Wednesday, April 25, 2012

That Small Car Repair Shop, The Kind They Used To Call "The Garage".

   There's a small garage in this little town in which I love to live. I'll toss their name out because I don't mind endorsing places that are good to me. It's called the Halfway Truckstop, and it's in Vassar, MI. It seems like every town has a place like it. Some towns have a bunch of places like it. I think they're a lot less common now than they used to be, and that's a shame.
   You might know the kind I'm talking about. They're often associated with--as in same owner, as in sharing the same building--as a gas station. Not a convenience store that sells gasoline, but a gas station. The kind of gas station where your wheels roll over a black hose and a thing inside the building goes "DING" and someone runs out to pump your gas.
This isn't the place, but the concept is the same.
   There aren't any more pumps at the Halfway Truck Stop, but they'll fix your car. They'll fix it well, and you won't have to worry about them charging you too much or talking you into something you don't need.

   The first time I visited the place was in 1989, and it seems like a lifetime ago. It had gas pumps then. It also has a little restaurant in the same building. The restaurant is still there, but it's called Karr's Kafe now instead of the Halfway Truckstop, but you can still get great food there for not a lot of money. Great service too, and if you smile when you make a smartass comment, they'll smile right back and give you one in return. I like that.
   When I first got gas at the old Halway Truckstop, I was working for the Boy Scouts. I had a company car and a company gas card. When I tried to pay for the gas with that BSA gas card, the owner ran it through the credit card machine. He must've hit cancel, because the bill never arrived. I didn't make it to this town very often, but on a couple of other occasions when I gassed up at the Halfway, the bill for the gas never made it to the credit card statement. The man was making a quiet donation. He didn't want credit for it (I asked), or even to talk about it.

   We moved to this town, my wife and I, almost seven years ago. I no longer drive a company car. I drive an old Mercury Grand Marquis. It's not worth a lot, and it's showing a bit of rust. But it's my car, and I need it. The exhaust pipe got a hole in it, and then, as they do, it rotted through and broke off. I almost got a ticket when a friendly police officer figured out (correctly and quickly) that cars really shouldn't be chased by showers of sparks unless the driver is wearing a Batman cowl and in pursuit of the Joker. 
   I took my car to the Halfway, and the guy working there who might not even know the guy who used to give gas to the Boy Scout Guy, said, "We can make you a new pipe." He smiled. "It won't be the same as a dealer would give you, but it'll work." He was right. He saved me some money, and that pipe worked great. There was no problem with the muffler, and he didn't waste any time trying to sell me one.
    I was having trouble with the battery light coming on. If I drove too far, the battery light would show me it was serious and shut down the car a piece at a time. First the climate control would rebel, and eventually the digital dashboard would start to have as much character as a classroom blackboard after it was washed.
  They put a new alternator in for me, in 2009.
   Things were good with my old Grand Marquis until about a year ago, maybe a little longer. That battery light would come on. I learned that if I hit a bump or two, the light would go off and I would be powered up enough to keep rolling. Every once in a while, I needed a jump. Then I'd drive around for a while, looking for potholes, and the battery light would go off for a while.
   Two weeks ago I popped the hood and saw corrosion on the battery posts. I went to Google and YouTube and learned that trick of dumping a Coke on the battery posts and letting that cola juice gnaw on the crud, and then I'd drive my sweet ride (pun!) down the road.
   Coke stopped working yesterday.  The car died on me as I went to where my wife works and parked two slots away from her car. Then I took her car, drove to work, and left her a voice mail. She only works a couple of blocks from the house, so walking wasn't a problem for her. Besides, she became a lot more interested in having my car fixed than she was when we thought a can of Coke would do the trick.
   This morning I dropped my car off at the Halfway so they could put a new battery in. They called me a few hours later and said I could pick up my car. The price was $85. I walked the mile and a half to the place to pick up my car. It was windy today, and I'm a little guy. I had to grab hold of some parked cars along the way until the wind subsided and my ankles were again perpendicular to the ground. It wasn't fun, but I was too busy laughing at the situation
   They said, "If you called us, we would've picked you up." They're that kind of place. I don't think a dealership would've done that.
   I paid the ninety bucks and went to start my car. The battery light came on. I popped the hood and saw a shiny new battery there. The car started and I drove up to the door. The mechanic was surprised to see me, but he jumped right on it. He got out a hammer--a claw hammer. He hooked a battery tester to the battery, and saw that it wasn't getting a charge. Then he freed the alternator from its cover, and banged it with the hammer.
   "Alternator's stuck," he said. "I tested it this morning, and it was fine." After a minute or two, he looked at the battery checker gizmo, and banged the alternator with the hammer again. "This thing should still be under warranty," he said. "I'll give 'em a call."
   He did just that. The alternator has a lifetime guarantee. He said his grandpa would give me a ride home, he would have another alternator later in the day, and he'd call me when it was done.
   I said, "How much will it cost me to have you put the new alternator in."
   "Nothing," he said. "I'll give you a call when it's ready. Should be a couple of hours."
   He did call a couple of hours later. The alternator the parts store sent was bad. He said he'll have another one delivered first thing in the morning, call me when it's done, and have his grandpa pick me up at home to take me to my car.
   Yep. I like the Halfway. It's a lot like the '76 Station I used to take my car to when I was in high school and the old Dodge broke down. It's not a pretty place. No BMW white lab coats (I used to pay an arm and a leg for guys like that to repair my old Beamer, but that's a different story). There's no lobby, and the only magazines are under ashtrays on the counter where they write receipts by hand. No sir, and no ma'am, it's not a pretty place. They don't even have cloth-covered chairs to put your tush on if you have to wait. You go into the cafe part and have a cup of coffee, or some lunch, or breakfast. Or you can have a ride home and wait there.
   They'll put you back on the road with a smile.

No comments: