Around about one o:clock, after four games of eight-ball, and as many beers, Clarence decides it’s time to call Larry. Except he can’t find the business card. He’s searching in all is pockets, and saying, “damn” and “shit” and other things. I remind him that there is a book hanging down from the pay phone that surely has “Larry’s Automotive” listed there, alphabetically, with the number.
“Oh, yeah,huh” he says, and looks up the number in the book. He dials it, shifts from side to side as it rings, and then I watch him, animated, talking to, I assume, Larry, on the phone. “Okay,” is all I hear and he hangs up.
“He says the car will be ready in an hour. Might as well start walking back there.”
We thank the bartender, who, it turns out, is from Albuquerque. Small world. She is up there hoping to start school next semester, as there couldn’t be much other reason to be here, I figured. But she said she liked Stillwater and wasn’t sorry she had made the move. I asked her if she had saved up enough to start school yet, and she said no.
Clarence and I sober up some as we walk the few miles back to the auto shop. When we get there, the car is still in the bay, but there are no parts lying around, or scattered tools, so I’m thinking that’s a good sign. Larry comes out of the side office, all smiles.
“We got ‘er done,” he said. “She’s ready to head for Soy-Os-It or where ever.”
Now, I should point out here that Clarence did not have any money. Any charge card balance that could handle a repair bill of an amount. I had about $200 available on a MasterCard, but it was all the credit line I had. I couldn’t imagine that this bill was going to be anything under $200. Neither one of us would have any additional funds until we got paid next Friday.
“What’s the damage?” Clarence asked, his hands stuffed in his empty pockets. Then he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his billfold. I figured he had about sixty bucks in his billfold, and he had paid for the beers earlier.
Larry says for us to come into his office and we sit down in two kitchen chairs on the other side of his desk. The walls are plastered with post cards from every where in the world.
“You go to all these places? I asked.
“Nah, I’ve been to a few of them places, but most of ’em were sent to me by my customers.” I mean the walls are literally wallpapered with the 4″ X 6″ photo cards. “Wish You Were Here.” “Wish You Were There.”
He picks a couple of sheets of what looks like mimeograph paper and runs a few numbers on a 10-key machine, the manual type with the handle. He pulls up the tape, looks at it close, and says, “Looks like you boys owe me $139.47.”
I whistled, I think, and said something like, “you gotta be kiddin’ me.” Clarence elbowed me hard in the side.
“Well, there was the tow, and the parts, and the labor…yep, a hunerd forty-nine forty-seven. Too much?”
I’m quickly figuring that Larry is buying his parts on the black market, he only charges $5 for towing, and his labor rate is about $12 an hour.
Clarence, rightfully so, is thinking he’s getting a hell of a deal, and glares at me. I’m holding my side which is still smarting.
“No…no. Sounds fair to me. Can I write you a check?” Clarence says politely. I can’t believe it.
“Sorry,” Larry says, “can’t take a check.” Cash or credit.”
Amazingly, at least to me, Clarence produces a VISA card and hands it over to Larry. He picks up the phone and dials a number, reads the card number over the phone, and then hands the card back to Clarence, hanging up the phone. “Charge won’t go through,” he says.
I reach into my back pocket, pull out my billfold, and hand Larry the MasterCard I was going to use for my travel expenses. For all the fun we were going to have in New York. The charge goes through this time, and Larry hands me back the now useless card. I used to have an American Express card, the kind that have no limits but have to be paid in full monthly, but I got a call from them before I left on the trip and they said I shouldn’t leave home with it.
We shake Larry’s hand several times, no hugging, and thank him again and again for all he’s done for us.
“Glad I could help, he said. Now don’t forget to send me a post card from this soy-os-it.”
We agree, climb into the Datsun 200SX with its new clutch, start her up, and drive out of Larry’s garage, waving as we go.
Clarence and I don’t say much as we make our way back to interstate and are again heading East. Finally he says, “Can you believe that?”
“What,” I say, “that he barely charged us enough to cover the parts, let alone the tow, the ride and pickup from the hotel, the labor, working all night, getting someone out of bed to get him parts…what exactly?”
“Nice guy,” is all he said.
The radar detector made a series of beeps and Clarence let off the gas a little. We both saw the Oklahoma State Trooper passing on the westbound lane at the same time. I looked out the back window and saw him crossing over the median, and watched him come up on us fast with lights on and sirens screaming.
Clarence said, “SHIT!” real loud. I said the other four-letter word that starts with “F”.
The trooper roared past us and disappeared into the distance.
More to come…