Leave Well Enough Alone

Before we decided to make it better, and it got worse
Before we decided to make it better, and it got worse

Most of you have already heard the time-tested saying, “Leave well-enough alone.”

This pragmatic, hands-off approach is directly at odds with a provocative, newer take that asks, “If less is more, just think how much more more is.”

The realm of Costa Rican car maintenance serves as the arena where these two, diametrically opposed philosophies battle for control of my brain. Every fiber of my Gringo being wants to fix things when they break — preferably at the first sign that something might be wrong. The reality of the chain reaction that follows these good intentions reflects the Tico reality that it’s often better to learn to incorporate the problem into your life vs. fix it.

An annoying example might involve a burned out bulb in your taillight. Instead of ignoring it, hoping everyone behind you takes notice of the functioning taillight on the other side of your car, you try to replace it and then find that the that the screw holding in the plastic cover has long-since rusted through. It breaks off at the slightest contact, leaving you with no way to replace the cover. Further, your efforts have upset the delicate balance in play within the plastic, which now decides to break into the three pieces the prior owner had glued together. This leads to an odyssey to try and find a new taillight assembly only to discover that no parts store in the country has it in stock, which leaves you combing through auto-graveyards located hours away. These auto-graveyards have no electronic inventory, which means that someone has to pore through the collage of parts hoping to find the exact part that matches your car. When you eventually find one it’s not quite the same size and has many of the same issues with the plastic as the one it’s intended to replace.

That example is merely a flesh-wound in terms of potential outcomes. Through my desire to do something nice for my bride I believe I found the far end of the comedic range of negative outcomes.

The fact set: our 15-year-old car had a hood that was supposed to be black. Due to the fact that the car had been parked under a tree or some other sap-or-lava-dispensing device for the better part of it’s life the paint on the hood had largely disappeared. The only thing keeping the rust at bay was the numerous layers of water stains and some remnant of the sap. I was told by a local friend that for a very small sum the hood could be repainted. I took this advice at face value. When I handed the keys to the body shop guy he frowned and said that just repainting the hood would make the rest of the car look worse in comparison. For a slightly higher sum the rest of the black surfaces could be buffed and the gray plastic panels and bumpers could be sanded and repainted. All of this would take only 2 – 3 days.

On day five I went over to check on the car. We were leaving town soon and needed it for the trip to the airport. I found the car largely as I’d left it, with the exception of the fact that the hood had been removed and was nowhere in sight. I inquired again as to when the work would be complete, and as I’d been told for the past few days — good things were going to happen. Soon.  Maybe even tomorrow. I repeated this visit daily for the next three days and found that nothing had changed, but was told that the paint was hopefully coming up from San Jose that night or the next day via the public bus from San Jose.

I envisioned a couple of small, lonely paint cans sitting by themselves on the front seat of the hot, bumpy bus.

Fighting many other impulses I asked the person who’d originally referred me to this shop to continue to check on my car in my absence and made other plans to get to the airport (those plans included a project car which died on the freeway but that’s another story for another time). About a week later I received a text from my friend that said that car was back. All was well. He even included pictures to prove it.

I sat, several thousand miles away, trying to figure out if it was a trick of the lighting in our hotel room or something to do with my friend’s camera. I sent him a text back thanking him for his help and asking if, by chance, he could confirm that all of the portions of the car that had previously been gray were now in fact gold? My friend stopped replying, and my concern grew.

Upon returning home I discovered that our car had indeed been converted into the vehicle equivalent of that odd time in the late ’80’s when gold was almost out but brushed nickel hadn’t quite stuck the fashion landing. It wasn’t an ugly faucet with alternating bands of contrasting colors, but my present to my bride had that same inability to state it’s preference in terms of its color scheme. 

On the positive side the hood is back, and I’m pretty sure it’s even the same one as the thin layer of new paint already betrays the sap-depleted finish below.


Well, maybe the rose-tinted windows with black paint and chrome AND gold effects will be in next year
Well, maybe the rose-tinted windows with chrome AND gold effects will be in next year…

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