Several thanks to the folks who helped me with suggestions on various makes/models of cars, and to the mechanics that helped when I picked their brains! Thanks to estragon, copy editor and other Litsters that took the time to read this for me prior to submission. All of the characters are fictional, as is the story. I hope you enjoy my 2012 Earth Day entry. One one vote per person if you do decide to vote - mostly if I stir some fond memories of your past, especially the cars, please share them with me. Thanks, Red
Two middle-aged men and an older teen stared at the car pulling into the lot. All three were protected from the pelting rain and melting snow by the shop window. The vehicle was not though, and for that all three men pitied the driver behind the wheel.
Jack, the elder of the three men turned to young Tyler.
"You better go get Betty, she's gonna wanna see this," he said, before spitting his tobacco into a bucket in the corner of the garage's office.
Tyler nodded his head and left in search of their boss. The other men, Jack and Willie, waited patiently for the driver of the car to step out, brave the elements and come inside. When he did, both eyed him questioningly, as he shook off rainwater, shivering from the 30°F temperatures outside, and took off his hat and gloves.
"That is something I'm not used to," the stranger said as he shoved his hands through his hair.
"Don't get much rain where you're from?" Willie asked.
"No, not the rain, the cold air. I'm from Florida, heading up to University of Pennsylvania for a lecture," the gentleman answered.
"And you drove that," Jack pointed to the 1949 Kurtis Kraft Sport that had just been parked outside, "all the way from Florida? What are you, an idiot?"
The man looked stunned by the mechanic's blunt words. He glanced out at his car and frowned. "It wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but I had no choice," he countered. "I own other vehicles, two of which would have been a more ideal choice, but unfortunately, one was totaled when I loaned it to my daughter's husband and the other -- believe it or not, I went to start it and the damn thing wouldn't start."
"You could have borrowed a friend's, couldn't you?"
All three men turned at the sound of the feminine voice entering the shop office. Willie and Jack smirked, stepped back and gave plenty of space for Betty Diane Miller, the owner of Miller's Auto and Detailing.
"I was in a hurry," the man admitted. "I was running late, and didn't feel like going through the hassle of arranging transportation. What does it matter though, I'm here now and I need some work done."
Betty shrugged her shoulders. "It doesn't matter to me, I guess. But your car is a classic and shouldn't be out in this type of weather. The salt they use on the highways is going to eat at that paint and...."
"I'm sure it will be just fine. It's a one-time trip and it'll only be a couple of weeks; your concern however is noted and appreciated. If you don't mind, I'm trying to explain to these gentlemen what is wrong."
Willie, Jack, and Tyler all smirked as Betty ran her gaze up and down the man's imposing figure. The gentleman quickly did the same.
Betty saw a man in his early fifties, dark hair, with a salt and pepper mix of white and gray attempting to take over the natural coloring of youth gone by. He kept a well-trimmed goatee, and had blue eyes, that on a bright day would be the color of the sky. The wool trench coat he wore was partially unbuttoned and showed what Betty assumed was a tailor-made suit.
The stranger saw, a young woman with bright red hair, almost leaning toward orange. It was pulled into a ponytail that hung down her back. She had brown eyes, the color of chocolate, and was the shortest and smallest person in the room. She wore a dark blue top that had the name Betty written in cursive over her left breast. He saw her pants were loose, and hung from her slim hips. The material was dirty and stained with what he assumed was oil.
When their assessment of each other was over, he realized that she was one of the mechanics and he had probably just insulted her intelligence. Instantly he regretted his earlier dismissal of her. She said nothing as his lips formed a frown and his hand reached out to shake hers.
"My apologies Miss...."
"Betty," she said, "and none needed." She shook his hand, and walked to stand in front of the window. "Most folks traveling through here have the same reaction as you. My father was the original owner of Miller's Auto and Detailing; he passed away when I was eighteen, shortly after that my mother passed. I inherited the shop, and have kept it running ever since."
"Wow." He shook his head in amazement.
Betty turned to her employees. "Jack, if you'll drive Mister..."
"Moretti -- Frank Amelio Moretti," Frank said as he pulled his keys from his pocket and passed them to Jack.
