Mike's Gasoline Alley
Whew, it's scorching out there today, and Betsy is running hot! Is Mac here today?
"What, you didn't know Mac retired."
This isn't Mac's gas station anymore? Wow, I thought Mac would die under a chassis before retiring.
"He almost did; Paul found him unconscious two weeks ago in the bay, barely clinging to life, suffering from a heart attack. Lucky too, because I wasn't working that day. No telling how long he had been down there. God was looking out that day. Danny is negotiating a buyout with his father and trying to keep it in the family. The doctor told him he was the first one he had treated who survived a widow maker after being down five minutes or more."
Damn, I have been bringing my cars, trucks, and vans to Mac since 1978. When he dropped my car off, he even fixed my lawnmower once when he saw me struggling with it. My parents used to say you never leave a great mechanic or hairdresser. Mac kept his rates reasonable, had the best gas, and could diagnose all engines by hearing them cranked up and running for a minute.
I remember when he bought this place in 1980, so many said don't do it; nothing has survived in that location. I think that it was his saving grace. He could focus on repairing and restoration because he was behind other gas stations on the busy road. Word of mouth and quality work has kept his business flourishing.
In 1990, everyone assumed he would call it quits when the motor mounts dropped a 2-ton block on him, shattering all the bones below his waist. Not Mac, while in rehab, he was redesigning his garage and hiring contractors to get it ready for his return. I asked him why? He said, "Why not? I was born a grease monkey and will die a grease monkey; that is all I know and love."
I wondered why the garage was named Mike's Gasoline Alley once, and I asked Mac about the significance of the name. He explained that he was paying homage to his father, whose sacrifice made it possible. His father, Michael Moody MacArthur, didn't want to overshadow his children by naming anyone junior. His firstborn brother was Kevin Michael, and he is John Michael; his mother was Michelle, so everyone's name is a version of Mike (gender neutral) l and is represented in the name.
He told me he was following his father's lead; he had been drafted by Uncle Sam's army and worked on the jeeps and tanks. So, when his father returned home, he could rebuild anything with wheels but could not read an invoice or a parts catalog. So, he would work part-time after school, and his mom did the business books and the ordering, and no one ever doubted the work between them. He purchased the garage with his family's blessings, using the inheritance from his father's insurance and severance package from the government.
Mac was a force to be reckoned with. After hurricane season, his business took off and was a prominent restoration establishment in the 2000s. Hurricane Katrina was a category five that caused 1,392 fatalities and caused damage estimated between $97.4 billion to $145.5 billion in late August 2005, particularly in New Orleans. Some people look for ways to scam anyone who doesn't know better. Car dealers purchased flood-damaged vehicles and resold them to those they scammed to buy their possessions for pennies on the dollar. Markups were double the worth, and they got away with it often because the owner was displaced and could not show proof of ownership. For the people who were relocated to Virginia that owned a vehicle in Louisiana, Mac did everything he could to find their car and restore it to working order and only charged for parts. He didn't charge anything several times because the owner helped him in the gas station or the garage or became an employee.
That is how I got my first car when I took a vehicle to be inspected for its worth… Mac would inspect the potential purchase for $25 and check things outside, inside, underneath, and everything bumper to bumper. He was thorough and would advise you on the recalls, damages, and whether it was priced reasonably. Mac told me to take it back and run, don't walk. Mac knew the kind of vehicle I was looking for, and after I brought in another lemon, he agreed to help me find a good car the upcoming weekend. We went to a police auction on Saturday morning and bought a cute little custom Camaro that I would have never considered possible. I wondered why he insisted we go in his wrecker truck. He said, "There is always a method to my madness." The price tag said $5000, but after Mac worked his magic, we walked away with it for half the asking price and another car I had to promise to ride with him to pick up later that afternoon. I think he found a clunker not worth buying and got it thrown in for a little bit of nothing, and he added the rest of the 2500.00.
I didn't mind helping Mac out, and we dropped my dream car in my driveway, turned around, and headed back to Richmond twice. Each time we brought back a vehicle for nothing but a handshake, a goofy look from me, and light banter between us and the man in charge. Mac was well known by the police auctioneer. On the ride back, I asked what had happened and how much I still owed him for the car. The answer floored me… when we pulled up behind the Camaro in my yard, he handed my $2500 back to me and went over to it, put up the hood, fiddled with something, started it up, gave me the keys and said: "the dealer tags expire in 30 days put full coverage on it Monday and you're straight after that."
I hugged him and thanked him for being a great mechanic and a wonderful friend!
This story is in loving memory of John Michael "Mac" MacArthur!