Saturday mornings do not find us vigorously vacuuming out our vehicles and painstakingly detailing their in- and exteriors. We prefer going places, seeing things; cars are just a means of conveyance, a kind of gas-powered mule.
However, as vacation home-swappers—an Icelandic family will be staying in our home a few weeks this coming summer and using our car—the faded charms of our automobile became more problematic. We wanted to be able to provide our Reykjavik guests with a car they wouldn’t be ashamed to drive. Besides flaking paint on its hood, our loyal hatchback had suffered the further indignity of being sideswiped at the bottom of Trench Hill as the family sledded above. Some wrinkles would need to be ironed out, too.
How often do you contract work to be done and get more than you asked for? Not many fingers needed to tally that up, right?
Well, Alvin Staples and his North Stafford High School team (and he does foster a teamwork atmosphere in his shop, with himself as a kind of player–manager) not only fixed everything we agreed to—some bodywork on two fenders, painting the hood—but also took care of a few other dings we hadn’t talked about. He even figured out some way to restore the Passat’s headlights to their former brightness.
She—the Passat—looks lovely now, a lady fresh from the Saturday morning beauty parlor.
Alvin runs his shop with humor and warmth. He says he seldom has trouble with his students; they enjoy learning this valuable trade from an experienced master and appreciate their hands-on training. Discipline problems are typically the bane of teachers facing roomfuls of bored kids. Alvin’s body shop kids aren’t bored.
Alvin says a good body man can feel imperfections—it’s a braille-like skill—just by running his (or her: he teaches girls, too) hands along a car’s flat surfaces. He attests you are either born with this touch or you’re not. But all can improve.
Isn’t it time we lose those ancient and no longer applicable collar hang-ups anyhow? White, blue, does any of this really matter? We live in time anyhow where waitresses and taxi drivers might have a master’s degree and where some managerial types can barely compose a coherent sentence. The old job categories, that is, don’t necessarily apply any more.
Alvin’s shop at North Stafford High is a fascinating place. The diversity of jobs done there is wide. For many years, Alvin has been involved with Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby racing and competitors still bring him their cars to paint. He’s doing some restoration on a vintage 1950s recreational vehicle. Mini Corvettes—they had been used as showroom promotional models in the early days of this singular automobile—were in various stages of refurbishment. Although Alvin comes from the world of high-end auto painting, the fact that he chose to offer his expertise to the next generation seems magnanimous, a kind of torch-passing that should leave our community grateful.
One of my best friends learned masonry at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge back in the 1970s. And he had made a nice career for himself in construction, too, and has provided a good living for himself and his family. I’m sure his wallet is more generously padded than my own. But then again, whose isn’t? My point is: Most trades pay pretty well.
Isn’t there something a little hollow and unsupportable about America’s “higher education” obsession anyhow? Stafford County may be afflicted with a particularly virulent strain of this obsession, chock full as this county is of folks attempting to claw and elbow their ways up a kind of social and economic ladder that few of them seem to question.
What is wrong with learning an honest trade? Particularly one that can be practiced in one’s own community, thereby avoiding the nightmare of Interstate 95?
Alvin’s shop is an up-to-date manifestation of an Old World system of learning and professional preparation. The apprentice–journeyman path. The master teaches his apprentices. These now-proficient workers “journey” elsewhere to ply their new trade. A profession continues to operate.
Anyhow, our car looks nice, her surface lovely—probably better than her 200,000-plus miles deserves. We’ll now drive her with pride. Our summer Icelanders, too. Thanks Alvin. You and your students done good.
Thank you to Fredericksburg.com for permission to reprint this story.