I love fixing up old computers. Who needs the latest-and-greatest if all you’re going to do is web surfing, email, and some light word processing? I’ve accepted donations of dozens of unloved computers around town, I’ve wiped them clean and put Ubuntu Linux on them, and I’ve given them new homes with families who need them. The new owners don’t mind much that Ubuntu can’t run Windows games or Windows viruses.
I’ve got a collection, in fact, of very old Mac computers. One of my favorite is a Mac IIfx, which was totally the boss of its day. 40MHz! “It can finish an infinite loop in twelve seconds!” people would say. “It takes seven HALT instructions to stop it!” I hear the Linux m68k project has come to life again; maybe someday I can put Debian on it.
I wish I knew as much about fixing cars as I know about fixing computers.
My car is a 1992 Saturn SL2. Yes, I’ve been driving it since I graduated college, twenty-one years ago. Why not? It has few miles on it for its age; I’ve been fortunate enough to always live very close to my jobs. I’ve never had any serious trouble with it besides the usual worn-out parts that are easily replaced. It got rear-ended once, a few years back when I was stopped on I-4 during rush hour in a light rainstorm and the SUV behind me skidded when he hit the brakes – a body shop straightened out the uniframe. And it has plastic sidepanels, so it’s never been dented, not even a little.
My secret is to have a good mechanic. Right now that’s Nick Thompson of Thompson’s Auto Clinic in Lakeland, Florida. He’s got a British accent and a Cheshire grin, and it’s obvious he enjoys working on cars as much as I enjoy working on computers. Best of all, he comes to Celebration and picks up a client’s car in the evening, drives it to his shop, works on it the next day, then drives it back to Celebration that evening. How can you beat service like that?
I thought I had a challenge for him. The Saturn is due for routine maintenance, but it picked up another problem – every time I started it, it seemed the battery was getting weaker; it was more and more hesitant to turn over. When I was getting ready to go to work last Friday I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get it started again, so I left it at home and Jill let me drive her Honda Element instead. And on top of that we’ve got a third car, Jill’s ’97 Mustang that’s been sitting in the garage unused for months because we let it go too long and the battery died, and then we let it go much longer past that and I’m sure the battery is long dead by now.
“So we probably need a new battery for the Mustang,” I told Nick before he came today. “And you should also bring a new battery for the Saturn in case it doesn’t start for you, so you can at least get it to the shop.”
Well, the Saturn did start – reluctantly, and under protest, but it did start. “That’s a triple-A battery,” Nick said, and for a moment I wondered how a car could use a little AAA battery until I remembered that the AAA auto club had replaced my dead battery in the supermarket parking lot a few years ago. “It’s definitely dead; I see a lot of those batteries go. But your Mustang battery only needs a charge. I’ll bring it back to the shop with me and charge it up.”
It’s good to have a mechanic I can trust – the peace of mind is priceless.
And, meanwhile, Jill and I are finally going to make time this weekend so she can teach me how to drive stick so we can give the Mustang some use.