Picture this, Camp Pendleton 2011, I just returned from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, now back in the States I am ready to return to regular life. During those long seven months I, like many of my military brothers and sisters, had created a list of things I wanted to do once I had finished my deployment. The list contained many trivial things like eat a Double Double from In N Out, and catch up with old friends, but it was the fifth thing on the list that had the most significant impact on my life. You see I was really into a show back then called Burn Notice (truth be told I still watch the reruns every now and again). The show starred a character called Michael Westen, and while I won't go into a whole show synopsis, he was the epitome of cool; the suits, the sunglasses and of course the classic car. I was young and had a little cash saved up so I set out to get myself a classic car.

I scoured the internet looking for something decent but quickly found that if you didn't have $10,000 to spend then your options were limited to something pretty much rusted out or something that didn't run. I chose to accept what I thought was the lesser of two evils and found one on Craigslist that didn't run. It was, for the most part intact. It had an engine, transmission, seats and a steering wheel. There were no giant holes in the body, but the paint had definitely seen better days. Looking back on it now I can fully admit that I had no business buying any car off of craigslist, especially a classic car, due to my severe lack of knowledge. The person that sold me the car didn't know very much about repairs so they couldn't tell me why it didn't run or even where to start looking. They were upfront that the car felt like a "money pit" and that they were not interested in investing any more time or money into it. Stupidly I bought the car, luckily it wasn't a disaster. Completely gung-ho I quickly began jumping from forum to forum looking for answers. I must have watched twenty hours worth of how-to videos on YouTube before admitting to myself that I still had no idea what I was doing. So there the car sat.

Flash forward to 2013, although the Marine Corps was good to me it was time to find a new career path. A little older and a little wiser I opted for the popular Veteran route by utilizing my GI Bill to attend school. I had no idea what I wanted to study; what I did know was that I didn't want to write research papers nor read a library worth of books. I saw that my local community college had an automotive program and while I wasn't sold on the idea of being a mechanic I thought it was a good opportunity to get a class under my belt and finally do something, anything, on the Mustang.

The basic class gave me a lot more understanding than any of the YouTube videos that I had seen years before. I could now turn a wrench the right way and even understood how the general systems worked. I was absolutely hooked, I signed up for the next class and the next, each time taking what I learned straight to the backyard. Replace the starter, check for spark, have the carb rebuilt. Whoa, it almost started. Firing order, compression test, anything I thought I could apply I tried, until one day, boom, it started and ran and quickly began to overheat. It was a small misstep, but all part of the journey. The feeling of working hard, applying the ideas that I had learned and actually making progress made me feel accomplished. I then knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I not only completed the automotive program, I also ended up taking all of the general education classes and attaining my Associate of Science. I took all of the knowledge I gained in the classes and made it work for me. In conjunction with going to school, I spent some time working at a smog internship through the state and after completing the required hours. I began work at a local independent shop where it was just me and the owner in the trenches every day cranking out top-notch repairs and just overall having a great time. I absolutely loved my time at that shop. We worked on everything under the sun so each day was new and exciting. Truth be told, that has got to be my favorite thing about working in the automotive field - almost nothing is standard. Bolts aren't always in the same place, fluid specs change from year to year, and that yellow wire probably doesn't end up where you think it will. Now even older still, I have a life that I am supremely proud of and a career that makes me extremely happy. Believe it or not, a position actually opened up a couple of years back at the very program that I studied at and I landed that job. Now I get to help the next generation explore their automotive passion and find themselves a career.

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About the Contributor
Anthony Diaz
Sep 28, 2018

I still have the Mustang, which I affectionately named Warthog, and though the years haven't been kind to either of our looks, I know that we'll keep cruising down the coast on sunny afternoons for many years to come.

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Tags: Culture



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