Papi used to tune the 6-cylinder engine to his Chrome blue Chevy Impala with a warm glass of rum.
On Saturday mornings, after spending the start of the weekend sleeping, Papi used to walk out to the car, which he kept parked in front of the red brick tenement we lived in, in Brooklyn. In the trunk he kept his tools and likewise in a greasy brown bag an old drinking glass stained with use and a bottle of dark Puerto Rican rum. He opened the bottle and poured a half glass of rum, warmed by the summer heat that turned the trunk into an oven and cooked whatever was inside. Then he walked around to the front of the car and leaned forward to unlatch the hood through the front grill, lift the hood, take a small sip of rum and then place the glass on the right front fender.
As he worked, Papi would take small sips from the glass for each part of the car he worked on; checking plugs, wires, air filter, belts. Then he would check the engines idle that would actually cause the car to shake more or less.
Taking a small screw driver, he would reach reach deep into the carburetor and turn the idle screw. He watched the glass of rum as he turned the screw and judged his work based on the ripples that formed in the rum. The ripples started at the center of the filled glass, then radiated out to the edge of the glass, then bounced back, creating a storm of waves that seemed to boil the rum. Often I stood beside the glass and watched the storm grow in the rum, until Papi tuned the car. He continued to turn the idle screw until the car settled, and the rum settled. Finally the car didn’t visibly shake, but the rum rippled ever so gently; like the warm pools of water in the mountains of Puerto Rico. The ripples had become shallow, even and fast.
The car was tuned; and Papi was glad…
Papi would stand in front of the car and admire the engine. Then take the warm glass of rum and pour the rest down his throat.