vending machine; and, that the majority of the square footage at the gas station was consumed by a mechanic’s garage.  Yes, you could actually pull in, get gas, get your oil changed, get your tires rotated all in a single spot; now that was convenience, not getting a Twinkie and Mountain Dew.

So here I was one fine fall Saturday in the mid 1980s organizing the parts room at the Eastwood Mall gas station.  My father was the mechanic on duty that day and as usual wore a one piece coverall so that he didn’t get his “nice” clothes dirty while working on the vehicles.  A gentleman driving a 1970’s era gas guzzler pulled in because he was having mechanical issues.  My father worked on the vehicle for several hours to get the vehicle in working order again.  And I am sure he didn’t charge near what the project involved.

I just happened to take some trash out when the vehicle owner showed up to retrieve his car.  I was standing off about 50 feet as my father proceeded to relay the fixes and deliver the news that it was probably time the gentleman consider getting a new or newer automobile before sinking more money into his current car.  I then watched as this man proceeded to curse my father out by telling him that he was a “shade tree mechanic that didn’t know what he was talking about.”  My father stood there quietly as the man vented and made personal accusations; all while not knowing he was the owner or that he knew more about engines than Henry Ford himself.  All the man saw was a “grease monkey” that was not his equal.

As I stood there and watched the scene unfold I remember thinking to myself “Sir, you have no idea who you are talking to.  The man you are addressing could run rings around you mentally.”  To this day I have kept that lesson of not making judgments about another human based on their “coveralls”.  In fact, some of the most amazing people and their stories have come by way of me taking the time to simply engage in simple conversation and asking them about themselves.

In this age of social media, I believe that we have allowed our social media personas to become a pair of coveralls.  Social media cannot and will never replace the ability to simply stand in front of someone else and have a meaningful conversation.

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