Dallas Dave

I had a small construction company, repairs, remodeling, and occasionally an addition to a house.  I enjoyed it most of the time, but of course there were occasions when I needed help.  I had wrecked my truck and someone with knowledge of such things told me that the frame was bent and gave me the name of a guy who was set up to fix that malady.  Not knowing anything about the process I took down the info and set out for South Saunders Street.  The guy had said that the frame straightener was beside a little restaurant called R. B. Stokes Supreme Broasted Chicken; I was familiar with the place and had stopped there a few times.  They had arguably the best ham, egg, and cheese biscuits in town, served with a missing toothed smile by a jolly black lady by the name of Mae.  All the times I had been at R. B.’s I had never noticed the old garage just west of it, right across Rocky Branch, a very polluted little stream.  Following the fellow’s directions I easily found the garage and pulled into the driveway; I noticed that there was a line of cars to the left of the drive and each one had a price on the windshield.  It was inscribed with the typical white crayon type marker that you see all the time.  Some of them just had the price and others had added comments such as “real creampuff” or “take it home today” or “low mileage” inscribed below the price.

I pulled up to the open garage door and got out of the truck; I was immediately met by a gentleman sporting a big smile and merry eyes.

“Hello, hello, hello,” he caroled as he took a look at my cockeyed vehicle, walking around it and talking at a rapid pace. 

“This one is pretty bad, but I have seen worse,” he surmised, after he had given the truck the twice over.  “Come on inside and I will show you my set-up,” he said, and I followed him into the garage.

“See these hooks in the ground?’ he asked.  He was pointing at four round steel protrusions coming out of the dirt floor.  “I had four large holes dug out where you see each hook and filled them with concrete.  While the concrete was still fresh I sunk each hook into it; all four of them have one half inch rebar attached to their bottom in a cross fashion.  It would take a backhoe to pull these things out of the ground.  What I do is pull the vehicle up over the hooks, attach a chain to the frame, connect it to the hook, then take a strong jack and elevate the vehicle until it is horizontal once again.  A bit of trial and error,” he quipped, grinning broadly.  While he was telling me all this there was an occasional visitor walking by, heading toward a structure that was to the right of the garage, closer to the bank of Rocky Branch.  Apparently he knew all of these black gentlemen, calling out to each one in what sounded like an English accent; “hello, hello, pip pip,” he said to one and “spot on bro,” to another.  We agreed upon a very reasonable price for the straightening and he agreed to do it right away.  He situated my truck over the hooks and while he was hooking up the chains he kept up a steady chatter.  It turns out that my idea that he was English was totally wrong.  “You know, I am from Baltimore,” he told me; that makes me a true Baltimoron,” he said, watching for my reaction.  He received the laugh that I think he anticipated and continued his monologue as he situated a heavy floor jack under the right rear of the truck.  His name was Willy and since he said he was from Baltimore I could only assume that the English accent was an affectation; regardless, he was very charming and the accent kind of suited him.  Willy told me to make myself at home while he toiled away at my truck; “go on over there and have a beer with the guys,” he said, pointing toward several men who were standing around a 55-gallon drum that had a small fire going in it.  I walked over and was immediately handed a PBR and given welcoming smiles.  There were three of them around the barrel and it appeared that they had been imbibing a bit, not drunk, but maybe a bit more friendly than a sober guy would be.

“Hey man, how ya doin; my name is Rick,” one of them said, the one who had given me the beer.  He was a tall rawboned red-haired fellow; I told him the story of my truck and he assured me that Willy could and would fix me up.  Being a stranger I just introduced myself; the other two men with the red headed one followed suit.

“My name is Beauregard, but you can call me Bo; I am from Durham.”  This came from a tall skinny fellow who had the reddish-brown complexion you see on homeless people and a severe lack of dentition.  He displayed his desire to be friendly by showing a big grin, only a few discolored teeth being exposed. 

“I’m Steve,” announced the remaining fellow.  He was of slight build and had hair down past his shoulders; it was hitched up in a ponytail.  His hair was so grey that it looked almost yellow.  Like Willy the straightener they were chatty, I am sure helped along by the beer consumption and the fact that it was only nine o’clock in the morning.

“I know it is summertime, but we think a little fire kinda makes things cozy,” Rick said, the others nodding in agreement. 

“What kind of work do you guys do?” I ventured.

“Construction, but things are kinda slow right now,” Rick offered. 

“How ‘bout you?” he asked me.  I told him my vocation and that I was looking for some help.  I saw them kind of look at each other; there was no response, which I chalked up to their wanting to check me out for a while before they committed to any kind of employment situation.  I didn’t push it.

At that moment two of men I had seen heading toward the building to the right of the garage emerged from there and came walking by; I say walking, but it could more correctly be characterized as a controlled stumble.  They exchanged pleasantries with my new acquaintances and headed back from whence they came.  I suppose I may have looked a little confused, poker face not one of my qualities, for Rick laughed and looked at me and said “that is Miss Mary’s Shot House.”  I really was not that familiar with the term but he readily explained. 

