Mechanic Car Pool

Most car dealerships have shuttle services these days. Rather than waiting around for hours as your car is being serviced, you leave it there and the shuttle brings you to work, home, or maybe to the local arcade if you like to play video games. You get to sit with impatient strangers in a confined space as a retiree drives you along the most inefficient route possible. It’s really fun.

But when it comes to smaller mechanic shops, they don’t usually have a dedicated shuttle. If you’re lucky, one of the less-busy employees can drive you where you’re going in one of the cars that’s being worked on. Or they might take you in your own car, which they’ll then drive back after dropping you off. There are so many wonderful ways this can work - that’s the charm of the informal mechanic shuttle service.

I once experienced an even more mutated version of this system. I was dropping off my out-of-warranty car at a fairly big mechanic shop in town. I’d made arrangements the previous day to bring it in first thing that morning, and when I did, I asked if they’d be able to bring me to work. “That won’t be a problem,” the owner told me - and I bought it, because I want to believe in the good of humanity.

So I handed over my keys and asked who’d be bringing me into work. The guy behind the counter pointed to an idling car in the lot and said, “Chris is waiting for you.” Oh cool - he said it like he he was expecting me. “This shop is really on top of things!” I thought as I walked across the lot to the waiting car.

But when I looked in, instead of seeing Chris - the employee I thought would be taking me to work - behind the wheel, a woman was in the driver’s seat. That was weird. And the person who was presumably Chris was in the passenger’s seat. Odd.

I knocked on the window and when Chris lowered it, I asked, “Is… is this the car that’s going to give me a ride to work?” I suddenly felt like a confused Kindergarten student taking the bus for the first time.

Chris nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “but she’s gotta get to work first. Get in the back.”

I said “okay” and did as Chris said. Only then did I realize why this woman was in the driver’s seat and not Chris - this was her car, and she was now the driver of an unintentional car pool.

The woman started driving. I greeted her, but if she said anything back to me I couldn’t hear it. I caught her reflection in the rearview mirror and she looked uneasy. And why shouldn’t she be? She probably thought she’d just be dropping her car off at the mechanic’s and getting a ride to work. Instead, she was shuttling herself to work with the mechanic shop employee and another customer as her passengers. This is not a typical configuration as far as I’d previously experienced. It felt like a deleted scene from one of those Saw movies.

We drove about five miles to her work. Driver Lady and Chris weren’t too chatty - the sun had barely risen - but I gave in to my instinct to try to de-weirdize our situation by asking some questions. I don’t like small talk but I like tense silence even less.

It seemed wrong to say nothing at all (though Chris was very comfortable with that), so I called out to Driver Lady, “Have a great day at work” and waved. And I meant it - even though it made the whole scenario seem like some kind of freakish family outing.

But it turns out that asking a stranger - even if she’s driving you in her car - questions like, “So where’s your office?” and “What’s your job?” can seem intrusive when you’re actually going to that workplace. She gave halting, tentative answers, each beginning with an emphasized “Um…” followed by an intentional pause, clearly designed to reinforce her discomfort. Chris kept quiet and may have even drifted off. I couldn’t see his face up there. I should have taken the hint and followed his lead.

When we finally arrived at Driver Lady’s office, an even weirder moment occurred. She pulled up to the curb by the entrance and got out. Then Chris unbuckled himself, stepped out of the passenger’s seat, and sat behind the wheel. And then I got out of the back seat and into the front. It seemed wrong to say nothing at all (though Chris was very comfortable with that), so I called out to Driver Lady, “Have a great day at work” and waved. And I meant it - even though it made the whole scenario seem like some kind of freakish family outing.

Driver Lady gave a half-wave and an intentionally uncomfortable smile. She wasn’t about to make things any less weird. Then she watched as Chris and I drove off in her car. I can only imagine what she was feeling at that moment. Maybe she feared that Chris and I would have some wild breakfast in her vehicle, scattering fast food wrappers all over. But that wasn’t likely to happen. Chris was only awake enough to navigate us to my workplace, and even that seemed like a challenge. I knew he wasn’t a morning person.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I tried to have a little rap with Chris, too. It just felt wrong to have him drive me to work for twenty minutes without speaking to the guy. If he wasn’t the employee of the company that I was paying to fix my car, I don’t doubt that he would have told me to shut up - but he managed a few polite responses to my questions, and it even came out that his father was the owner of the shop. Ah - no wonder he was humoring me by speaking.

We got to my work and, in a moment that was slightly less strange than the previous drop-off, I said goodbye to Chris. I got half a nod back, which was more than enough for me.

And when the shop called that afternoon to tell me that my car was ready, I had a co-worker drive me in. There’s only so much car-related weirdness I can take in one day.