July 5, 1996


In free countries, every man is entitled to express his opinion and every other man is entitled not to listen.

G. Norman Collie

The last time that my car was missing and losing power on hills, I took it to a "holistic" shop where, besides running it through their diagnostic procedure, they cleaned the headlights and windshield because, "a clean car is a happy car and a happy car is a healthy car." This time I took it to "The People's Shop," a shop that prided itself in being a bastion of democracy.

I was greeted by a bearded man in coveralls who asked me my purpose in coming there. I told him that my car was coughing and had little power on hills.

The man, who introduced himself as Fred, said "We will be glad to be of assistance." He then called over another man(Joe), also in coveralls, and a woman(Gracie) who had been seated at a desk, writing.

"This man says that his car has difficulty making it up hills and that it coughs," said Fred.

"Are you sure that it's coughing? It could be missing," replied Joe.

"I suppose that you might call it missing," I replied, remembering that the word "coughing" was used only when explaining it to people functioning under a medical model.

"It's no wonder that you're having trouble if it's missing," said Gracie. Cars don't do well at all if the engine is missing. Have you looked for it?"

"That's not what he means, Gracie. When we mechanics say that an engine is missing, it means that one or more cylinders aren't firing," said Joe.

"Firing?" Inquired Gracie.

"Yes, what makes the engine work are small explosions of an air-gasoline mixture," said Fred.

"Isn't that dangerous and doesn't it pollute the air?"

"No it's not dangerous and, yes, it does pollute the air."

"In that case, wouldn't we have less air pollution if everyone's engine was missing?" asked Gracie.

"No," explained Fred, "because when an engine misses it puts gasoline fumes in the air and the other cylinders have to do the work. In actuality, we would have more air pollution."

"In that case, maybe we should stop his engine from missing," Gracie concluded.

"That's logical," said Joe, "but in order to do that we have to find out why it is missing. Several possibilities come to mind immediately: bad or fouled spark plugs, bad ignition wires, bad valves, plus a few relatively uncommon conditions."

"Those are all fine suggestions," said Fred, "Why don't we have a meeting tomorrow and discuss it further? If we could reach a consensus on the cause, perhaps we could repair it."

"Couldn't you fix my car today?" I asked.

"To do it the democratic way we have to consult a lawyer to make sure that what we are doing is legal. We also have to make sure that our liability insurance is in force and applicable to your case. Also, two of our mechanics are ill, but will return tomorrow. We should consult them to make sure that the situation is properly evaluated so that the repairs can be made more efficiently."

I left, never to return. At a neighboring autocratic shop, a lone mechanic discovered that one of my spark plugs was bad and replaced it. The whole procedure took less than half an hour, including paying the very modest bill.

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