By: Daniel Kim
Featured Image – “DSC_0099” by Ryan Moto licensed by CC 4.0
If you’re a car guy, you’ll go to all sorts of crazy lengths to ensure your baby receives the best treatment possible. I’ve seen a neurosurgeon posting on an Internet forum saying that he had no problem hacking up someone’s brain, but spent days debating where to take his car to get a new supercharger installed. Go figure.
It’s a disease – a ridiculous exercise in wastefulness that will make non-car people question your sanity – but it’s an adventure worth undertaking.
Along this journey, in your quest for finding the best of the best of the best, sir (see video below) you’ll meet a unique group of people who devote themselves to their work with utter disregard for profit and peer acceptance. They live their life for their particular area of expertise, attaining the equivalent of a 3-star Michelin restaurant rating in the automotive community.
It’s usually a life changing thing to meet one of these gurus, but in my particular instance it was under less fortunate circumstances. After doing battle with a curb and losing badly, my vehicles frame was damaged and needed to be repaired.
Initially unaware of the bent sheet metal beneath the cars rather tidy looking exterior, I had my ride towed to DB AutoCare in Walnut. The owner, Raymond Gonzaga, is a friend and mentor of sorts. He is well-known within the Southern California area as the foremost expert on old Toyotas, especially AE86’s. Ray, as he’s affectionately referred to, is the 1st master of this story.
After the car was up on the rack and it was clear we were dealing with an area of repair out of his jurisdiction, he decided to phone up an acquaintance – actually, two acquaintances. It was the unusual pairing of an African-American gentleman, fluent in Japanese who had lived their for 23 years, and his boss, who speaks virtually no English (this is the 2nd master).
Raymond’s description of the ‘Frame Master’ (who I am calling such because I actually do not know his real name) intrigued me greatly. He spoke of him with great reverence and respect. As I shall surmise later in the post, a Japanese individual who is renowned for his skills is always something to behold.
The ‘Frame Master’ and his partner appeared a few hours later and began to assess the damage. Mr. FM, wore a loose khaki button-up and old worn Levi’s, always with one hand on his hip and the other free to manipulate a vaporizer which he continually puffed on.
As he moved about underneath the car, Raymond, myself and a few others who were present at the shop watched with great intent. The way he moved, spoke and gestured all indicated that he was undoubtedly an expert in frame repair. It gave me a great sense of pride when Mr.FM mentioned that he liked my car, and that he too wished to own one someday.
I spoke with Rodney (Mr.FM’s partner) earlier this afternoon, checking up on the status of my vehicle. Our conversation is what inspired this post.
The insurance adjuster I’m working with had called me prior to my talk with Rodney, sounding rather frustrated. He stated that “The guy at your chosen body shop says he can and is able to repair the car, but he’s not sure if he will.” Now on the surface that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you have to understand the mind set of a true master to see the hidden meaning behind his words.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to work on the car, but it’s the pressure and uncertainty of knowing whether or not he can do work on my vehicle that is up to his own particular standard. And I think this is a common theme with artisans who have reached the highest level of their trade. They don’t care about having a lot of business, they selectively choose what they want to work on, and usually only when it interests them will they accept the job.
Similar is the phenomenon where disgruntled restaurant patrons will complain that a particular restaurant or chef ‘wasn’t any good’ because they refused to do a custom order or acquiesce to some special request. I mean, yes, it’s your money, and it’s probably a good sum of money, but the master does not bend to the needs of his apprentices. He has spent his entire life, his entire being perfecting that which he whittled down to an exact science, not to be rich or famous, but to be able to perform his job at a level he can find satisfaction in.
This guy reminded me so much of Jiro, the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro featured in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend a viewing, not just if your a sushi fanatic but for life inspiration in general). These Japanese dudes have some sort of crazy sense of conviction, to do the job right whatever the cost. I’m pretty sure that’s why the level of tuning in Japan is light years beyond the ‘hellaflush’ trend sweeping Stateside.
I’m still not sure if he’ll take the job, but it was an honor to have seen him at work, as it should be when we are blessed enough to come into the presence of any modern day master whether it be chef, mechanic or bater.