Community Automotive

For the last week or so, my 20-year-old Chevy has been groaning a lot, and also it's two months past due for an oil change. I dared myself to change the oil once and did it, and I can change a flat tire if it's absolutely necessary, but grease is gross on my knuckles, so it needed a mechanic.

With no place to eat breakfast, a few months ago I googled cheap good restaurant south Seattle, and Google took me to Mrs Rigby's Diner. That's worked out great, so I googled cheap good mechanic south Seattle. Community Automotive was Google's recommendation, so that's where I went.

I parked my rumbling grumbling car at the garage at about five past seven. The car next to mine had its hood up, with a hairy 30/40/50-something man bent over inside. As I got out of my car, he popped his head up and said real friendly, "Good morning."

He was friendlier than me, so I monotone answered, "Good morning yourself,. My beater needs some work. Are you the guy I should talk to, or do I  go inside and talk to someone in a suit?"

"Some suits bring their car here, but no suits work here. You can tell me the problem."

"Cool," I said. No suits sounds good. "It's time for an oil change, and also she groans a lot, especially at corners."

"Arrrroooo," he said, and then said it again.

I laughed and said, "Yup, that's the noise."

"Anything else?"

"Well, a complete check-up would be good, maybe a heads up for whatever's gonna explode next."

He waved me toward the door of the building behind him, so I followed him inside. At this point, a mechanic takes you to an office, opens some software on a computer and asks too many questions, then asks for your signature. None of that here, though. This guy slapped a Post-It note on a countertop and started scribbling. "Oil change, arrroooo, and a check-up," he said. "Anything else?"

I shrugged, so he said, "I'll need a key, and your phone number." I gave him both.

"Rough guess for an ETA?" I asked. It's a mid-size shop, with two service bays that both had cars up in the air, and there were half a dozen cars in the lot, and another car had driven in while we were talking. I was hoping for today or tomorrow, but he could've said "by the weekend" and it wouldn't have felt unreasonable.

"Well, the news isn't good," he said. "You're second in line. If you'd been here five minutes earlier you'd be first in line. So I'd say... ten o'clock?"



"Excellent," I said. We hadn't talked about a price, but that's OK. The on-line reviews had promised that Community Automotive's rates were reasonable, and what am I gonna do, negotiate? From the arrroooo sound the car was making, I figured $150 would be a bargain, and it might be twice that or more if it needed real work. "Want me to sign something?" I asked. Your Post-It note, perhaps?

"Nah, it's all good."

I kinda liked this guy, and the whole form-free vibe of the place, but he hadn't asked my name. He has my phone number, but when he calls is he gonna say "Is this a guy who owns a Chevy?" So I stuck out my hand and said, "I'm Doug."

"I'm Dan," he said, which slightly surprised me. From Googling the place and reading customers' reviews, I knew the owner was a Dan, and everyone online says he's a great guy. I wouldn't have guessed he was this guy, though — free-range facial hair, easygoing attitude, and he'd been outside in the morning sun working on a car when I'd arrived, not in an office.

Actually, I didn't see an office. That room we talked in didn't have a desk. It seemed more like a pass-through, restroom on one side, work bays on the other.

Then we did the human thing, briefly talking. Dan said he'd had the shop for twenty years or so, and I told him that I'd grown up in Seattle but just moved back, so we talked about how the city has gone to hell over the years. A few minutes of non-car talk, but even as someone who hates conversation, it wasn't unpleasant at all.

Then he gave me his card and we said adios, and stepped outside. Dan started talking to the next doofus who needed car work, and they were standing on the walkway in front of the building, leaving little room for a large man like me to get by. "Fat guy coming through," I announced, and squeezed past them on my way to the bus stop across the street.

It took a couple of seconds, but Dan shouted, "You're not that fat" to my backside waddling away.

A bus took me home, where I tried and failed to improve some as-yet unpublished writing that'll probably remain unpublished. Then I napped for an hour, because being out of work is very liberating. It was 10:45 when I woke up and checked my voice mail, but nope, Dan hadn't called. I checked again shortly after noon, and he still hadn't called. He never called. I'm a walking fossil so it hadn't occurred to me that he'd text, of course.

He'd texted "Your car is ready," with a smiley face, at 9:15 while I'd been asleep. That was barely two hours after we'd shaken hands, so the car hadn't needed a lot of work, and hopefully wouldn't be expensive. Also, if your mechanic texts you a smiley face, that's good news, right?

I bused back to the shop, walked into the room where we'd talked, but it was empty, so I poked my head into a couple of other rooms until I saw Dan and he saw me. "Doug who drives a Chevy!" he said with a smile, and immediately stepped away from the car he was working on, and walked back into the pass-through room (office?).

"Changed the oil," he said. "And you have a steering fuel leak. But I topped it off, and the growling disappeared. We could patch it, but why bother? It's a very slow leak, cheaper and easier if you just remember to top it off every time you get an oil change."

I nodded, and he went on to tell me that the car would run fine if I continued ignoring the "check engine" light like I have for the past 150,000 miles, or if I'd rather, he could make the light go out and stay out, for several hundred dollars. As he said it, he rolled his eyes like that would be crazy. He said I ought to do something about the rust that's eating parts of the car, but other than that he deemed the Chevy in good health for its age.

The total was $73 and some coin. For a running car that didn't go arrroooo, the price made me a happy guy like his emoji had promised. He'd only charged for the oil and filter and labor, nothing for the steering fluid, and nothing for the time and expertise that went into his look-see check-up. Well, all righty then. With a price that low I had enough cash in my wallet to pay the man without plastic. I put a 50, a 20, and a 10 on the counter, and said, "Keep the change," like a millionaire.

"Nah, you can't be doing that," he said. "Call it $70 instead," and he handed back the tenspot. I didn't insist, because that's when I noticed — I don't think the place has a cash register. If it does I didn't see it, so no making change.

"You'll see me again," I said. "Something goes reliably wrong with my car every six months or so."

And that was that — quick, easy, affordable, and three dollars off. And Community Auto is right on the #120 bus route, Ambaum @ 148th, so getting to and from without my car was no problem.

A mechanic who recommends the cheap option is a mechanic you can trust, so now I have a place to take my car every few months, when it starts making its next worrisome noise. My receipt is an ordinary receipt, printed by a computer, so there probably is an office in the building. Maybe there's a cash register. No suits, though. Pleased to meet you, Dan, at Community Automotive.


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  1. Beautiful, brings a tear to the eye to read something like this. A real person doing a real job and not fucking you in the ass.

    But also - Burien? Jesus Chryst, I didn't realize you were that far south of Seattle.

    1. I'm more West Seattle, or west by southwest, but Burien is easy to get to on the #120 bus, and there's a big ol' bus transfer station down there, so it's almost like home.

    2. Also, PS, thanks for the kind anonymous word. I was happy to find a good mechanic, but unsure it was worth writing about, and I came right to the brink of hitting 'delete' instead of 'publish'.


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