Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who was "Red" Burpo anyhow?

He was just that old dude in a truckers cap, sitting in a beaten down barcalounger in front of that auto shop garage downtown that's still standing but no longer open for paying customers.

Every small town in the world must have one of these guys...long ago retired from the rat race of small business, the old motorhead now spends the salad days of his winding down life clock watching the world drive by, anticipating a stray customer or acquaintance of old to drop by at anytime to shoot the breeze, share a stick of Clark's Teaberry or perhaps even seeking advice of an auto maintenance matter.

His face is ruddy, pocked marked and scarred from a lifetime of hard wrenching beneath the hoods and undercarriages of cars that bore the mark of the bowtie, the blue oval, and the Mopar M.

However, when cars started having more computers and silicon chips behind the dash than NASA had for Apollo 13's launch, he saw the writing on the wall and the ASE Certified Automotive Technician patches on the young mechanics at the dealership and knew his days of carburetor rebuilding and cylinder head porting were over.

The old gear grinder's kids were all grown and succeeding somewhat at becoming respectable members of society. His beloved wife was buried a few short years ago in a plot of ground next to what will someday be the final garage bay for his own vintage chassis.

So there he sat, the long ago polished crankshafts hanging serenely behind him on the makeshift rack, making a sort of chrome steel backdrop for the throne on which he rests.

And watches nothing in particular.

And waits for no one in particular.

Then one day out of the blue, a younger fella walks up, with guarded smiles and sincere nods. He's not from around here, but tells the wizened welder of old that he's just moved here from California and was admiring some of what he deemed, "vintage gearhead wall art," scattered around the shop.

He was especially fond of the crankshaft/camshaft wall-of-fame/shame and seems particularly interested in the cars of old, as opposed to the cars of new -- even though he motors up in one of them import jobbers the size and shape of a really streamline egg.

The two get to talking as certified car guys will, and before they know it an hour has passed, a few cans of Dr. Pepper have been drained, and the young fella heads out to pick up his daughters from school and get on with his afternoon chores.

In the near future, a few more of these conversations would occur, almost always dealing with the same topic - cars - and always ending with a warm handshake and a sincere, "come on back anytime, enjoyed the visit," uttered by the older of the two gearheads.

From time to time an old third generation El Camino will cruise by the shop, the waving driver resembling the young buck who stops in to visit, but the aged eyes of the old man deny him the clarity to verify his hunch. Still, he waves back and hopes the driver can keep the old car/truck on the road since they are about as rare as a ten cent cup of coffee these days.

One day the old guy finishes his day of watching and waiting at the shop and pulls shut the chain-driven 15-foot door for the afternoon, piles into his weathered Chevy half-ton and heads home for some soup out of a can and maybe a Miracle Whip sandwich, not realizing that the shop would never again open it's doors for business, or casual car-talk visits.

And somewhere within the confines of the small town's city limits, the young fella is opening the local newspaper and reading about the death of yet another old timer in a town filled with old timers, and mourns his passing with a late night melancholy cruise downtown in a classic El Camino.

Next up, how the young fella finds "Red's" hat.


Michael Bates said...

That was a beautiful tribute.

OKDad said...

Thanks MB.

okiesister said...

Wonderful, well written story. Reminds me very much of my Dad. Dad was a body shop man. In his retirement, buddies would drop by and they would go off fishing. Thanks for sharing.