Yesterday I felt like Marty McFly. I thought I was just going to get my car inspected, but instead I think I went back in time. I had been been delaying getting my car inspected all week but I knew I had to get it done. I fought my way through afternoon traffic in my small town, passing the school buses and the kids walking home, listening to whatever my brother was playing on the radio. I was just trying to get to the auto place and get out as soon as possible. (Between you and me, car maintenance makes me nervous because I feel like I’ll be made aware of many more car troubles than I can afford to fix. So a car inspection is a bit nerve-racking.) What I didn’t know was that pulling into this little local mechanic shop would be like driving into a vortex sending me back to a time of greased hair, small town gossip, and the flux capacitor.
I pulled in, realizing there were no technical parking spots, and just leaving my car wherever it seemed appropriate. For all I knew, my car was lined up with the junk cars ready to be crushed. I told my brother it would just be five minutes, which ended up being a very false tale, and I walked into the shop, triggering the bell. The paint was chipped and discolored. The walls were covered in shelves of old rusted oil cans. The waiting room was one row of airplane seats, probably the most modern furnishing in the room. I became an accidental addition to a conversation occurring in the shop. Two older men were standing around, one holding a large paper bag and the other leaning on the old rickety water fountain. The man working behind the counter, whose name I learned was “Squirrel”, was on the phone when I walked in, so I stood and waited, coincidentally becoming a part of the topic at hand. The man to my left said, “I’m just dropping by cause the wife made pumpkin bread and we have more in the house than I need to eat.” He placed three foil-wrapped loaves on the counter, and pulled out a small knife to cute some pieces. He pulled one loaf aside and rolled back the foil, releasing the smell of southern baking into the withered shop. It was a breath of fresh air. He sliced a few pieces and turned to me, offering a taste. I laughed and declined the offer, which just made him more persistent. He smiled and laughed, trying to convince me that it wasn’t poisoned. Honestly I don’t even care if it was. I don’t care that pumpkin bread is like candy and I was taking it from a stranger. It was perfect.
Pumpkin bread man started to ask me questions about my school and what I plan on being. It was like talking to my grandpa. He wasn’t just asking because it was the polite thing to do. He was asking because he really wanted to know. Our conversation jumped from education and college pursuits to March Madness games and our predictions, into music. He asked me if I liked bluegrass music and I found out he wants to learn how to play the banjo. In just a matter of minutes, I learned he has a doctorate in education, wanted Carolina to go all the way in the tournament, has a nephew who can learn musical instruments like he can learn words, and that his wife is a wizard when it comes to making bread. This whole time, Squirrel was still on the phone, eating a piece of pumpkin bread and looking at me to reassure me he hasn’t forgotten my place in line.
Eventually my car was inspected and approved, fortunately without revealing a laundry list of other problems my little Volvo might have, and I pushed open the swollen door once more to pay Squirrel. Pumpkin bread man, whose real name I never learned, walked out to his old pickup and wished my luck in college. So I wished him luck in learning the banjo. He laughed and turned to me and said, “Maybe next time we see each other I can play you a lil tune on my banjo. But don’t put any money on that.”
As I drove out of the parking lot and back into the 21st century, I was grateful my trip to the auto shop didn’t take just five minutes. I was grateful for good pumpkin bread. And I hoped that when I’m older, I’ll want to learn how to play the banjo too.