When we asked the guy we bought our car from where he got it fixed, he bragged about his "shade tree" mecánico. He and his family were here on a year sabbatical from his university job where he taught – what else? – Spanish. Thank goodness Old Smokey didn't need any fixing for quite some time because our Spanish wasn't good enough for a "shade tree" anything. We couldn't even say "shade tree" in Spanish. We couldn't even say shade or tree without looking it up. We could count to ten… yeah, that was helpful.
Over the years, as we've moved around and met more people, we've discovered that everyone brags about their shade tree mecánico. In fact, we've used almost all of them. Because we are slow learners.
When you ask a friend, "Can you recommend someone to fix my car?", your next question should be, "By the way, where is your car?" It's invariably under their mecánico's shade tree. This is a clue.
Just now, I looked up the Spanish translation for "shade tree mechanic" thinking I'd get something like mecánico de arboles del sombra (mechanic of trees of the shade). What I found was mecánico chapucero. Chapucero? Hmmm, brand new word, so I looked that up. It means "crude, shoddy, dishonest." Why would anyone brag about having one of these? My guess is they haven't looked it up either.
I wish I'd looked it up four years ago. Our car has been worked on by at least seven of these referrals, a few of them in clusters of mecánicos chapuceros which, in the states, we'd call "local auto repair shops." To be fair, we always got the car back with the original problem fixed, always for what seemed a fair price, along with a fervent guarantee that only Toyota parts were used, as requested. Oddly and without fail, within 24 hours, a new problem would develop. And, within a week, the original annoying squeak, rattle, thump-thump-thump would be back… argh.
Criticia Voluptua Right Right does not give repairers of anything (cars, shoes, dryers, bodies, etc.) a second chance. In her infinite wisdom, she believes that, if someone could fix something, they would have done so the first time. Infinitely wise, but stubborn in her convictions and known to squeeze a nickle till it screams, when the car needed to go back to a mecánico, usually within a week of getting it back from the old mecánico, off she'd go to call other friends for their shade tree mecánico's phone number. Sigh.
And the new mecánico chapucero, after fixing the same thing the last guy tried to fix as well as the thing the last guy broke, would show us the parts the last guy used: "No repuestos de Toyota," he'd report, shaking his head with a big sigh, immediately assuring us he'd used repuestos de Toyota.
The other thing they'd swear is that you'll have the car back the next afternoon. But you wouldn't get it for at least a week. Why? Because they were waiting on parts de Toyota. Hahahahahaha.
Apparently "shade tree mechanic" used to mean exactly what you'd
think: a guy who likes
cars, has had some training and/or tons of experience fixing them and
willing to fix yours for less than they charge at the big fancy car
repair places. You know, those places with all that heavy equipment,
factory parts, the tools for the job, trained mechanics in uniforms. Shiny, expensive stuff that won't fit under a shade tree.
The chapucero moniker was earned over time. Wiki says: "Amongst some people the term has also developed a negative connotation,
suggesting that shadetree mechanics often cause more damage than
improvement to their cars."
To be infinitely fair, I think our shade tree mechanics were more of the arbol del sombra types, not the chapucero types. Not really able to fix the car, but not able to warn you of that fact ahead of time. Knowing they will not use Toyota parts, but not able to tell you the truth about it because you so want them to use Toyota parts and they want you to have what you want, but they know, deep down, that Toyota parts don't make a darn bit of difference.
Why the subterfuge? I've come to believe it's a cultural thing, the tico way. Along the lines of not ever wanting to give you bad news, or ever saying "I don't know" when you ask directions, because you obviously need and want those directions and they so don't want to disppoint. If you ask a tico on the street for directions and they look confused for even a second, know the directions that follow are no more likely to get you to your destination than to the moon on foot. But you listen and smile and repeat them back, everyone is very pleased, we've all made a new friend, then you drive off and repeat the process with someone else until you stumble upon either someone who actually knows where the place is or the place. "I don't know" is not in the tico direction-giving lexicon. But I digress.
Last week, while I Criticia was on the phone calling other friends for their shade tree mecánico's phone number because no one so far seemed able to fix the brakes or the creaking in the right front axel area of the car, Hal, Mr. Smart Guy, was calling the Toyota dealership in La Uruca, making an appointment to have the car repaired by so-called "professionals."
Against Criticia's better judgement, we took the car in to the official gigantic Toyota garage. This place is a miracle of modern technology in the jungle of a developing nation: huge, shiny, organized. Über organized: we got there an hour early to beat rush hour traffic expecting to be able to drop off the car. Not: your appointment is at 8am and you may not drop off your car until 8am and then only with the technician assigned to your car. Another tico way: everyone follows the rules. Like the parking guard who makes you re-park your car so that it's within the parking space lines even if you are the only one in the lot. This has happened to us more than once and I have witnesses to prove it. But I digress.
Four days later, after promising we'd have it back the next afternoon,
we picked up our car. At least it was less than a week. Our guy, who
was really cute, showed us all the old parts they took off:
I don't know how the car was even running with those nasty things in the engine. Which they spit shined: it was beautiful. And they washed the car. And I'm pretty sure they used Toyota parts. And they fixed all the things that have been broken by the previous guys to date. For only $1200: that seems really reasonable.
That was two weeks ago. There is now the tiniest creak in the front and the rear brakes have developed a new tinny squeak. Almost inaudible, but, of course, our ears are subconsciously attuned to squeaks, creaks and thumps. Here's the good news: Ciudad Toyota gives something shade tree mecánicos won't: a 30 day guarantee on work and a one year guarantee on parts. Even Criticia has learned that's something worth paying for.