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Beating Auto Repair Stereotypes

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Let me share why I dislike the term “grease monkey.”  As a young kid, my family spent many holidays and Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house. I have many fond memories of those days—the smell of food cooking, the adults sitting around the dinner table talking about the “good old days,” and just being together as a family. Yes, those were happy days—except for one. 

After dinner on one of those typical Sunday afternoons, I was sitting in my grandmother’s living room with my uncle. He turned to me and asked, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I told him, “I want to fix cars.” With a roar he lashed out at me and said, “You want to follow in your father’s footsteps and be a grease monkey?” My uncle went on and on about the value of an education, of getting a good job and not settling for a job fixing cars. He used the words, “grease monkey,” many times during his rant. I was taught to respect my elders, so I sat there in silence as he preached to me.

The next day at breakfast, I told my father what my uncle had said. He quickly jerked his head toward me. He stared at me for what seemed like an eternity but never said a word. I watched as and his eyes filled up with sadness. He finally turned away and continued to eat. I knew that I had hurt him. We never discussed that day again or the cruel words spoken by my uncle.

Well, I did follow in my father’s footsteps, became a mechanic and a shop owner. But my story does not end there. Fate would have me relive my childhood experience once again, but this time with a vengeance. 

My son worked with me at the shop in the afternoons while in high school. One afternoon at around 4 p.m., one of our regular customers arrived asking for an oil change. He was a long-time customer so I told my son to bring his car in right away and take care of him. While my son was changing the oil on his Honda, the customer asked him what his plans were for the future. My son replied, “I’m going to college, the University at Buffalo.” The customer responded, “That’s great. Finish college and get a good job. You don’t want to be stuck here working on cars the rest of your life.” I could not believe my ears! Did he really say that to my son? Did he have so little respect for the work that I do? In an instant, this customer brought me back to that infamous day sitting in my grandmother’s living room with my uncle. 

That night, I told my wife what had happened and fought hard to hold back my anger. To think that this so-called educated science teacher could be so ignorant to say something like that to my son. I was hurt, ashamed and angry. However, what my son thought of me mattered most. No amount of comforting from my wife could wipe away those emotions.  

Yes, I make my living in a greasy world. I work hard keeping the motoring public moving. I am proud of what I do and what I have accomplished. We, shop owners and the technicians of the world all need to be proud of what we do. I often wonder if my father felt the same way.

We all have defining moments in our lives that impact us in such a way that after that moment, we are changed forever. How we react to these defining moments can shape our future in either a positive or negative way.    

My father passed away in 1986, six years after I started my business. I was struggling then, and he knew it. He tried to guide me the best he could, and I appreciated it. I know now that he was proud of me, and the life that I chose. I do regret that I never told my father how proud I was of him. He was the reason I chose the automotive business. He taught me lessons in life and the skills of mechanics. 

Another regret I have is never speaking to my father again about the “grease monkey” incident with my uncle. I will, however, have a talk with my son. I will not make that mistake again.


Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at jmarconi@ratchetandwrench.com.

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