Tales of an Accidental Grease Monkey

How the recession gave me an appreciation for hot rods, power tools and manual labor.

  1. It was only because of the recession that I moved in with a roommate, after more than a decade of living on my own. And it was only because of the roommate situation that I began renting a cramped office space in the garage of a hot rod and auto shop in Austin, Texas. There was a desk, a chair, Internet access. I’m a freelance writer. It was all that I needed.

    My office came with other things: a dirty brown carpet, drum sets and car parts, a pit bull, a vintage record player, old issues of Playboy, Hot Rod, Super Chevy and Motor Trend magazines. It also came with the Guys.

    “The Guys” is my collective name for Kenny, the owner of the shop, which is known as the International House of Hot Rods, and the three other men who work there: Miles the Brit and Oliver and Olivier, both French. The window in front of my desk looks out onto the smaller of the shop’s two car lifts, and on any given day, when I look up from my computer, I can stare out at the underbelly, for example, of a ’59 Dodge, a ’63 Lincoln Continental, a classic Pontiac Bonneville or a Chevelle SS. (Five months ago, I didn’t know the difference between any of them.) And at an assortment of regal motorcycles—Triumphs, Harleys and BSAs—parked below.

    When I should be writing, I watch the Guys work. I marvel at their aptitude, their patience and ambition, especially when tackling the shell of the light blue Skoda that’s currently without an engine or a floor. Mine is a good office because it’s inherently collaborat...

Originally published in Salon, July 2009