I recently had an unfortunate encounter between my van and a mail box, which left my passenger side rearview mirror smashed. After receiving a $400 quote from the Kia dealer, I found myself motivated to explore my own Undiscovered Country: The Junkyard.
Up until now, the only exposure I’d had with junk yards was from 80s cartoons such as Fat Albert and Heathcliff, in which neighborhood kids, cats and their friends lived or played in a junkyard. It seemed like quite the fun place, filled with fish bones, hollowed out cars in which cats slept, spare parts that could be used as instruments, and the occasional metal trash can which is now a vintage item in most neighborhoods. I was excited to explore the undiscovered frontier, albeit a bit unsure.
When I called the local junkyard, I wanted to make sure I didn’t sound like it was my first junkyard rodeo.
“LKQ Auto Parts,” said the gruff voice on the line.
“Uh..hello… is this a..” I paused before continuing. Were they still called “junk yards”? Was that term offensive or obsolete? Had there been a cultural shift since the 80s that gave these cartoon wonderlands a more politically correct name? After some quick thinking, I continued: “Auto salvage yard?”
“Yep,” came the reply.
He went on to explain how the process works: 1. they tell me if they have the model i’m looking for. 2. I bring in my own tools and take the part from the car. 3. Pay for the part on the way out.
Fascinating, I thought as I imagined a real-life Fat Albert world where I could legally break into any vehicle while exploring an actual junk..er… auto salvage yard.
After watching enough YouTube part-removal tutorials to make me look like an auto salvage pro, I arrived at the final frontier. The main building had two long desks, one for checking in and one for checking out. Several oil-stained, burly men (and the occasional woman) were walking in and out with wheelbarrows full of random parts. I approached a Herculean man at what I assumed was the check in desk with wide-eyed wonder.
“Hi! It’s my first time in your fine establishment. My side view mirror was recently smashed in an unfort–”
“Make, model and year of the vehicle you’re looking for,” interrupted the large man. He sported a black baseball hat and a slim fitting black tank top which showed off a tattoo of a woman’s silhouette. First contact was a success.
“Kia Sedona.” I paused like a mysterious cowboy addressing a saloon bartender. “2008. ” I always speak confidently about my “man’s van.”
“It’s two dollars to go into the yard.” He motioned with his head. “Head to the back left part where you see the sign for imports. Kia’s are there.”
I gave him my two dollars like a kid giving his hard-earned allowance to the carnival attendant. In return I got a cool red stamp on my hand.
“Is this all access… all day?” I asked eagerly, showing off my stamp.
“Uhh… yeah,” he responded, slightly confused.
“Awesome… so all the way to the back, left at imports?”
I proceeded to the double doors that led to “the yard.” As I stepped through I was amazed at the sight before me: a desolate expanse of vehicles as far as the eye could see. The brightness of the Florida sun was almost blinding as it reflected off this mass graveyard of cars of every size and style. I soon realized I wouldn’t be seeing Fat Albert or Heathcliff in this place… no, I was more likely to meet Mad Max in this post-apocalyptic car scene. I set a course for the Kia quadrant and hoped for the best.
As I trudged past row after row of car corpses I noticed other travelers of every stripe. The yard had transformed all of them into scavengers, picking every last useful piece off these once glorious machines and leaving only empty shells. They looked me over, as if knowing I was a stranger among them. Perhaps it was the occasional picture I took, which I noticed no one else was doing. One scavenger caught my eye: a man who looked in his 70s who may just have lived there his whole life. He was not at all frail, but rather rugged and weathered like a sailor… a yard sailor. All he needed was a patch over his eye and a mechanical arm and I would have named him Mad Max.
I finally arrived at my target and began my own scavenger metamorphosis in the blistering Florida heat. After fumbling over which socket size to use and hoping the locals didn’t notice, I pried off my prize from its derelict host and raised an oil-thirsty hand. The sounds of shrieking paneling and ripped glue filled the junkyard air. Victory was mine…MINE!
At the checkout I plopped my spoils of war on the counter and paid the fee for the hunt. I was still awe-struck at the experience and hoped I could return one day… perhaps sit by a midnight fire while Mad Max tells other scavengers of days of old when he would pry mufflers off with his bare hands. And we would all sit in silence and listen in total amazement.