I know. I know. I was supposed to be on a Street Rodder Magazine road tour that would end up in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on September 12th Instead, I'm at home. It's a long story. So, I'll begin right away.
I thought I was driving on an on-ramp to the Chicago Skyway in my '35 Plymouth coupe street rod. "Ka-ka-clunk" was the sound the car made the second time it bottomed out on a manatee-sized speed bump. Speed bump?
Camera bag, coffee cup, cookies, and bologna and cheese sandwich tumbled off the seat and landed on the floor. The Plymouth froze; its engine stopped. "What’s a speed bump doing on an on-ramp?" I asked aloud. I had no answer.
I turned the ignition key and re-started the engine. There was nothing wrong with the Ford V-8 because it happily rumbled away, as usual. After I put the transmission selector into drive, I stepped slightly on the accelerator pedal. The car refused to budge because the front wheels were against the curb.. I couldn’t turn the wheels, left or right.
There I was in the "bad" part of Chicago, as if there was a good part of Chicago.
Although I was in the vicinity of the 6600 block of S. Michigan Avenue, I wasn't robbed, beaten, or stripped of my clothes. Instead, a lady of color with salt and pepper hair, who drove a grey colored van, stopped her vehicle and rolled down the window. She smiled pleasantly. Past middle age, she wasn't as old as I, at 76. "That's a beautiful car," she observed.
"It isn't right now," I shot back. I then looked at my bright red baby with its chrome sailing ship hood ornament, wide whitewall tires with sparkling chromed dog dish hubcaps. "It is beautiful," I thought, "but it's not doing me any good now."
"I'm Ms. Wilks," she offered. "I'm a Christian woman."
"I'm George," I said. We shook hands.
Not much over five feet two, she exited her vehicle and stood next to me and said softly, "This is not a safe place for you to be." She took out her smart phone and tapped it.
Ninety seconds later, a tall, well-built bespectacled black man in his mid-30's to early 40's arrived in a white GMC sports utility vehicle.
"This is Ricardo, my nephew," said Ms. Wilks. "He'll stay with you while I go to the store. Don't worry. I'll be back," she added.
A moment after her grey van took off, Ricardo laughed. "My Auntie doesn't wear a badge," he said, "but she's the law around here." He chuckled and added, "Yes, sir, she's the law. She's why we have these speed bumps. She was afraid children would be run over and be killed by Gangbangers who drive their cars real fast in this area. Now, they have to slow down."
At once, I was grateful it was Ms. Wilks who first came upon me, and not a group of gangbangers with loaded pistols pointing at me, ordering me to, “Give up whatever you got.”
I used my Tracfone to call Nationwide Roadside Assistance, which my collector car insurance company provides for its customers. "It'll be forty-five minutes," I was advised.
I told that to Ricardo. He didn’t seem bothered at all.
Eventually, Ms. Wilks returned with a young black man with numerous freckles and shoulder-length corn curls. "He's a mechanic," Ms. Wilks told me. "He might be able to help you."
"Try to turn the steering wheel," the young man said.
I did what I was told as he lay on the street and looked under the car. "I see it," proclaimed the young man. "Your rack and pinion is busted," he said. "I can't fix it but I know who can."
"Oh, isn't that nice?"
"Could've been worse," reminded Ricardo. "You could've been hurt or that beautiful car could've been all busted up."
Ricardo was right. Things could've been much worse. I should've been grateful, but I wasn't.
The young man with corn curls recommended I take the car to "the best mechanic in Chicago. His name is Adam and he has a couple of old cars that are absolutely beautiful. Adam will be surely able to help you.”
Ms. Wilks talked to the young man. Using her smart phone, she gave me the address of what I thought was Adams' Garage.
After the roadside assistance flatbed arrived and the Plymouth was chained down, I approached Ms. Wilks and gave her a great big hug. "Thank you so much," I said. "You helped me the way a Christian should."
"I'm Baptist," she said. "My family built the Baptist church down the road."
"What a gal," I told the flatbed's driver who just happens to be a full time Chicago fireman with thirty-one years of experience. He's a part time driver for C.J. Towing. "Take me to Adams' Garage at 4701 Halsted," I said.
When we arrived at 4701 Halsted, the garage there was called "The Muffler and Brake Man."
The flatbed driver used his smart phone. "Man," he said, "I can't find any garage on Halsted with the name of Adams."
"Look," I said, I'll go over and ask that man if this is Adams', okay?"
"I don't think that'll work, but go ahead."
I left the truck and approached a man who I figured was a mechanic. No head hair whatsoever, he was talking to a customer. I waited for their conversation to end.
