I am often asked where I get my material to write about. Basically, writers have three options. They can invent a story, which requires a fertile imagination, or they can share their interesting life experiences. But if I relied on this method, my career would be over in two paragraphs. My favorite system is the third option, to hang around more interesting people and tell their stories. I prefer this method because I can gather the material without being bucked off, dirty or embarrassed.
The secret then to being a good writer is in collecting an interesting array of sources, like my mechanic, Dirty Harry. I do almost all of the maintenance on my old truck, which explains why I have a radio that shuts off when you turn on the wipers and an engine that leaks more oil than the Exxon Valdez did. But once every two years, I am forced by the state to get my truck “smog checked.” For this, I require the services of Dirty Harry. He only charges $49 for the smog certificate, but I never seem to get out of his shop for under $500. That’s because he finds a plethora of other problems that must be fixed. Leading me to believe that the smog laws were passed by legislators who were coerced by mechanics who threatened, “Pass this smog law and make us rich, or you’ll have to change your own oil.”
Dirty Harry’s Garage is a fountainhead of interesting material. Harry has thumbtacked a collection of weird press clippings on a bulletin board. As an example, the story titled “Man Hung by Chevy” tells of a businessman who decided to check a heater hose while his car was still running. His long tie got caught in the fan belt, and well…you get the picture. The lesson Dirty Harry wants to impart with his bulletin board is that you should never work on your own vehicle and if you do insist on playing amateur mechanic, wear a bow tie or turn off the engine first!
Another clipping on Dirty Harry’s bulletin board came from the Kalamazoo Gazette. The yellowed and oil-stained clipping dated 1995 told of an intellectual giant of a man named James Burn. According to the author, James owned a “farm truck,” the implication being that anyone who owns such a vehicle is not running on all cylinders. It seems that James was bothered by a loud noise, even when his wife was not in the truck. So, the 34-year-old resident of Alamo, Michigan, convinced a “friend” to drive his truck while James hung underneath to ascertain where the noise was originating. Of course, James never heard the noise ever again.
Another reason not to work on your own truck was graphically illustrated by a 1996 story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It related the plight of two more Jeopardy! game show rejects who were injured when their truck crashed near Cotton Patch, Arkansas. According to the clipping on Dirty Harry’s board, Thurston Poole and Billy Ray Wallis were going home after a frog-gigging trip when the headlights on their truck quit. Because they had always done their own maintenance, the men were very creative in fixing the problem. They quickly deduced that a fuse had blown, and not having a spare, Billy Rae placed a .22 caliber bullet in the fuse box next to the steering column. (Being skeptical, I tried it on mine, and it does fit.)
The shell completed the circuit, and the headlights were as bright as the two men’s spirits until the shell exploded. Apparently, the shell overheated, discharged, and struck Thurston right in the… let’s just say, if Los Angeles was Thurston’s head and his feet were New York City, Thurston got shot in Omaha. The vehicle swerved to the right, struck a tree, and Thurston will not be siring any more children. Upon hearing of the accident, the first question out of Poole’s wife was, “How many frogs did they get?”
See what I mean about stealing other’s stories? I could never make that up.