A lesson for life
I remember. Somewhere deep inside my being I had condemned myself to always remembering the following event. I was shamed, humiliated and marked for life by the sight of a family's eyes glaring at me with such anger like the red hot coals of the blacksmith’s fire. As one gets older the memory tends to fade, it also becomes very selective, but an event that deeply touched your feelings always seems constantly to be present like a drip of water you cannot turn off.
Several years ago I worked for a team of photographers that had been invited by the Mexican government for a tourist campaign photo shoot in Acapulco. As it was an important occasion the leader of our group thought the company’s disreputable dented old jeep did not merit neither the invitation, nor the occasion. He decided to fund a small budget to improve the Jeep,’s appearance into a more respectable standard. I was delegated to go to Acapulco three days before the event and try to find a garage/vehicle body shop capable of executing a paint job. Best to be on parade looking smart.
The budget allotted for the work was a strict $250, hopefully it would be less as we were always short of cash. I started for Acapulco in the very early morning and arrived after a five hour’s drive with the brutal sun showing its strength in the last hour of the trip. I soon realized if I had any hope of meeting the budget I would have to find some garage in the hinterland of the city. After an exhausting search that took the best part of what was left of the morning, I located a sign to a garage that pointed in the direction of a small passageway leading down a car-track. I hesitated, looked at my watch and saw time was retreating like a receding tide. Just as I turned the jeep on to the passageway I momentarily stopped to consider the possible danger aspects. The writing on the sign purported to be a family business prepared to take on the vehicle repairs as illustrated by the drawings. I had spent most of the morning looking without any success.
I stepped on the accelerator. Within three minutes I was in a large square surrounded by workshops. The noise and smell of petrol and grease denoted a hive of activity. In an act of prudence I spun the jeep round so its nose was facing the exit. As I stepped out I saw a man walking towards me. He was small in size with dark hair and a wrestler’s body. His face was pleasant with a large mouth, dark eyes and skin drawn tightly across his cheeks, no doubt, from the many hours of sun. His bare arms and hands clearly showed many hours of working with machinery. As expected he wore dirty overalls. As he stepped closer the noise coming from workshops ceased and several human silhouettes appeared in the square. They must have been ten of all ages and sizes, no doubt ,the family. Within minutes the jeep was surrounded. For a second I thought it was prudent to get back into the jeep. The man I first saw held out his hand in as a sign of friendship. On his face I saw a kindness that distilled all fears of danger. He spoke to me in Spanish. As I was incapable of speaking their language. I was forced to employ animated signs of why I was there and work I wanted done. Paint the outside, clean the interior and if possible repair a few tears in the upholstery. As I progressed around the jeep indicating several dents I noticed what was, no doubt, the family members, all sweaty and dirty from extensive activity, were taking a great interest. In my sign language demonstration there were a few pauses to let them examine in more detail the work involved, this was followed by animated conversations. Even the youngest member, recently stepping into childhood ,was part of the team, overalls and a grease marked his face.
Once my animated demonstration was finished. A family discussion followed, heads nodded. The bidding for the work started a $ 230 counted by me at $ 200. The man who had extended his hand, by how I assumed was the boss, marked $220 in the earth. I erased it with a figure written in the sandy ground of $200 my original price. I considered that it was I who was taking all the risk, I had no idea if they would do a good job. Unfortunately I was incapable of communicating my thoughts. I also had the feeling that if it had been just the two of us he would come down to my figure. My stance of insisting that 200$ was the price created another animated discussion. Watching them I realized 20$ was an important sum that merited fighting over. Before the boss wrote a figure in the sand a silent fell on the company, the air was thick with an emotional and anxious cloud of expectancy. He wrote 210$ and extended his hand. I looked into his dark eyes that seemed to reflect the question I was asking myself. How important was this work for them? His eyes gave me the answer. I extended my hand. He made a sign to indicate it would take two days. A family member drove me to the nearest taxi rank.
When having my dinner that night I felt annoyed with myself at not having stuck to my original offer of 200$. I felt the boss had been persuaded by his family against his better judgment. He thought he might have lost the work. My reflection were like a sore on your skin that doesn't seem to want to leave you
Two days later I could not believe what I saw. The jeep totally reconditioned with paint work as though it had just come off the production line. As I approached the jeep, the noise from the workshop stop, and out came the family lead by the man I negotiated with. This time instead of surrounding me they all lined up like soldiers on a parade ground. They stood there as a proud group knowing that they had done a good job. I carefully inspected their work. The interior was in pristine condition, they had even repaired the upholstery. During my inspection I was observed by several pairs of dark sullen eyes, but distinctly happy faces. I saluted them as my form of congratulates. It might have been the strong sunlight, or some devious flaw in my makeup, but I handed over only 200$. The boss counted the money. Never have I seen such disgust, misunderstanding and contempt burn in his eyes. He spat and throw the money on the floor turned his back and left me to drive away. I throw another $20 on the floor and left with shame and the haunting image of the family all turning their backs. This lesson in making a deal has lasted a lifetime
The jeep was the star of the day, I was the champion. Little did the group know I personally lost 20$ and myself respect. On the positive side I had learnt a lesson for life.
David Nutt 7/04/2022