She smirked at his decision to give his full name. "Mister Moretti's car into the shop, spray it down and get that shit off the paint, I'll be in to take a look at it in a bit. Willie, you can finish the oil change on Miss. Thompson's Caddy and Tyler, if you'll call over to Tom's and ask if he's got the parts for Uncle John's Chevy, I'd appreciate it."
The men quickly left and Betty offered Frank a seat across from the only desk in the room. He pulled off his coat, hung it on a rack by the door and sat down on the worn vinyl cushion.
Betty grabbed a work order form and a pen. "So, what is exactly wrong with your car, Mister Moretti?"
"Please call me Frank," he said before adding, "I'm not sure."
Jack popped back in for a moment, carrying a drop cloth. Frank eyed it and the grimy clothes the mechanic wore.
Betty noted the concern on his face. "No need to get any dirt or oil on the seats," she explained. "Vehicles like that are special, we'll be sure to handle it with kid gloves."
"Well, it's a '49 Kurtis Kraft Sport, with a V8, manual transmission and...."
"Frank, I know all of the specs. I'm curious what trouble you're having. I heard you mention you drove it up from Florida, so obviously whatever is happening is sudden and I am sure as lovely as Elkton, Maryland, is, it wasn't your final stopping point. Was it?"
He chuckled. "No, it wasn't. I'm on my way up to Philadelphia. I'm one of the speakers for their Earth Week event."
Betty smirked. "Yeah, I heard about that," she shook her head in amusement. "You're all out to save the environment and protect our natural resources, right?"
Frank noted the sarcasm in her voice. "Yes, yes we are; we can't keep using and abusing the planet without suffering the consequences later. It may not affect you and me, but eventually it could affect our kids, or grandkids."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I have neither, so I think I'm pretty safe."
"Well, I have a daughter, and a grandchild, and they may not be."
She noted his frustration at her blasé attitude. "I'm sorry Mister Moretti, Frank. It's not my place to question your passion about something."
"No, it's not," he muttered under his breath.
Betty lowered her head to stare at the work order, but mainly it was to hide the grin on her face. "So tell me the problem."
"I was heading up on I-95 when there was this weird vibration. I pulled over and all the tires appeared fine, but the minute I'm up to speed it starts shaking again. I don't know cars. I drive them and buy them, but I don't know the mechanics of them. I knew though that that wasn't normal, so I slowed down and contemplated pulling over, or babying it to the next exit."
"And getting off the interstate, nursing it all the way to Elkton, instead of pulling over and parking it made sense to you? If you were looking to damage the Lady, then why not nurse it all the way to Newark, Delaware? It's a much bigger city, and there are plenty of garages that would be able to help you out. Why mine?" Betty asked.
"I bought that particular car a few years ago, and the guy I bought it from, he had purchased it from someone else, who had -- well, you know how it goes," Frank told her.
"I remember all the classics I've worked on. That is not one of my cars."
"No, but you did work on a '52 Hudson Hornet," Frank told her.
Betty grinned. "I did indeed; actually it was also the first car I ever allowed Tyler to work on. Don't tell Mister Gregory that though, he'd probably have a stroke. So he sold you that and mentioned me?"
"Well," Frank said, "he did sell it to me, but didn't mention you. He mentioned the garage. You were a," he smiled a lopsided grin, "pleasant surprise."
She laughed softly. "Yeah, I bet. So you were fortunate enough to break down near enough to us that you nursed your baby into my garage."
"Pretty much," he admitted.
"Well, I'll have to send Gregory a thank-you note, and then chastise him for allowing you to drive that beautiful automobile up here in the snow and salt."
"Is it really that bad?" he asked.
"It's not smart, not if you want to keep the body in top-notch condition. I doubt though that you've done too much damage. We'll clean it up, fix it up and have it back to you by the end of the week, next Monday at the latest."
Frank stared at her. "I need it back tonight at the latest."
She laughed, and then stopped when he continued to look imploringly at her. "You're serious, aren't you?" she asked. "Mister -- I mean, Frank, it's not that simple. You're not the only customer and that's not some brand new Plymouth you drove in for an oil change. I don't know what's wrong with it and giving you a week is being generous. If I don't have the parts needed for that particular vehicle, it could take longer."
Frank sank into his chair and studied his feet. "God damn it," he muttered, and quickly apologized for his words.
