If you really want to know the truth I think the happiest people might be those not always working so hard to be happy.
Or maybe it’s just that the truly happy people don’t take everything so seriously. Happy people often have blue collar jobs. Or what many consider “mundane” jobs. They live in middle-class homes. Love their families.
They aren’t obsessed with status. Aren’t obsessed with making trophy children. Status symbols like European cars and designer bags and top universities and look-where-we-went-for-vacation-Christmas-cards don’t mean much.
All that crap sometimes means too much to me. I hate to admit it to you, but it really does.
I met this mechanic guy a few weeks ago. His name is Bud. He’s probably around 60. He works for this random muffler shop where I had to take my Prius because the Toyota dealership wanted $3,000 to fix it.
I knew his name was Bud because he wore one of those mechanic uniform shirts with a name tag.
I could never understand why mechanics wear those uniform mechanic shirts with name tags. It’s not like being a cop or nurse. Cops and nurses require that everyone around them know that they’re a cop or a nurse. When you go to an auto garage, you always know who the mechanics are. Anyway, I don’t know why they always have those uniform mechanic shirts or those name tags.
Mechanics always have the same kinds of names. Al or Bud or Junior. You’d never expect to see an Elliot or a Theodore working in an auto shop. I don’t know. I’m sure there are doctors and lawyers named Vern or Lew, and mechanics named Alexander or Earnest.
Anyway, I’m sitting in the office at his garage. I’m talking about smog checks and the DMV and all this stuff that happened at Toyota, and Bud was just kind of nodding and had this basic look on his face.
Then I half-jokingly say, “you wanna buy it?”
Everything shifted. The arrangement of his features, all of them I’d guess, just slightly moved in a way that said quite loudly he wanted my car.
It’s like he had been listening, but when I asked if he wanted to buy the car he heard me.
There’s a big difference between listening and hearing. If you’re married and a man, you are probably pretty good at listening to your wife. But do you hear her? I’m still learning.
Anyway, I’m telling you if you could have seen Bud’s face shift, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.
So he ends up saying he couldn’t do personal business while at work. So he wanted to come to my house later. He said he’d be “out of school” at nine. I didn’t want him coming over that late because I was cooking dinner and would have had a glass or two of wine and probably in no condition to negotiate — so I told him to come in the morning and he said he’d be there at 6:30 in the morning.
God, I don’t know why he had to come so early. But anyway I stumble outside looking like I had just crawled out of bed (which I exactly had) and then he hooked up this computer thing under the steering wheel and then starts telling me about how many problems it had.
It was the typical thing to expect when someone wants to low-ball you. Anyway, we did the dance around the price. And he offered me $200 less than my asking price. I had told him yesterday I was firm on the price. I hate that. Haggling over $200 wasn’t worth it to me so I gave him his price because I was growing to like Bud, and I wasn’t in the mood to fight with him over two-hundred bucks.
Anyway, he hands me a big wad of cash. There’s nothing like the feeling of a big wad of $100 bills. I felt like my dad for a few hours; Dad always carried around a few thousand dollars in his pocket.
We drove the Prius to Bud’s house. Very average neighborhood. Nothing special at all if you know what I mean. Then he opened his garage. It was so weird. His garage is a full-on auto shop. Just like what you see when you take your car to the mechanic with tools and tool boxes and weird machines that charge batteries and things like that.
So I’m in the Prius and he guided me to drive it in onto one of those red hydraulic lifts. Those kinds that lift your car over your head. I always get nervous when I get an oil change and you have to drive over one of those pits. I feel like I’m going to be the one to drive off the side. Then what?
When I got out I handed him the keys.
Then he told me he was going to fix the catalytic converter and tune it up then give it to his granddaughter. “She’s a good girl. She’s going to love her new car.”
There was something about the satisfaction in his voice when he talked about giving the Prius to his granddaughter. I don’t know. You would have had to have heard it but he seemed proud.
Bud had to drive me back home. It’s awkward driving in the car with a complete stranger. Even if it’s an Uber driver I feel I need to strike up a conversation. He drove some older black Mercedes Benz. It smelled and was a mess inside with trash everywhere. I had this weird thought about him being some kind of sicko murderer or something like that. I don’t know why I get weird thoughts like that sometimes but I have to tell you that I do.
I don’t know why I get weird thoughts like that sometimes, but I have to tell you that I do.
I asked him about his school. He said he’s doing some mechanic night school or something. He wanted to be up on all the changes with electronics and computers in cars. He was saying he works until five then is at school until 9 or 10. Then has homework until midnight. Then he wakes up and needs to be back at the shop early.
“But my wife has always supported me in my career. I’ve been doing this since high school and I love it.”
He kept going on and on about how he’s one of the top mechanics around. How his shop is one of the top 10 shops in California. I know he was exaggerating because his shop is this small little random building on some small little random street in Santa Ana.
“The school work is grueling, the information is harder than any of that math or engineering stuff they teach you in college, but it’s what you gotta do if you want to be the best.”
He drops me off and we shake hands. And later that day I had to go to the Land Rover dealership in Newport Beach and the people there were pretty much all rude. Or, at least they were snobbish.
And when I stood in the posh Land Rover dealership lobby, I thought of Bud. And I wondered about happiness. I had just written this post about whether people can choose to be happy.
And I thought of Plato’s view that we have three appetites. One for pleasure. One for status and reputation. One for knowledge.
My time with Bud made me think maybe the least happy people are those who are obsessed with status and reputation.
And I realized that Bud was probably happier than those smug rich folks at the Land Rover dealership.
Buying a 2010 Prius that needed a new catalytic converter so he could fix it in his garage and then give it to his daughter.
I think more parents need to teach their kids about good people like Bud, even though they might “only” be mechanics.