Thursday, April 06, 2006

Meet Jaime

This is Jaime and she is a mechanic at Westport Road Automotive in Louisville, KY. She is also an artist, musician, teacher and works part-time as a courier to make a little extra cash. Jaime grew up in a small town an hour south of Louisville called Bloomfield. She moved away from home car-less when she was sixteen. Every night she would hitchhike to Louisville to play in a sixties/seventies folk band. When the hitchhiking got old she decided to move to there. Jaime took a job at General Electric as a Sourcing Consultant and saved up enough money to buy a car. "One day I drove past Jim Brown Automotive and this little car was sitting in the lot and it has a sign on it that said 'pick me' and I loved it." The car was a 1972 blue Super Beetle. Jaime looked at it four different times and practically cried every time she couldn't take it home. She didn't have parents who would cosign, was young with no credit and the car was too old to get a loan. Gratefully her boss at GE agreed to cosign and she bought the car. She named it "Strudel" because it was German and cute.

The car did have some problems. The tires and valve stems were dry-rotted so it kept breaking down and getting flat tires. One day her tire literally fell off while driving. She went to Auto-Zone who couldn't help but recommended she go to a guy named Steve Parker at Westport Automotive. Steve, a thirty-year expert of Volkswagen auto repair, stayed late that night and helped Jaime find the right parts. He also recommended that she buy John Muir's Volkswagen Book, which she refers to as the "complete idiots guide, pretty much. It's a funny book because the audience that it was written for was hippies. So it's kind of like 'you're a stoner and you can't remember anything, so lets break it down and don't forget to put your long hippie hair in a stocking cap.'" From then on every time her car broke down she would use the book to troubleshoot. If she couldn't figure out the answer she would call Steve and he would have what she needed. Eventually Steve had Jaime come to the shop on Saturdays to learn more and make a little extra money. Jaime became really good at fixing up cars, particularly Volkswagens. It got to the point that she was so frustrated with her job at GE that she quit. Call her insane she says but "I hated sitting behind a desk with the florescent lights and no windows." It was then that Steve offered Jaime a full-time job at the shop and she became a mechanic. Jaime says Steve is the most honest mechanic that she has ever met in her entire life. "He is just super, super nice and giving."

Jaime really likes working on cars and doesn't mind getting greasy. Occasionally men customers will make a sly remark. Steve thinks its funny and if they say anything to him, such as they don't want a girl working on their car, he turns them loose to her. One time there was a guy who wanted a performance air filter put on his fancy Nissan. Jaime warned him that it wouldn't be good for his car because the car had no support bracket. He insisted that she put it on, she did, and it ended up being really bad for his car. He brought it back to the shop and told Steve, "Ever since you let that girl work on my car" Steve stopped him mid-sentence and said "wait a second, let me let you talk to her." So Jaime talked to him and "ripped him a big one".

At work Jaime wears blue pants, a mechanic's button down shirt with a name patch and non-slip black shoes. "It makes sense to wear black because you're going to spill oil and shit all over them. No mechanics uniform would be complete without a silicon stain or an oil stain on the shirt." Jaime is very careful with her hands when she works. After all she plays instruments and makes art. She does not like to wear gloves because she cannot feel and a big part of her job is to feel where she is at in the engine. Not that she cares anyways, but her nails are always broken and different lengths. When Jaime goes home she smells like Volkswagen and her boyfriend often says, "oh honey I am so happy to see you but can you take a shower... you smell like oil." Jaime spends more on expensive hygiene products now that she is a mechanic. Every three months she buys a nine-dollar bottle of shampoo that takes the grease out while keeping the hair soft. She's a girlie girl, but she likes cars.

Jaime prefers an old car to a new car. Her car is over thirty-four years old, it's easy to fix and she knows how it works. Some of the newer cars have computer system problems when they break down and you need codes. With an older car you have less problems, less frequently because the life is a lot longer. "Your not going to see a brand new Ford Excursion out on the road in thirty-four years for now, your just not going to see it. It is all about economics, you design something so that it will break so people will have to sink more money into it, the dealers and makers make more money off of it and eventually the car craps out and you have to go buy a brand new one anyway." New cars also have lighter bodies for performance and speed but old cars have the protection of steel. Knocking on her car, "So if I get hit in this thing I am protected. This car has been hit at least six times, I've only been in it three of those times, and I have come out with not one scratch."

In addition to being a mechanic Jaime plays, writes and teaches music. She and her boyfriend are moving in together and they plan on turning their basement into a classroom space where she will teach piano and he will teach bass. She also likes to paint and draw. Ultimately she says those are the things that make "me, me". If they do one day bring her money it will be good, but at this point they offer her something much more. Last week Jaime's boyfriend asked her what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Jaime says the things she wants to do have no bearing on any job that she has right now. None of the jobs she can have right now will get her to be playing music all of the time, or making art at home. But being a mechanic is a job that she loves and one that she will continue even if it is not always her full-time job.

Need your car fixed? Westport Road Automotive, 8715 Westport Rd, Louisville, KY 40242 (502) 426-6266
Jaime will also be taking new students from the Louisville area starting this the summer.

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