The Black Market lives
Mention the black market, and people will think of a guy with too much body hair and an unidentifiable middle-European accent selling weapons and bootleg pharmaceuticals. In reality, there is much more to it than that, and we are surrounded by it.
More than a year ago, I caught my front bumper on something in a parking lot, and the right side hasn’t been right since. I thought it was just a small issue, and asked the Chrysler dealer to work on it. They sent me to Cook Collision, and they wanted to replace the bumper, the fender and my entire retirement account. I don’t like the car that much, so I kept driving around with a droopy bumper.
Today, I was in the Whole Foods parking lot when a guy in a red Camaro asked if I wanted it fixed. At first I said no, then thought better of it and chased him down to talk.
He looked at the car, checked it from front to back, and offered to fix the bumper and various scratches and dings in my driveway for $700. That was less than 1/4 of what the body shop wanted, and I didn’t have to drop the car off, do without for a few days, or go fetch it when it was finished. Sounded like a plan to me, so I did my shopping and they followed me home.
There were 3 guys–the driver of the car, who is clearly an experienced body and fender man. His first assistant, and a guy who fetches and carries. The first two apparently work in a body shop, but make much more money with these “side jobs”, since they are all cash.
It’s amazing what they can do with just a handful of tools–here’s their rolling “shop”
It was interesting watching them work, with the leader murmuring instructions to his number 2, they sounded just like the dentist working with a long time assistant. They worked together smoothly, neatly and quietly. The both smoke more than the dentist, though.
The work went swiftly. Somebody forgot to pack a drill, so we dug mine out of the garage. A bucket of hot water and soap was procured to prep the paint before touch-up.
When I worked in a gas station ages ago, we call this kind of spit, baling wire and chewing gum repair “Sam McGee” engineering. The result is pretty good. It isn’t a $3,500 job from the body shop, but it only cost 20% of that. Gail would never let this crew touch her Jag, but this is a perfect repair for my little Chrysler.
My black market repair crew were all Hispanic, but not foreign. One of them said he was born in Honolulu, and English was clearly a first language for all of them. They were hardworking professionals, cruising grocery store parking lots to find all-cash opportunities. That’s the way the black market operates–no insurance, no licenses, no taxes, no overhead. I guess they own their own tools, but perhaps they are “borrowed” from the shop where they have formal jobs. I don’t care–all I wanted was a cheap repair job with no hassles. I don’t need an invoice, I don’t care about ‘genuine’ parts, just stick the bumper back up and let me hit the trail.
These guys were really personable. The number 2 man wanted a photo of himself with a piece of art in the front:
So that’s the way things work just a few steps over the line from the law. No weapons, no pharmaceuticals, no strange accents or dark alleyways. Three hardworking young men who like to mug for the camera, do good work cheap and make some cash. It works for me.