Don’t Play Fair

By | 08/27/2017
Autoshop by aresauburn™
Autoshop, a photo by aresauburn™ on Flickr.

Early in my career, I worked as an auto mechanic in a small family-owned repair facility to pay for college. One day, a young woman named Julie brought her SUV into our shop to fix a rattling noise.

When she drove over a bump, she heard something rattling underneath her car was worried that something was loose. We drove around the block together and, sure enough, I heard the noise. She filled out a work order and eft her SUV with me and walked to Krogers next door to do some grocery shopping.

I drove her SUV onto the rack and raised the lift until her SUV was above my head. As I inspected the undercarriage, I found the problem: someone had tied a string with a Hot Wheels car to a mounting bracket above the muffler. So when Julie drove over a bump in the road, the toy car bounced on the muffler, making the noise.

As I reached up to untie the string from the mounting bracket, I noticed an envelope addressed to Julie taped above the muffler near the mounting bracket. I set the Hot Wheels car on my toolbox and then removed the envelope. I looked around and no one was in the shop at the time. So I opened the envelope, pulled out a two-page letter inside, and began to read.

The letter was written by Julie’s ex-husband. In the letter, he detailed his disgust with their recent divorce and mentioned some things that made me sick to my stomach. That letter was one of most painful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. When I finished reading, I placed the letter and the toy car on the back counter, lowered the SUV down to the shop floor, and parked it car behind our shop.

Moments later, Julie returned from the grocery store with several bags of groceries.

“Did you find the problem?” Julie asked.

She had a big smile on her face, as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

“Yes. The muffler bracket was loose, so I tightened the bolts. It’s fine now.” I struggled with keeping a straight face.

“Well, do I owe you anything?”

“No. It just took a minute to fix.”

She opened the trunk, and I helped her with her groceries. I completed the work order and gave her a copy for her records.

“Well, thanks again,” she said. And with that, she drove away.

That day, I struggled with that letter and what her ex-husband had to say. I knew she had two little girls in day care, and now those girls will grow up with a father living in another house.  But what would have happened if I gave her that letter? Would it have been the “fair” thing to do? And would it have been fair to her girls if they found that letter years later hidden away somewhere in Julie’s closet? After she drove away, I walked to the back of our shop, tore up the letter, and threw it in the dumpster with the toy car.

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson that day: Don’t be a catalyst for anger. Be a catalyst for change.

In the proceeding weeks and months, Julie returned to our shop for scheduled maintenance, always bringing with her a dozen chocolate chip cookies for me and my boss. I also had a chance to watch her two girls grow up through most of their elementary school years, until a few years later when I went back to school, changed careers, and ultimately became a writer.

And her ex-husband? He continued to visit our shop for servicing on a regular basis. See, he was also one of our customers. We never lost his business.

And our shop was always stocked with food from customers in the neighborhood.