Our Audi seemed to be on its last legs; our go-to mechanic told us the exhaust system needed to be replaced and Audi parts are expensive. The car is worth $2,000 tops, so the $3,000 quote to fix it didn’t make sense. We went to a franchise muffler shop for a second opinion and the price was the same. The car wouldn’t pass emissions without the exhaust system overhaul and the muffler’s death rattle grew louder by the day. We were thinking we’d have to scrap the car when Sam heard about this place on Car Talk.
American Muffler is on a block in New Haven notorious for drug deals and drive-by shootings. A rusted chain-link fence separates it from blighted buildings, and its rutted parking lot is littered with broken glass. A cheerful guy with dreds and a neck tattoo trotted over as Micah and I drove in. “Nice Audi,” he said, pronouncing it “Oddie.” “What’s the problem?” Micah started to explain. “Just get in, start it up.” The guy threw himself on the asphalt next to the car, belly down, craning his neck to look at the undercarriage.
“Your muffler’s shot, man. And the exhaust’s rusted out.”
“Can you fix it?” Micah asked.
“How much?” I asked.
He thought for a split-second, shrugged. “A hundred bucks. That sound okay?” Okay? We couldn’t believe our ears. “Cash only. You don’t got it on you the ATM’s over there.” He pointed to the pawn shop across the street.
A half hour later, the rusty muffler and exhaust pipes lay on the garage floor, and we handed him five crisp twenty dollar bills that he counted three times before pocketing. Later, the car passed emissions with flying colors.
Who’d have thought? Repair shops in the business of actually repairing things. Old fashioned ingenuity, something many of us no longer even look for, because we’ve been brought up (brainwashed?) to cautiously go by the book. I understand liability. But I gladly gave up any guarantees, the lounge with free bad coffee and a flatscreen, all the official-looking documentation to see American Muffler in swashbuckling action, proof that resourcefulness is not dead, just flying under the radar.
Laura Hurwitz is a freelance editor and recovering English teacher. She is also the author of The Adventures of Riley (Scholastic Press), an eco-adventure children’s book series, as well as several travel-essay books. Her YA novel, Airstream, is currently under contract. Her first novel, Disappear Home (Albert Whitman) will be out in March, 2015.