Monday, June 13, 2005

What I liked about Best...

Joe Best that is…

While I’m thinking about the old ‘Garage Days’, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about Joe Best.

Joe worked in a competing garage in Oneida, but would come over and ‘hang out’ from time to time at my shop. His interests were more in line with mine and what I was trying to do (build a hot-rod shop) than in the brake jobs and oil changes he dealt with daily.

I know we originally met at a place called the “Gin Mill” which was conveniently located just two doors down, behind my shop. A lot of us ‘Big-Block heads’ would stop in there after work and do some ‘bar racing’. Bar racing, for those of you that don’t know, is when at least two, and usually more, folks sit at the bar and discuss ‘go fast’ ideas, experiences and knowledge.

We built 100’s of cars, trucks and bikes at that bar, and had a lot of fun doing it.

Joe had this old pickup truck he called ‘Gator’. Now Gator wasn’t much to look at, it wasn’t fast, needed repairs on a regular basis, but, it was his. His, and the repair costs were far less than payments would have been on something newer.

I had plans to put some extra insulation in the attic of my place up in North Bay, and Joe generously offered to use Gator to take me to the Home Center to pick it up and bring it back (which from North Bay was about a 60 mile round trip). When I got in to the truck he mentioned I should be careful about where I placed my feet as most of the floor on the passenger side was ‘pretty rusty’.

That was his gentle way of saying ‘gone’… there was NO floor on the passenger side, but, there was the firewall, and with my feet safely pressed into the firewall we headed out. Along the way, he explained the truck had gotten the nickname ‘Gator’ as if you weren’t careful, it would bite your feet!

I should also mention that it was evening, the middle of winter, in Upstate NY, with air temps in the teens, even with the heater at full crank in the old truck, it probably never got above 40f in that old truck that night.

Despite the cold of the evening, I do remember that we laughed; from about the time we left, until we got back and unloaded. Hanging with Joe was like that. He was one of those people you meet, that no matter where you’re going, or what you’re doing, laughter is going to be part of it all. He always seemed able to find humor in things that would have others in a rage, even when something had upset him; he found a humorous way to relate the tale.

I also remember a weekend where Joe had come up for the day, it was late Summer or early Fall, we’d been working on some project at my place, maybe the new front springs in my Grand Prix, or hanging sheetrock in my garage, or some other pursuit. I do remember though that he and I ate an entire pot of Chili at the end of the day. For one reason or another, it just tasted really good that day! A few hours later, as he was getting ready to back out of the driveway, Gator’s clutch gave out. I don’t mean it was slipping a little, I mean the truck would not move, at all.

So, as we’re talking about it he tells me that he’s got the parts, but had been waiting until Monday to change them at work. With very little additional discussion, we decided that we needed to make that change right now, in the driveway.

As with most professional mechanics, all of our ‘real’ tools were at our respective shops. Undaunted we just attacked the task in that gravel driveway, in the dark, with flashlights and the few tools we had on hand.

Now this would be a much funnier story, if we hadn’t been successful. Or if my (at the time) wife’s prediction we were going to get ourselves seriously injured, or killed, had proved true.

Instead, what happened was that two friends labored in the dark, with a limited supply of tools, no ‘lifting’ equipment to support the truck’s transmission and managed to swap out the clutch, and get him on his way home. I still remember straining to hold up that transmission has he worked as fast as he could to get the parts in place. We even laughed about the absurdity of ‘us’ having to do this in a gravel driveway, with two perfectly good shops only 15 miles away!

I talked with Joe last fall. He’s in the HVAC business these days, married with kids and from what he told me doing quite well. As I understand it he only does installations in new construction, no ‘house calls’ or emergency repair work. We talked cars, hot rods and old times, and we made each other a promise to catch up if either of us is ever ‘local’ to the other one.

I’m going to have to make that NY trip soon, too many old friends, too long far from me. I do know if I get to ride the bike up, he and I will throw a leg and ride some of those sweet, twisty, back country Upstate NY roads again.

I have no doubt, that when Joe and I do catch up, we’ll laugh ‘till our cheeks and bellies hurt!

Again, thanks for reading, and as always I encourage you to leave me your thoughts, and comments!


Braleigh said...

Another beautifully composed story. Damn you and your enslavement of the English language and enviable eloquence.

Firehawk said...


Seems like everybody's always "movin' on" in your stories. Everyone's always gone somewhere, or you have, or they've changed jobs completely. Makes me feel less like a seed in the wind, running off to a new spot every few years, punctuating every phase in my life with a loaded truck and a fond backward glance.

It's great to know those people who are always able to make you laugh. That's a hell of a gift. There are too few of them in the world.

Again, a story that touches on a lot of commonality of existence. Thanks

Beth said...

Bill, my husband is a professional diesel mechanic so I can appreciate the thought of "having all his tools at the shop." lol

It must be nice to have all those warm memories!

Bill said...

Braleigh: :blush: Thanks, I'm glad you liked the story, and the way I put it together.

Firehawk: Part of that is that I've been like a 'seed in the wind' for a good part of my adult life. I know many of them have moved on, but, in most cases I actually moved first.

The truth is, most of these folks would make you laugh, Joe just had a mannerism about him, as well as he actually founf life itself pretty funny!

Knitter: Thanks for stopping back! I feel very blessed for having known these folks, each was very talented in their own right, and taught me a lot along the way.

I'd welcome any of them as a neighbor, and I'd be having way too much fun if we all lived on the same block!

Ya know... that's not a bad idea... I'll become a billionare... buy an entire neighborhood and give 'em all a house :)

Hey.. we can dream!

THanks y'all for continuing to read, and taking the time to comment!

Karyn Lyndon said...

Maybe you can sell your book (after you write one) and visit all your friends on your book tour...

Bill said...

Karyn: What a great idea!!!

I have no idea what selling a book 'pays', but if I am ever so fortunate as to do so, and it affords me to opportunity, I'll be writing the second book 'from the road' and doing exactly that!!