The shop was busy and things were going along without a hint of trouble. It was a story book day of blissful repairs. I even stopped for a moment to reflect on the wonderful day that it was… “Ah, it’s a fine day, a fine day indeed. Nothing could bother me today.”
I looked outside at the street in front of the shop. Hmm, police cars… two of them, driving slowly. Then, in the far distance, I could hear more cars coming this way, sirens blazing away. I looked back just in the nick of time to see the two squad cars that were in front of the shop tear down the street at high speed. Then two more came from the opposite direction, slowing down just in front of the shop. I walked towards the garage door when suddenly a figure flew by me. This guy was on a flat out run for the furthest point away from those cop cars. You should have seen it; those cops were on this guy like a swarm of bees. The guy ducked around the corner with the cop cars in full pursuit. He didn’t stand a chance.
Where’s the wife? I need to go tell her about all of this… why, this is exciting… I can’t wait to tell her. As I reached for the door knob to the front lobby, my wife threw open the door. She was so frantic she could hardly speak.
“How could you leave me up here all by myself? Didn’t you hear me banging on the wall! I could have been killed,” gasping for breath as if it were her last.
“Calm down honey,” I said, “It was nothing. Nothing at all, did you see that guy, and the cop cars?”
“Nothing? What do you mean NOTHING!” she shouted at me. “That guy came in all sweaty, sits down in the lobby chair, and tells me he just needs a rest. Then tells me he wants to give himself up, and wanted me to call the cops. There he is sitting there holding his shirt up and tells me “I don’t got a gun” what was I suppose to do…? I called the cops and kept banging on the wall trying to get you to come up front.”
“Holy cow, dear,” I stood there in shock answering her, “Why didn’t you come and get me?”
“Ya Big Baboon! I was on the phone! Who do you think was calling for all these cop cars,” she screamed at me.
Her voice kept getting louder, and she was a total emotional wreck, but continued to tell me, “I couldn’t move, I had to talk to the cops, give them a description and the address, they kept telling me to stay on the line. I wanted to run out of there. The guy was out of breath and he didn’t look like he had an ounce of strength left. I tried banging on the wall thinking you would show up any minute. But, when this guy heard the sirens he took off again.”
It’s about then I understood the seriousness of the “gangster in the lobby.” My poor wife was terrified. There was no way she was going to spend another minute up front without some way of getting our attention in the back of the shop.
That afternoon I rigged up an $8.00 12-volt doorbell from the hardware store with a two-prong turn signal flasher from a car. Now if someone comes in the flasher causes the door bell to “ding, ding, ding” ‘till the door closes. If the door buzzer doesn’t shut off in its usual pattern… drop the tools and run to the front... wife needs me.
This crude door bell set up has been a part of our shop since that day. I’ve changed the flasher two or three times since then, but not the bell. I’m guessing it’s about 15 years old by now, but it still works perfectly. I also installed a louder bell with an emergency button in several locations just in case the first “ding” didn’t get my attention.
I’m sure, if I hadn’t installed the door dinger that afternoon, I would have been spending a lot of sleepless nights on the couch. As they say… when one door closes another one opens…this time I can hear it open, thanks to a ‘dingy’ bad guy with no gun.
Wub ya honey, and yes it’s still true… it don’t get no better.
I met this great man through his son, who happened to be the driver of the Chevy van (from the furniture store, for those who have read my book) who was my very first customer. Sarge isn’t his real name, but that’s what I called him. He was a retired Marine Corps cook. I met him one day when he came in with a sick Cadillac.
The old Cadillac hardly had any power at all; just as slow and lazy as a snail. I had only been in business for a few months, and didn’t know anybody or have any work history to speak of, so even though it wasn’t an electrical problem (as he originally thought), I jumped right in and found the problem. It was a clogged catalytic converter. Unbelievably, it wasn’t even welded in place. I could take off the clamps, and remove it without much hassle.
Back then I didn’t have a lift to put the car in the air, so I had to do the whole job on the ground. Well, old Sarge just sat there and watched me do the whole thing. I think he was a little suspicious of this skinny little white kid who was hacking away at his car, but he patiently waited, being the good man he was. We got to talking about things, and it wasn’t long before he found out that I was also in Marine Corps. Now we had some common ground. We were buds for life, always cutting up with each other.
One hot August afternoon Sarge brought in one of his other cars to get some work done. I had the back door to the shop open, and Sarge steps outside for a little fresh air. I thought I could hear the guy crying or mumbling something, couldn’t tell which it was. I stuck my head around the corner, “Sarge, ah …. you OK, buddy?” I asked.
He proceeded to tell me how the house he grew up in was close by, before it became a shopping center. He talked about his dad and family, and how he used to hunt rabbits right where we were standing. It was during the Depression. Hard times. Things were scarce in those days. How his dad hid a pig in a pit, not too far from here. Where they kept the corn mash for making bootleg moon shine. I sat and listened to this hardened Marine tell me his life’s story that day, from his first car to how he ended up in the Corps. I didn’t answer the phone, or go up front to see if anyone came in. I just sat out there in that August heat, drenched in sweat, listening to this fella tell me the long and fascinating story.
I’ll never forget that afternoon. I’ll also never forget how every time he came to my shop over the next 25 years he would sneak up on me, and yell in a drill instructor voice, “TEN HUT!” I would snap to attention just like a good Marine should. Sometimes, just to get a rise out of Sarge I would purposely hit my head on the hood of the car I was working on. He got a kick out of it every time.
Sarge passed away a couple years back. I still think about him now and then. I hope he’s up there hunting rabbits, or something. Maybe he’s guarding the gates like every Marine hopes to be doing when their time comes. Or, he could be just waiting there to try and surprise me with one more “TEN HUT” when I show up.
So long Sarge. I miss having you around the shop.