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July 11, 2004


Mirror and There

We awoke Saturday morning and rolled out of the postcard of Monument Valley towards the town of Kayenta, about 25 miles down the road on the way to the Grand Canyon, hoping to find a mechanic along the way. The bus snorted and grunted a bit, and dragged along, as if hung over from the previous day's ordeal, but no serious smoke signals appeared from the tail pipe. Once in Kayenta, we stopped at the information center that turned out to be a Navajo trading post in disguise, with a friendly Navajo guy who knew the area well. We talked with him for a bit and asked if there was a local mechanic around, preferably one who knew something about Diesels, although, at this point, we'd probably be happy to see anyone with a wrench. He thought for a moment, as if he knew, but wasn't sure he should disclose the secret to just anyone who wanders through. After some further discussion, he connected us to the unusual bus out front and somehow that deemed us worthy, and the answer came forth.
"You should find Jerry", he said.
"Where?" I asked.
"Well, I don't know his phone number, but go down that way a few blocks and turn right at the food stamp place... he's about 3 or 4 houses down, with a red truck in front." he said.
So, we drove the bus over past the food stamp office into a small Navajo development of uniform rectangular homes that had the bland look of government issue housing, with red dirt yards and no vegetation to speak of. Low cost and easy maintenance, though. Several houses had red trucks in front of them so we drove up to the first where a large Navajo dude was chipping away at the dirt with a hoe, as if he might plant something there someday, but had nothing better to do for now. He turned out to be the guy, the only mechanic in town, in fact. He apparently made a living by hanging around at home until victims of the road like us straggled in to town, found him and pleaded our case from the other side of the fence that enclosed his lot.

Jerry didn't seem to object to being consulted, as if he had nothing better to do for a while, so he freely dispensed advice and related stories about the other 8 or so people who were ahead of us in an invisible queue that included a number of folks who were stranded out on the road within a day's drive or so. Next in line, an emergency that would apparently get taken care of this week, maybe even today, was a woman who's water pump went out on the other side of the hill (no telling which hill, or how far). She was in a hurry to get back to Kansas to see what was left of her house in which an infestation of chipmunks built a giant nest around the attic and gnawed on the wires until a fire started, burning the whole place to the ground. Judging from the tone in Jerry's voice, he would probably have to do something about it soon, maybe even today.

Our talk continued while he jabbed at the dirt and he went on to explain the problems he'd had over the years, hiring younger guys from the community. 'No work ethic in these kids today... no ambition', he said. 'One day's hard work, a little dirt and grease and that's it, they're through.' So, he worked by himself, mostly, hanging out at home until people in trouble showed up. A discussion of Diesel engines and turbo chargers followed, then we turned to the problem at hand. I mentioned that we'd gone through Mexican Hat and massively overheated while climbing the relentless hills up to Monument Valley. Jerry knew those hills well, pointing out that most people break down on the second, 10% grade, a place that he visits regularly to make roadside rescues. His conclusion was that, if we weren't still blowing clouds of smoke, which, thankfully, we weren't, then we probably just got some bad Diesel fuel somewhere, as it's a common problem in these parts. Replace the fuel filters and we should be fine. Unfortunately, Kayenta's tiny car parts, laundromat, video store didn't have the filters we needed, so we headed off to Tuba City with fingers crossed, wondering if we could make the Grand Canyon before nightfall.

* Photo by Barb

posted by mark at July 11, 2004 01:12 AM