Zen, work, and the art of seatbelt maintenance 

This week, at Motorheadquarters, someone accused Motorhead of being a Zen workaholic.

At first I didn’t get it. I had an obvious question mark on my face when Tyrone, my ever observant, 13-year-old son--with some prodding from Guacamoto, my ever playful assistant and spiritual advisor--piped up, “That one slipped right by you, didn’t it?”

I looked up from the repair manual I was pretending to read, floated back to the present, analyzed the question and replied, “Not exactly. The idea is still wriggling around in the back of my mind like a net full of eels.

“I display some of the symptoms: I spend a lot of time in the work place. I work well over 100 days per year... But I do it in such a mellow and enjoyable way... I don’t know. I’m still processing. But, the remark did not slip right by me.

“Now back to work you pesky mutt.”

Guacamoto, a concerned expression on his face, slipped up to the counter and wondered aloud whether I’d been too hard on the lad. I told him that Tyrone had broad shoulders and suggested that he, Guac, should be more productive as well.

“Come on Moe, you know I was just jokin’ with ya. Did you get any letters this week?”

“Yes, I did,” I asserted “and I especially wanted to share this one with you.” I handed over the note. “And don’t call me Moe.”

My fiendishly clever ‘93 Mazda Protege, Seafoam (named thusly by my Bozeman friend, Chaucer) has been playing with my mind lately.

After 103,000 miles, she began letting out seat belt beeps for no apparent reason. Sometimes one little beep--sometimes 16. Then they quit mysteriously.

Does she have the hiccups, or maybe a short? Was she crying “Wolf”?

My partner and I responded by tweaking on our belts, unbuckling and buckling the automatic straps, jiggling the lap belt assemblies--there seemed to be no connection or response.

I looked at the manual, which said, “See your Mazda dealer.” Now, I don’t want to bring her in to the dealer unless there are other serious problems. She’s the quintessential road hound and I don’t want her to think she’s losing her grip on reality.

But maybe she is! Do Mazdas get Alzheimer’s disease? Help me help her before I find her wandering the back roads alone.


Guacamoto took his time and silently read the epistle twice. When he looked up at me his eyes looked like the undersides of two porcelain cups with black spots painted on the bottoms. A tear formed in each corner.

“Unbelievable,” he said once, then again, “Unbelievable.”

“What’s unbelievable?” I tried to peer over his shoulder.

He responded, “I find it unbelievable that this person can care so much for a vehicle, all compliments and happiness and that name, Seafoam. Many people don’t even bother to give their cars names.

“How can a car so loved be so ungrateful to harass its owners and send them into fits of seatbelt wriggling? I’d be driven crazy. Just moseying along and out of the blue--ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong.”

He began to sob, and then broke down completely. I held him close and patted his back as spasms racked him from head to toe.

“There, there,” I said soothingly. “Your emotions seem to be riding very near the surface, today. It’s okay. There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this behavior and it has nothing to do with harassment.

“The problem is in the microswitches. When you sit in the seat and close the door, the robotic shoulder belt travels up a track along the door jamb and when it stops it is supposed to touch a microswitch that turns off the alarm. The switch is either broken or out of adjustment. These man-made objects are not foolproof and sometimes fail over time.

“I find that acknowledging the labors of automatic automotive devices greatly increases their longevity. This is why when my automatic shoulder belt slides into place I always say, ‘Thank you, Thing.’

“The only real fix is to have the Mazda dealer replace the seat belt assemblies. The expense of the operation may justify some belt alarm tolerance.”

Guac’s grin returned and he said, “Thanks Moe, er, Motorhead. You always have a way of making me feel better.” He sauntered off to his corner and returned to work.

I just stood there.

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