"I've heard and said worse," she confessed. "Look, there's a dealer down the road -- Grinning Mike's Car Dealership," she saw his face contort at the name. "Yeah, I know, stupid name, but he'll rent you a car and you can use it while in the city. It'll be something new too; he loves to show off the new lines."
"You're sure you can't get this done by tonight? Maybe I could stay in town and...."
"There is no way this is getting done tonight. I can probably diagnose the problem, and tell you later this evening, or in the morning, but I'm not going to promise either. Again, you aren't the only man in town with car problems and unfortunately for you -- I am the only shop that can handle that car the way it needs to be handled."
He sighed. "Could I get a lift to that dealer?" he asked.
"Sure, I'll take you. Do you need anything out of the car?" Betty asked as she pushed away from her desk and headed to the rack by the door.
"Yeah, I'll need my suitcase and my briefcase. I'll also take the name of the nearest hotel, might as well stay the night. I'm not due at the University until later in the week, so I should be able to find a hotel tomorrow once I get into the city."
Betty stopped. "Mister Moretti, have you not already made reservations?"
She shook her head. "Do you not realize how big this has become?" she asked. "You're not going to just drive into Philadelphia and find a room. You'll be lucky to find a place to park your car, let alone a place to park your head!"
"Come now, Miss Miller."
"Betty -- surely you're exaggerating. You, yourself, couldn't hide your sarcasm at the idea. I'm sure there are hundreds if not thousands of people that feel the way you do and the likelihood that this will be more than a week full of boring lectures and college student protests is absurd."
Betty gritted her teeth. "You sure do enjoy talking down to me, don't you?" she hissed, before grabbing her keys and heading outside. She pulled her coat on as she stormed out and into the chilly air and falling rain. "I hope you get stuck out here, Mister Oh-so-highly Educated," she muttered under her breath.
Frank was forced to quickly don his coat and follow her out the door. He knew he had once again questioned her intelligence and was in the doghouse. Why it bothered him, he didn't question, he just knew it did. "She's gonna charge me an arm and a leg," he whispered to himself.
She opened the door and waited for him to slide in beside her. The '66 Chevy C-10 came to life, and soon Betty and Frank were headed down the road. "I suggest you just leave your car here, come back through when you leave Philly headed for home and then settle up your bill. I'll do my best to have your car ready. I wouldn't want you to have to suffer the company of us ignorant folk."
"Miss Miller," she hissed.
Frank sighed, but said nothing else as he watched the rain slide down the windows. He knew, without saying it, that he was not going to Philadelphia tomorrow. He needed to find out how long Miss Miller would have his car.
Betty left Frank at the car dealership and headed back to her garage. She was fuming, irritated and pissed off by the arrogance of the older man. She had dealt with men like him since she was a little girl.
Her father had brought her to work every day during the summer, and after school she was beside him every evening. She was a female gear-head and when men like Frank Amelio Moretti showed up she often had fun rubbing their noses in her vast knowledge in automobiles.
This time, for some reason, she was more annoyed than amused.
She got back to the garage, parked the truck and headed inside to discuss with the boys their opinions on what was wrong with the Kurtis. Betty had no doubt whatsoever, that the men would most likely have their heads somewhere under the hood or body of Frank's car; each would have their own opinion on how best to proceed.
When she pulled off her coat and walked into the garage half of the shop, she smiled. "I know you boys too well," she said as she stepped up to the car and stared at the three men. "It is a pretty filly, isn't it?" she whispered, as one hand slid across the top hood. She tapped it softly. "Okay, who wants to go first?"
Tyler licked his lips and quickly raised his hand.
Betty chuckled. "Tyler."
"I think it's a left outer tie-rod. I took it for a spin while you were gone and it's got some shimmy that point me in that direction."
Jack nodded his head in agreement. "Kid's learning, ain't he?"
Betty winked. "Any ideas either of you want to share?" she asked both Jack and Willie.
Both men shook their heads no. Betty smiled at Tyler and said, "Well, let's handle this with a lot of love."
"Yeah, Tyler, be gentle, not like the night you first stroked your cock for the first time," Jack said.
The group chuckled and Tyler blushed.
"Let's see what Tyler can do with this baby over the next hour, then its closing time. The roads will be slick, the temps supposed to drop to 26° and that means ice, besides that Grandma promised me beef stew and cornbread for supper," Betty shared.
