The World From the Sidewalk

The World From the Sidewalk

“It’s a van!” Shanie exclaimed from her open door when I arrived and parked in front of her house.

I laughed as I walked around to her driveway, “Indeed it is.”

“It’s purple!” she continued.

“You really think it’s purple?” I asked thinking it looked to me like more of a maroon color, closer to red than purple. I was also chuckling to myself on the inside because at first glance with the faded paint, dings, and dents those two things were about the only thing you could really say about the vehicle. You could comment on it being a van and state the color, although even the color was up for debate. Any other observations might be considered unflattering. I didn’t mind. This van was all mine.

Shanie had the afternoon free from teaching and had volunteered her socket wrench set to help me get the middle seat out of the front of the van. After traveling in it the previous week, the middle seat blocked all access to the back of the van. It was essentially creating the feeling of being in the cab of a truck, and I wanted to be able to park and step into the back without having to get out and walk around to the other side if it was raining.

After some shuffling around looking for the sockets to go with the torque wrench, Shanie decided that it would be better to ask the neighbor, Frank. We wandered over and his wife answered the door looking busy with a kitchen towel and a timer going off in the background. She was still accommodating and we found ourselves with a metric and US standard sockets to choose from.

I found the right size and got to work on removing the four bolts that were keeping the middle seat in place. With the right tools, this was going to be so much easier I told myself as the bolt began to loosen and turn. Then it continued to turn and turn and turn without making any upward progress. I started feeling flustered and frustrated.

“It seems to me that because those are bolts, there is probably a nut underneath the van holding it in place. Maybe if we could hold that still you’d be able to get it to move,” Shanie concluded.

“Under the van?” I said. It felt like a place of taboo and danger. I didn’t know how either of us were going to fit and visions of thousands of pounds of steel crushing a human body flashed through my mind. I felt fear.

I wasn’t sure if it was bravery or the fact that where there’s a Shanie there’s a way but she was suddenly under the van inspecting the situation from beneath.

“Uh….” I said, the fear still present in my mind. “Let me just check and make sure the emergency brake is on.” I jumped out of the back and ran around the the driver’s side door just to make sure the pedal had been depressed and was at least one more line of safety between my visions of crushed bones and metal.

“I found it!” she said from under the van as I knelt above her on the van floor looking at the bolts top-side. She gripped the nut with her wrench and I turned the bolt as it came out. We worked on the second one on the front left side when she informed me that the other two might be a little more problematic…

“What do you mean?” I asked her, blind from my position up above. “What is it going to take to remove the other two?”

“A hell of a lot more work,” was her response. I still didn’t know what she meant. She started talking out loud about the different options. There were these plates of aluminum that had been attached to the bottom to prevent rust. These sheets were covering the access to the last two bolts holding the seat in. She could try cut open the already existing hole to access the bolts, or maybe she could unbolt the sheets to maneuver to the last two remaining nuts. There were about 16 more bolts to be undone before she could get those sheets out of the way.

Since she was already under the van, she started in on those bolts with a different sized socket and I laid down next to the van on the curb. “If you’re going to be on the ground working on my van, I should lay here with you in solidarity,” I told her.

Shanie laughed, “I think that when guys say a woman should be working on her back, this probably isn’t what they mean.”

I giggled with her, “Then I definitely owe you dinner at least.”

The access to the bolts holding the aluminum panel there were odd angles and many grunts and groans that came from Shanie. The “simple” job of removing the seat had suddenly become a lot more complicated. The thought passed through my head that this cold go horribly wrong. Neither of us had done this before. What if we couldn’t put things back together?

“I never thought I’d be playing mechanic today,” Shanie said in between cranks of the torque wrench.

“I didn’t think I’d be laying next to you on the sidewalk,” I laughed.

“Well there was a guy in school that got upset that I knew so much about Greek mythology that he said to me, ‘I bet you don’t know as much about being a mechanic!’” Shanie continued, “I just told him, ‘I bet you’re right but you know what? I could learn.’ He didn’t like that.”

I smiled. It’s true. This was learning and the fact was by doing you were growing. By doing you weren’t giving up. It was what I liked about Shanie. She didn’t always know the answer immediately, but if she cared and felt compelled to help she would figure it out.

I lay there grabbing the loose bolts from her and as the sun began to set, shone a flashlight into the crevices of the undercarriage to allow her to see the bolts. Passing dogs and even a toddler were extremely interested in seeing what we were doing. It was this strange excitement that came with seeing two people at their level that the adults didn’t see.

“Where are you going?” the mom asked her little boy as she pulled him out of the car and put him on the sidewalk only to have him make a joyous noise and start running towards us swinging a stuffed monkey.

“Hello there!” I said looking upwards, upside down at the grinning boy who stopped and grinned. He began to step tentatively towards us and the van until his mother convinced him to go into Frank’s house. I wondered if crawling around big vans and turning wrenches was something that little boy was passionate about.

Through a lot of work (mostly Shanie’s) and most of the daylight, the bolts from the chair were removed and the aluminum panels were getting placed back on. As the light was waning and Shanie’s energy started to fade as well, I realized I could see some of the spots for the bolts better from the angle I was at. I stepped in to help out with the last bolt placement as she worked on the second to last.

Somehow I had managed to squeeze myself past the curb and under the van. I felt accomplished with that tiny little bolt going into the hole but since Shanie had the only wrench, I was forced to wait. I tried to slide back the way I had come, but the angle was wrong and the curb blocked my exit. Shanie was laying in front of the street side exit working on the last bolts. I started to feel trapped and claustrophobic with the thousands of pounds of metal hanging suspended above me on four rubber tires just inches from my nose.

It was the fear. I laid there thinking that Shanie had been under here for almost two hours and here I was for just a few minutes panicking. Fear, the mind killer. I tried to calm down, admitted to Shanie I was freaking out a little. However, it seemed that I had no other course of action but to wait.

Minutes later we both pulled ourselves out from under the van and dusted ourselves off. There was a lot of rejoicing from me when I was able to remove the seat from the front middle and place it in the back of the van on its side.

“I definitely owe you dinner now,” I told Shanie when we discovered it was nearly six o’clock. We were the two women, not-quite-mechanics. I wasn’t sure what it might take to call ourselves mechanics officially. But I knew: we could learn.

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