“Sorry, we’re closed,” said Taylor, waving through the window at the man outside of Grantham Auto Repair.

“But you’re right there!” the man said, exasperated. Behind him, a car was sending up a cloud of exhaust in the frigid air and making a very concerning sound that might have been anything from a broken power steering fluid pump to a cracked cylinder head.

Taylor pointed to the sign she had taped up not ten minutes ago: CLOSED MONDAYS.

“Can’t you just take a look at it?” the man pleaded.

“I’m not a mechanic,” Taylor replied with a helpless smile. “I’m just the receptionist!”

The man pounded futilely a few more times before retreating to his car and rumbling off. Taylor breathed a sigh of relief, largely because of her fib–while she was the receptionist, she was also a mechanic in training taking classes part time at the local community college and pitching in around Grantham’s.

Not today, though. She was just making sure the pipes didn’t freeze and that the mail was collected, since dozens of parts were en route for the two dozen vehicles scattered across the Grantham lot. It wasn’t that business was slow; far from it.

The Grantham Auto Repair lot was about three cars away from being full up. The problem was mechanics. Not only were they in short supply, but they kept getting sick–last week the shop had to close temporarily when Jayson caught the flu, Buddy caught covid, and poor Hunter who worked with both had gotten himself fluvid.

Even if Taylor was able to get her certification, it would take years to match the skill level of a practicing mechanic, and in that time every last one of the Grantham grease monkeys might be lured away by higher pay and better benefits, or driven away by hordes of angry customers blaming them for supply chain issues, inflation, and the overall cost of driving. She couldn’t even advise people to get new cars; the waiting period for anything other than a Kia, Nissan, or–God help you–a Mitsubishi was months on end at $10,000 above sticker.

It wasn’t great. But it did at least guarantee Taylor food on the table when her friends were struggling to make ends meet.

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