Hide all the sharp tools and anything that produces a flame Jason Stahl is suiting up for collision work.
You heard me right. From February 7 to 11, I will be punching in at the crack of dawn at Nagy’s Collision Centers in Northeastern Ohio as a temporary employee. My only hope is that no one gets hurt and that I don’t make the labor efficiency rate plummet.
Owner Ron Nagy graciously accepted my request to live the life of a collision repair technician for a full week, but I’m not sure he knows what he’s getting into. I’m an editor, after all. I’m just not used to hard labor. The salty sea captain Quint from “Jaws” might as well have been addressing me when he seized Hooper’s (Richard Dreyfuss) hands, turned them upside down, inspected them to see if he was qualified to hunt sharks and said, “You been countin’ money all your life!”
Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. After all, I did work on a parks maintenance crew in my early 20s, which included cleaning the “pit johns.” One thing I learned rather quickly was to always brush down. When you brushed up, the bristles flexed and flung, well, you know what at your face.
Oh, and there was that godawful gig in the kitchen of Honeybaked Ham during the manic holiday season. Maybe backbreaking work isn’t completely foreign to me. But it has been awhile, so I hope the crew at Nagy’s goes easy on me.
I expect I’ll be doing a lot of floor sweeping and prep work, but I’ll also be doing my “editor job” and documenting every moment of my journey through an online blog and photos. I fully expect that by the end of the week, I’ll be curled in the fetal position in a corner of the shop, sucking my thumb and whimpering about wanting to go back to the safety and tranquility of my office.
But in all seriousness, I hope I learn a lot from walking in the footsteps of you, the reader. I’ve visited many shops before I even worked at one for a day! But to get the real experience, to truly live the life of a repairer, I figured a whole week performing the duties of a bodyman, eating lunch with my brethren, discussing what they like and dislike about the industry, and maybe even tossing a few back with them at happy hour would give me a better taste for everyday life in the body shop.
Will I get a crack at painting a customer’s car or pulling one back into spec? Doubtful. If I were Ron, I wouldn’t let some English major come into my shop and do that! But I’ll be happy to do any grunt work that’s asked of me, including taking out the trash and fetching coffee or lunch. Basically, I’m hoping to shut up and stay out of the way and learn as much as I possibly can. As one shop owner told me about apprentices, “I tell them this ain’t no picnic. The general rule is to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. And if you’re still here in a year, we might start calling you by your name.”
A year? Gulp. I’m not so sure about that.