"Yeah?" Baldy finally asked.
"Is this Adams' Garage?"
He thought for a moment and then looked beyond me to the flatbed with the shiny street rod on it. "Yeah," he answered in typical Chicago-ese. "Yeah, he said again. "You're the guy who went too fast over a speed bump, right?"
"Okay, then. Have the driver back your car into this stall."
It was noon. Turned out the bald mechanic was actually the owner of the six stall garage on the extremely busy corner of Halsted and 47th Streets, his name Adam Mcinturff.
"That's why there weren't any Adams' garages in Chicago" I said.
"Huh?" He looked at me strangely.
It took some coaxing but the flatbed driver was able to get the Plymouth settled between the two posts of a vehicle hoist. I shook his hand. "Thanks," I said.
"No problem," he answered. "Do you mind if I take some pictures of your car?"
"Go ahead," I said.
He took a dozen or more, and then off he went to help some other unfortunate driver having a vehicle problem.
Adam yelled, "Billy" every time he wanted a jug of ice water brought to him. Billy turned out to be Adam's son. Billy also raised and lowered the Plymouth. Some folks might call Billy mentally challenged. I, however, found him to be mentally challenging. He understands people and situations much more than I at first thought
Adam also yelled when he wanted one of his mechanics to hold something or use a large lever trying to straighten out the rack. .
For the next four hours and fifty minutes, Adam used a number of tools, including an oxy-acetylene torch and wire welder and wrenches and hammers of varying sizes in order to repair the steering rack.
Thinking I wouldn't be able to make it to my first destination in Fort Wayne, IN, I asked Adam if any motels were close by.
"Nah, but if I can't get you on the road this afternoon, I'll take you to a motel in Indiana, not far from where I live, which is only thirty miles from here."
At 4:30 p.m. exactly, Adam's head hit a low hanging part of the Plymouth's rack. Bleeding, he screamed something unintelligible, threw a wrench, and left the room. He did not use foul language.
"That's it," he said when he returned. "I'll sleep on it and get some ideas on what to try tomorrow. We’re gonna clean up and then Billy and me will take you to that motel."
After that, he and Billy washed up and changed out of their work clothes. I put my toiletries and suitcase in the back of Adam's pickup truck.
The next morning at 7:15, he and Billy arrived at the motel. I had less than two hours of sleep. I kept driving over that speed bump. Thoughtfully, Adam offered me a bottle of cold water. "You might get thirsty," he said.
Billy was his jovial self. There was no doubt in my mind that he worshipped Adam, and Adam loved Billy, as well.
Upon our arrival at the garage, Adam introduced me to his older brother whose voice sounded as if he was part bullfrog.
Adam did some more grinding and welding and straightening and pounding and wrenching. He spent the next four hours "fine tuning" the rack.
Hungry, I crossed 47th Street and entered Ray's Diner. Breakfast was two eggs, two pancakes, two breakfast sausages, and two strips of bacon. Cost: $5.99. Ray's one heck of a short order cook. The breakfast was absolutely delicious, the eggs to my liking, sunny side up. Perfectly.
I returned to the garage. When everything was ready, Adam told me to get in the car and turn the steering wheel, which I did. The wheels did not turn.
"Just as I thought what might have happened but hoped it wouldn't," explained Adam. "The rack's interior gears are shot."
"Can anything else be done?" I asked.
"We could order a new rack but it won't be here until Tuesday. This is Memorial Day weekend, you know."
"I'm going to give my brother-in-law a call," I said. ”He has a flatbed. I don't want to wait around here until Tuesday."
I telephoned Lyle, Lori's brother, in Waupun and told him I was in Chicago and about the rack problem. "Would you be willing to haul me and the Plymouth back to Waupun today?"
"Yes," he said.
I had earlier seen the sign in the garage that stated work was performed at $80.00 per hour.
Adam approached me. "Me and Billy are gonna go home early."
"How much do I owe you?" I asked.
"You got fifty bucks on you?"
"Sure," I said, "but you want more than that, don't you?"
"If I would've been able to fix it and get you back on the road, you bet I would've charged more. A lot more. But fifty bucks is what I'm charging."
I retrieved three twenty dollar bills from my wallet and handed them to him. He returned to me a ten. I was so grateful to this heretofore stranger who turned out to be a Good Samaritan that I was choking back tears. I couldn’t say another word or I would've for certain cried.
Before they left for home, I shook Adam and Billy's hands. As long as I live, I shall never forget either of them. Nor shall I forget the kindness of Ms. Wilks and her nephew, Ricardo.
They have truly changed my mind about stereotyping folks.