« Just another day in the neighborhood. | Main | Not irrefutable proof, exactly »

April 16, 2009

Good advice from unexpected places

My mechanic is a very nice guy named Oso. That is his nickname, his real name is Oscar, but everyone calls him Oso. He is a very large guy and he has a brilliant colorful tattoo of the Virgin on his left arm. Anyway, Oso has done a great job of keeping my Jeep running and happy for some time now. He is very impressed that I prefer to drive a stick shift and also that I get my oil changed every 3,500 miles just as he recommends.

I don't drive all that much but of course this is Los Angeles and you do end up driving some, even if you're a hermit. Driving is part of life out here. Back when gas reached $5 a gallon all over Los Angeles, I became really frustrated with The Man. I would leave for work in the morning and gas would be one price then by the time I got home the filling station on the corner had jacked up the price another ten cents per gallon, and this was happening every single day. I complained about it, but I got a lot of poison pen emails and comments from people in other countries along the lines of 1) "Shut up you stupid American" and 2) "Well stop driving if you don't like it." Which was really helpful and awesome as you can imagine. And also, totally solves all the problems! (Of course that was before the rest of the world began to experience the same rockstar economic stranglehold we'd been struggling with for months. Oh, Schadenfreude. You are so bittersweet.)

But I was still mad at The Man, because people were driving less and less (later studies confirmed this, but I knew it already from the utter lack of seats on every bus and subway car in Los Angeles) and gas was still going up ten cents a day even though demand was declining and then, just as the election rolled around suddenly LO And Behold! Gas dropped to under two dollars. Seriously? You're telling me that it was just normal fluctuation in prices? One day gas is five bucks a gallon and the next day it's a buck ninety-eight? Hey, I was born ... just not yesterday. You people are screwing with us. Stop it.

So anyway in my disdain and also eschewing (eschewing! like chewing, but only spitting out!) of The Man, I decided it would be awesome to convert my car to run on cat poop, which I have an amply supply of, constantly replenished each day. But until a poop combustion engine was created I would go veggie oil! No matter that my Jeep is not diesel, in everything in life I use the man-on-the-moon logic. This is how I think: We can put a man on the moon, surely we can do whatever silly thing it is I have set my sights upon today. Come on, people!

So I found a company that does conversions of gas (not diesel) engines to biodeisel and I gathered all the information and printed out stuff from the innernet and I drove myself one Saturday afternoon to see my mechanic, Oso. He works at a shop in sunny downtown Pacoima that has a huge mural on the outer wall with a sunset and the word "Jalisco!" painted in brilliant red letters.

Most of the guys at Autos de Jalisco know me, because a big blonde in a red Jeep is hard to miss in that particular shop. So I waved at Lil' Payaso, one of Oso's other mechanics.

"Hey Payaso! I'm looking for Oso!" I had my big folder of information in my hand, with certain passages highlighted and called out with post-it-note flags.

"Hey! Yeah, uh, Oso isn't here right now," he said. "You need me to change the oil on your Jeep?"

"No, I'm good." I said. "I wanted to show him this stuff about car conversions. You know when he'll be back?"

Payaso looked down at his shoe for a minute, and wiped his hand on a red cloth, then he looked at one of his buddies. Who was studiously not looking at me.

"Uh, Oso's gonna be gone a while," he said.

"OK, I'll come back tomorrow I guess," I said.

"Nah, he's not coming back tomorrow. He had to go away for a little while."

"Away?" I asked. "Where did he go away to?"

"Um, up north," he said.

So that is how I discovered that Oso was "up north" in Pelican Bay. Something about a parole violation. I didn't ask. He's a good mechanic, and I'm not married to him, so what he does is his business. Besides, people make mistakes. Just yesterday I myself almost stabbed someone with a fork 200 times. But I resisted -- for now.

I asked Payaso how to get in touch with Oso, after all, if he was currently a guest of the State of California, I figured he'd have plenty of time on his hands for reading up on engine conversions. So Payaso gave me Oso's mom's phone number and I called her up and after some funny Spanglish (me) and some bewildered questions about whether or not I was a guera (her), she gave me his address and I wrote him a letter and sent it along with all the information I had gathered.

Hey Oso, This is Laurie, the one with the red Jeep. I hope you remember me and don't think I am just some stranger writing to you. Anyway, Payaso told me you were taking some time away and your mom gave me your address. She was very nice, I hope I said the right words in Spanish. Hah hah remember that time I called you a cow when I was trying to be cool and call you a vato? Anyway. I am enclosing some information about converting my Jeep to bio-diesel. Please let me know what you think, as I am very angry about gas prices. Or if you can convert my Jeep to run on solar power. Or air! [smiley face] Last week I had to take my car for an oil change so I took it to the guys in the garage at work ... it ended up costing a lot and now I have a new radiator. I hope you are well and come back to L.A. soon. Your friend, Laurie with the red Jeep

I sent off the letter and a few weeks passed. One day I got home and I had a letter from Oso, with his prisoner number clearly visible in the top left corner of the envelope. He had also drawn a very good picture of my Jeep on the back. I am sure my postman now fears me.

Hello Laurie, This is Oso. Of course I know who you are and already I knew you would write me because moms told me a guera called up and she said your Spanish was real good. Anyways do NOT do anything to your Jeep!! I read the papers you sent and my celly read them also. We think this is a very bad idea. Also my celly says you can't buy the oil you have to collect it from fast food places and filter it. It is very hard. Don't take your Jeep to that guy again who put in the radiator. Take it to Lil' Payaso or go to the muffler shop on Arleta and ask for Dreamer, he will fix you up until I come back. I think you were joking about the solar car but don't let anyone talk you into anything, especially the radiator loco!!! I get out in a few months. Keep your tires inflated. Stay true, Oso

I thought that letter contained some good advice and was very wise, all written in very neat block letters on a sheet of notebook paper. I had to ask someone to tell me what a celly was, because I am that cool. (It is apparently the shorthand for cellmate. I didn't have HBO back when "Oz" was a big hit so cut me some slack!) My parents will be so proud.

Anyway this is a very exciting week because Oso is getting out of prison and coming back to Los Angeles. And now that I have passed the state smog check for at least two more years, and also now that people are fired up about alternate fuels, I think the time is right to re-investigate a Jeep engine that runs on cat poop. I personally think this is brilliant and am sure I can eventually convince the guys at Autos de Jalisco we have a lucrative new business venture ahead of us.

And when things start to go weird, as they have lately (see above: "Might stab someone with a fork.") I try to remember the good wisdom I got from my mechanic while he was up north. Things will all work out OK -- if we just stay true and keep our tires inflated.

Posted by laurie at April 16, 2009 7:19 AM