Frank pulled up to the two story brick home with a heavy heart. He had offended the young woman one too many times and after talking to the car dealer, he knew that Miss Miller was a popular lady in Elkton. Mike, the car dealer, had settled on a reasonable price for the '70 Chevy Impala that was guaranteed to get Frank to Philadelphia and not leave him stranded for wheels.
When he had asked about the nearest hotel, Mike had been quick to give him directions to the only place in Elkton that would have a room. Rose managed her granddaughter's estate and they were known to rent out beds and provide meals to those less fortunate.
Frank was far from being poor, but he did admit he needed a place to stay the night. The nearest hotel would be back up in Newark, MD. Rose and her granddaughter would be his only hope. The Earth Week extravaganza, he was told, would not reach their little town.
Frank shut the car off, and gathered his belongings. He darted up, as fast as he could, through the sleeting rain and onto the porch. It was the middle of the day, so he tried to open the door. It gave easily. He sighed in relief and stepped inside.
"Hello?" he called and heard the small yipping of a dog.
The dog rounded the corner, followed by an old woman. "Can I help you?" she asked, as she hushed the dog with a soft whispered command. Instantly the terrier quieted.
"Mike sent me here, said I might be able to rent one of your rooms for the night. I'm heading to Philadelphia tomorrow, so...."
"Oh you won't be heading out tomorrow. Haven't you seen the weather? The roads are gonna ice tonight," the old woman told him.
Frank smiled warmly. "Mike assured me that the car would make it."
"I'm sure he did, and it would, but they'll close the highway down if the temperature drops below freezing and ice forms, taking over the roads. They don't want accidents piling up and causing more harm. I'll tell you what, come on into the study and I'll take care of you. We've not got any other guests, so there is plenty of room for you. Is there anyone else with you?" the proprietor asked, as she led him down a hall, past various doors, and a set of stairs that led up to the second level.
"No, just myself, so a small room will do just fine," Frank told her. "So, since you rent rooms, do you have a name for your off-the-beaten path hotel?" he asked, as he took in the gentle colors and soft feminine décor.
"Mary's Place, it's named after my daughter. She passed away several years ago. I moved in after my husband passed and now I help out my granddaughter while she's at work. Only the folks in town know about it though. I told my granddaughter that we didn't need a gaggle of folks dropping in, especially with all the hoop-la with this Earth Week taking place."
Frank took a seat opposite to the old woman, who claimed the leather one behind a mahogany desk. She was dwarfed by its size. He sat on the edge of his seat, so he didn't feel so far away from her tiny stature.
"I'm Rose," she said, finally introducing herself. "The room will be up the stairs and to your right, just down the hall there will be two doors. Yours will be the room on the right. There is a private bathroom, as well as walk-out balcony, not that you'll be using it -- not in this weather." Rose shivered at the mere thought of being outside. "Supper is served at six, and is covered under the cost of your room, as is breakfast. Lunch, well -- if you are still here for lunch, we'll work something out. Usually folks just take off and head into the city, but with the rain," she sighed, "I may have to feed you."
Frank reached across the table and handed her his Master Charge. She eyed it warily. "You do accept credit?" he asked.
"Well, yes and no."
"I accept it as payment, but my granddaughter will have to take care of the receipt. My eyes are not what they used to be, so Betty can issue you one when she gets in," Rose explained. "You keep your card," she told him.
Frank sank into his chair. "Betty, Betty Miller, is your granddaughter?"
Rose smiled. "Yes, do you know her?"
"We met this morning. She's looking into a car issue I have."
"Oh, I see. Yes, that's my Betty. She loves her cars. Her daddy did too, her mom liked to drive them, but never could stand being in that garage - all that oil and dirt. Betty, though, was always there. It was frustrating for her mama though. They never had any more kids, my Mary and her John. Mary looked forward to Sundays because she knew she would get Betty into a dress and she'd keep it on most of the day, that and the shop was closed on Sunday. It was the only day John gave up for Mary. Well, until she got sick... then Betty worked the shop and John waited on Mary."
Frank shifted in his seat, as the old woman reminisced. He saw the sorrow in Rose's eyes as she relived memories that he had accidentally stirred. He wished he could apologize, but also knew that the past deserved respect.