My air-pressure light came on today when I was half a block from Marshall Tire, so I just swung right in there to see what was up. Thankfully they didn’t look very busy. Glen, the owner, happened to be walking from the office to one of the garages, so I rolled down my window, explained the situation, and he ushered me into the slot where the air hoses are. I heard him bark an instruction to one of his guys.
Had he not been wearing a mechanic’s uniform, the man who approached my car would have looked more at home in a smoky jazz bar romancing a saxophone. Two gold hoop earrings dangled from one ear, and cool shades rested low on the bridge of his nose. I watched him, waiting for eye contact so I could express my gratitude, but he didn’t look at me.
All the men who work for Glen wear the same uniform. Dark taupe-brown slacks and a short-sleeved tan work shirt with a name patch over the pocket. My attendant’s name patch said Mr. Tip. About the time I concluded this must be a nickname, I noticed another employee scoping out my car. He was thin and craggy with gray stubble on his chin. His name patch said Pappy.
Mini Coopers are uncommon in Marshall. The closest dealer is in Dallas, a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. I know of only three other Minis in town.
After a few moments, Pappy approached my driver’s side window and lowered his head to look inside. He was only inches from my face, but he didn’t seem particularly interested in me. “The speedometer goes to 150,” he said to no one in particular, but a couple more guys stepped closer to the car. “And it even has a tachometer.” Then he addressed me. “This is the first one I’ve seen. It’s cute.”
“Thanks,” I responded, but he’d already renewed his examination of my car.
By this point, four or five guys had gathered around my car. One, a tall young man with a name patch that said Coy, had the most beautiful amber-colored eyes I’d ever seen–like looking at the sun through a shot-glass of whiskey. While the others ogled my Mini, Coy sucked on a cigarette and chatted with me. “I test drove a couple of these,” he said. His intoxicating eyes shifted from my face to caress the car. “They’re hot. And fast. But not as fast as a GTO.” He took another long drag and turned his thirsty gaze to a past I couldn’t see. “I’d be in trouble if I owned a GTO.” For a moment Mini and I were both forgotten. Then he stamped out his cigarette and grinned. “Nice car.”
Pappy knelt at the grill. “Mind if I look at your engine?”
I popped the hood. By this time, Mr. Tip had finished checking and airing my tires. Six or seven beige shirts huddled over my engine, discussing amongst themselves its virtues and/or faults. I don’t know. I couldn’t hear them.
Glen is a ruddy-faced, white-haired grandfather with a pleasant smile. Like so many people in this community, he loves Jacob and gives him a ball cap or other souvenir whenever he accompanies George to the shop. But when business is hopping, Glen takes his stand in the midst of the fray like a general on the battlefield, directing traffic, shouting orders, demanding instant response from his crew. I’ve watched him in action, so I was a little concerned for the crowd gathered around my engine. When I saw Glen glance their way, I shot him a sheepish smile, but he wasn’t looking at me. Come to think of it, no one was really looking at me.
After he closed the hood, Pappy returned to the window and peered into the back seat. “It even has room in the back.” He turned to one of his cronies. “Did you see that? All that space in the back seat?” I mumbled something about the lack of storage space, but I might as well have been telling an adolescent boy that the perky cheerleader he’s crushing on only made a C in math.
Pappy finally smiled at me, his eyes magnified by his coke-bottle-bottom glasses. “I like it. It’s really cute.”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling back at him. The beige sea had parted, so I threw my cute car in reverse and made my exit, as certain as any perky cheerleader ever was that half a dozen pairs of eyes were watching me go.
Well, okay. Not watching me, maybe, but I was there. You can ask Mr. Tip or Pappy or Coy . . . no, on second thought, just take my word for it.