That Elusive Phantom - Self RelianceSunday, January 30, 2011
|Horst and my Mamiya back|
In 1975 we lived down the hill where Springer Avenue met up with Lougheed Highway by Brentwood in Burnaby. I would tune up the VW Beetle the old fashioned way, by ear. I would clean the old spark plugs and then I would re-gap them with a very nice English gapping tool I had. Then I would turn the distributor around until the engine idle sounded right. The next step was to drive up the hill while flooring the gas pedal. If the car hesitated I stopped and would then twist the distributor one way or another. My Canadian friends told me that nobody tuned-up cars like that. I was better off buying a tuning light gun which you pointed at the distributor and it would tell you if the gap was just right.
I was proud that I could be self-reliant and that I could do a lot of the mechanical work on the VW even though the location of the engine’s plugs were situated in a way that no matter what I did I would invariably scrape off skin from one of my fingers.
In Mexico my neighbours laughed at my yearly custom of removing the VW’s gasoline tank. This was a almost easy. I did this so I could swish paint thinner inside the tank and pour out all the gunk that Pemex Super Mexolina gas put into it. Even though I had an additional gas filter between the tank and the carburetor my tune-ups did not last long before the carburetor was all stopped up.
I enjoyed my self-reliance in a world where I more or less understood how things worked.
It took slipping clutches and all kinds of other mechanical problems with two generations of Fiat X-19s to dampen my enthusiasm for mechanical self-reliance. In a snowstorm my first Fiat, a lemon-yellow lemon gave out. I proceeded to push it and to try to re-start it being unaware that my Italian mechanical marvel had a timing belt. It had broken and every time the wheels of the car turned as I pushed it a cylinder would damage yet another valve.
I lost my self-reliance in all things car and depended on my Italian mechanic, who like me liked to tune by ear. This meant that those two Fiats had recurring slipping clutches and all kinds of weird problems that defied my imagination. A trip to San Francisco resulted in a broken constant velocity joint. The one Fiat dealer in San Francisco offered to buy the car from me. Had I been my Calabrian mechanic I would have slit his throat on the spot.
Then it even got worse when my Italian mechanic suggested I sell my Fiat to my daughter (poor Ale!) and buy the people’s Maserati, the Maserati Bi-Turbo. I did just that and from the very first weeks the engine gaskets went and I had water in the gas, oil in the water and gas in the oil. The clutch slipped. The electric windows stopped working, the air conditioner needed new coolant gas, and several more etcs to innumerate here.
But I was not to know quite yet that cars had not advanced into the next stage when my Italian mechanic would not be able to repair a car unless he had the proper engine diagnostic tools (early computers) and the expensive special tools needed for their repair.
Not three weeks ago, Horst Wenzel opened one of my Mamiya backs (the jumble of springs, gears defied my comprehension). He took it all apart and located the problem which was a broken spring. He made a new one and he put it all back together knowing where everything went. He explained with a pair of tweezers how a push here made something there nudge which in turn, rotated this over there. He looked at me (a man who repairs Leicas and Hasselblads) and told me, “Your (whatever German expression for piece of excrement can be put in here) is made of soft metal. It is a mess. It is a miracle that you have kept it going now for 30 years!”
I look at Wenzel and he looks at me. We are almost the same age. I use mechanical cameras and he repairs them. It is inevitable that our time is almost up and that one of us will go first.
As I reflect on that sobering fact I notice how self-reliance has changed and in some cases it has become almost the norm in this day and age where few people know anything and the few that do so are not to be found if you look for them.
The chances of finding help at Google, at Blogger are much reduced if by help you mean a human being who will talk to you either in person or on the phone. Try calling Telus about the bugs in your phone or your intermittent DSL internet connection.
To be fair the folks at Telus now promise to call you back and actually do so.
But self-reliance has morphed to the expression, “Look it up on the internet.”
When I brought my new computer home on Sunday, alas I had lost the neat keyboard setup I had. Whenever I pressed the right Alt key I could put here all manner of upside down ?,! and accents on all my Spanish vowels. It took me three hours on Sunday night to achieve something like that until I realized that my keyboard had eliminated dashes and single quotations marks looked like stuff in Russian bibles. The instructions on the net ( I printed them out) seemed to be ambiguous and useless.
When my doctor told me I had psoriatic arthritis he gave me several web pages to look up that informed me if I took the medicine he had prescribed I might have problems with my liver, with my blood pressure and worse of all that my wife Rosemary might just get bored.
" Look it up in the internet," seems to be the cry in the wilderness now to those of us who want to feel independent and self reliant.
Wherever I go, when I take my camera bag, I go equipped with all manner of jeweller’s screwdrivers, needle nose pliers and plenty of gaffer tape. I can do on the spot repairs (loose screws are the bane of mechanical cameras) and more often that not, when I have camera failure there is always some sort of plan B within by camera bag. My Mamiya may not be a Leica or a Hasselblad but it does provide me with the comfort, that sometimes I don’t need anybody’s help and that I can fend for myself.
My friend Horst Wenzel, Paul Leisz, and Grant Simmons and others would just laugh at me. The illusion is far more comforting than the experience of having a Nikon D-300 Model V-8 with its double sensor stop working and knowing that there is nothing, no screwdriver, no plier, no gaffer tape, nothing that will make it suddenly work again. The only solution is one just like the one that does not work. The only other solution is one that I am finding much more necessary now.
One must rely on others.