Phil, On Shaving A Tranny… Tweekaderos In Vegas, Saints and Sinners

Phil was a first class huckster, and hustler extraordinare. A man of many angles you might say. he was one of the many characters that I came to know, while living on a houseboat, on Lake mead, just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Now Live aboards, as those who live full time on boats are called, are a special breed, and Phil was no exception to this rule. He had a sailboat that he lived on, nice one too. Nothing gawdy or expensive, just good sized, 32′ maybe, maybe more, and seemed to be a comfortable little craft to live on.

Now he had no income that i was aware of, and though I think he may have been selling a little weed around the docks, he certainly was no kingpin. Now as I said, income that I was aware of.

He may very well have had some sort of disabilty claim I knew nothing about. I can tell you this though, he didn’t go to work. No, I think he had retired early, thanx to his huckster and hustler ways.

You see, Phil, in his earlier days had run a service station on Route 66, somewhere ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’, Arizona. Now I need to emphasize ‘Service’ station here. Unlike today, wher most gas stations don’t do much more than sell you gas and snacks, back in the day, service stations were also auto repair shops. And along some of these more isolated stretches of highways, like Route 66, that tradition lasted a little longer than elsewhere, precisely because of the remoteness.

Now a remote highway, in blistering hot Arizona, really isn’t where you want to be breaking down. We all know the stories we have heard, of people being gouged , over charged, for auto repair in circumstances like this. The mecchanic knows you don’t have any options other than him, and charges accordingly. If you don’t like it, find someone else.

As much as this sucks, I think we have come to accept it. It is a pretty standard business model, charging what a desperate market will bear. but, that isn’t the hustle I am going to describe here. This hustle is outright scam artistry, fraud and theft.

Phil however, unabashadly told me that they had pulled the scam hundreds of times, not only never getting caught, never even being suspected of wrongdoing at all.

Let me further flesh out the scenario. 100+ degrees, not just at the heat of the day, but for a significant stretch of the day, for a good half of the year. Areas where, the hundred and teens are normal highs, for 3 months of the year, and 95+ for another 7 or 8 months of the year. Yes, that is the math, 10-11 months a year with highs above 90 degrees.

So Phil has a service station, not on the pre-50’s thriving Route 66, but on the struggling to stay relevant thanx to Interstate 40 Route 66.

Many of the businesses, that did so well in Route 66’s heyday, when it was the Mother Road, the lifeblood of the country, the connective binding, of the two Coasts, had gone. Had cashed out, moved closer to the Interstate, or just quit, as the Interstate slowly choked the life out of Route 66.

But where others threw in the towel, cut and run, Phil saw an opportunity. People were still travelling Route 66, it wasn’t abandoned, covered in tumbleweeds. Not yet anyway, not like now.

You have to remember, that I met Phil in the 90’s, and he had this station in the late 70’s and the 80’s. So Interstate 40 wasn’t actually finished cross country yet, at least when he started . It was being finished, piecemeal, at different times in different parts of the country, so though I-40 was seriously draining the traffic off of The Mother Road, it was far from dead. Many people were still opting for the less convenient, slower route. Some, honestly, out of fear of the speed of the new Interstates. Others, out of habit. Still others, as a thumb in the eye of the speed of American commerce, at the expense of culture, of panoramic views, at the expense of priceless Americana.

For whatever reason, many people stilled braved the mother road, and took the scenic route. Some of them went Precisely because it was decaying and disappearing. These were the people Phil was counting on. You see, this stretch of desert is hot, I mean extrememly hot, and automobiles, even those in good shape, are going to act up. They are going to overheat, things are going to fail, going to start acting up.

Now, many of these issues are minor, and most involve letting the vehicle cool off. Quite often, the problem, though real, may only act up under extreeme heat conditions. So if you aren’t going to vbe crossing the desert regularly, you could just take a few more rest breaks, drive more at night, and not incure the costs of repair at all.

Or, perhaps it is a minor issue, that could be fixed at your destination, again, if you play gentle with the car in the heat. But those things, that advice, is not what a huckster like Phil is going to do.

Nope!

As he told the story, the mark would roll in, worried about the performance of their vehicle. Phil would look it over, see if he could actually find a problem to address. If he found it, he would fix it, overcharge you, and send you on your way.

However, if their was nothing really wrong with your car, if you were just the panicky type, or the thouroughly uninformed about vehicles, well, he had a special service plan for you!

It was almost like he felt the need to punish and fleece those he determined to be too dumb to own a car in the first place. Especially, if they had money, which a nice car was indicative of. He was definitely a believer in that old PT Barnum line, “There’s a sucker born every minute.

Phil would give the car a once over, then, commenting on the havoc the hills around there would wreak on a transmission, offer to check that out as well. Now the customer of course, wants to avoid a transmission failure out in the middle of the desert, almost begs him to do so. In effect, begging to be sheered, like a sheep.

Phil would climb under the car, drain the transmission, and stick his finger in the drain plub, muttering incoherently. Then, unbeknownst to the customer, he would dip that tranny fluid soaked finger in some fine metal shavings on the shop floor, while getting out from under the car. He would show those shavings in the fluid to the owner of the car, and begin to tell the owner how lucky they were that they stopped. That had they gone on by, they would have absolutely blown their transmission, in the middle of the desert.

Now the customer, knowing nothing about cars, and seeing the shavings in the fluid, really doesn’t think they have any other options. in fact, they may even feel as if this mechanic just saved their ass from catastrophe, and be grateful to do whatever he tells them they need to do. So of course, when he tells them he can get them a rebuilt transmission, and put it in for them, they readily agree.

When he tells them it might take two days to get here, but then he would get it in right away, they agree to it. When he tells them, that he can save them a little bit of money, if they give the tranny shop the old transmission to them, for them to rebuild for the next guy, they buy in, tell him to do whatever he needs to do.

So Phil sends them to a friends hotel down the street, to stay for the 2-3 days it is going to take to get this work done. Then Phil gets to the meat of the hustle.

He pulls off the transmission cover, throws it in the back of his truck. Then he drives out to a place where he can power wash it, and gets it cleaned up real nice, perhaps going as far as to paint it.

When it looks all shiny and new, he takes it back to the shop. Once there, he hides it for a day or so, then installs it on the car. He fills it back up with fluid, and voila! He can now overcharge you for the instalation of a rebuilt transmission, when all he really did was a fluid change!

As I said before, he was never caught for this. Never even suspected. The sheep came, they got sheered, then went on their way, thanking him for the privilege.

That, was his retirement program, the fleecing of sheep, and the swindling of suckers. Sometimes, crime does pay.

 

 

 

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