“Miss Mary is an older black lady; she lives there and sells liquor by the shot—a dollar a hit.  She comes out okay, specializing in Popov vodka; she can make quite a bit off a half gallon,” Rick explained.  “Those guys that came by are members of her regular clientele; they live up on the hill in the project.  Guess she kinda provides a community service,” he added, as we all laughed.  “If you got time we can go over there and I will introduce you to Miss Mary,” he said.  Since Willy was still working on my truck I agreed.  As the four of us walked toward the building I was looking at the siding that it had; it looked like there was some kind of writing on it. When  I asked Rick about it he started chuckling.

“Actually that structure is two Trailways buses gutted and pushed together,” he revealed.  “You will see when we get inside.”  As we walked by the building I could see through the vines that adorned it that there were windows all around it, just like you would have on a Trailways bus. 

I saw electric lights burning inside and asked “you mean she has electrical power?” and Rick nodded.  “She’s got friends with the power company,” he explained and winked.  He led us around to the back of the building and knocked and sure enough a regular bus door opened and we all stepped up into the structure.

“Does this thing have the handicap apparatus that lowers the bus so people don’t have to step so high?” I joked, and Rick said “not yet,” and laughed.  When we got inside I saw who had operated the door; a heavy set older black lady was standing there with her hand on the door opener.

“Who’s the new guy?” she asked as she eyed me warily. 

“My name is Dave; I am getting my frame straightened by Willy,” I said.

“Yea, I could tell you a little sideways, white boy,” she said, providing a hearty laugh.  “Come on in; your first shot be on the house.”  There were several older black men sitting on bus seats that had been screwed to the floor.

“Guess these seats were in the original bus?” I asked.

“Fershure,” Rick replied.  “I ‘magine some of these guys helped install them years ago,” Rick said, as two of the gentlemen nodded in agreement.  After we sat down and got our drinks, my first one free, two of the black men got up to leave, telling everybody goodbye.  After Miss Mary opened the door and they had left she started laughing, like a funny thought had just come to her.

“Ya know, the joke in the project is that it is one and a half blocks for those guys to walk down here and two blocks to walk back,” she said, laughing and moving her arms around in a weaving fashion.  She was so rambunctious with her weaving impersonation she had to readjust her wig. It was obvious that Miss Mary had a good humor about her and I was feeling magnanimous since my first shot had been free, so I set everybody up, including the proprietor herself.  She did not resist and then returned the favor to all of us.

“Y’all hungry?” she asked, moving toward what served as her kitchen.  “I got a pork roast and some collards that be ‘bout done.”  It did smell good but all of us declined and telling Miss Mary that I needed to go check on my truck we left. 

“Don’t you forget me,” she called out as I left.  I assured her I would not, then walked back in the door and put a dollar in her hand.

“You a good boy,” she said, flashing what appeared to be a big dentured smile.

When we got back to the shop Willy was backing my truck out of the garage; the vehicle looked totally normal and level all around.

“Suit you?” he asked, looking at me as I looked the truck over.

I deemed it a great improvement over what I had brought in.

“What in the world caused all that racking around?” Willy asked so I told the embarrassing story. “Well it was like this.  I had pulled up into my driveway, which is on a pretty good incline, and jumped out.  I was in kinda a hurry and guess did not have the truck in gear and had radio earphones in my ears so I did not hear anything and did not know anything was amiss until out of the corner of my eye I saw my truck going backwards down the driveway.  I gave chase and was almost able to get hold of the driver’s side door but not quite; I was relegated to the role of an observer and watched helplessly as the truck rolled quickly across the road, jumped the far curb, and continued down my neighbor’s yard, which sloped pretty dramatically.  It was fortunate that the truck’s path was a good ten yards from the house; as it continued down the hill it gained speed.  It came to rest when it smashed into the far side of the small creek that marked the end of my neighbor’s property.  My toolbox was not secured well and the impact threw it across the creek into the next yard.  I called a wrecker and it came and pulled the truck out of the creek and left it on the street in front of my house.  I was amazed that it started when I tried it and so that is why I am here.  I must say that it was doing some serious dog-tracking on the way over here,” I said, trying to describe how the rear wheels did not seem to be following the front ones.

All the guys were laughing while I was telling the story; it certainly seemed funny to me also, a lot more than when it was actually happening.  At that point I pulled out my wallet and gave Willy two one-hundred-dollar bills, having been informed that is the way he liked to transact business.  This brought about an added twinkle to Willy’s eyes; “why don’t you twist one up?” he said to Rick, tossing him a bag of weed and some rolling papers.  Rick complied quickly and in no time the joint was being passed around; I was pretty cautious, not really knowing anyone and certainly not knowing anything about the potency of the drug.  After a few circuits I determined that all was okay and we all became a little buzzy.  Willy handed one of the hundred dollar bills to Rick and said “why don’t you and Dave go over to R. B.’s and bring us back a double order of livers and gizzards and french fries, while I go pick us up some more beer.”  Rick heard loud and clear and in a moment we were traversing the stepping stones in Rocky Branch and climbing the bank up to R. B. Stokes Supreme Broasted Chicken.  As we approached the front of building I noticed that there were life size concrete chickens on the canopy that ran all the way across the front of the building.  It had always been dark when I had been there and I had not noticed them.  When I mentioned them Rick said “yep, R. B. cast those critters himself; you know he has a concrete company, pouring driveways and such, and doing those chickens is just something that he thought would help people to remember this place.”  I told Rick that ‘ol R. B. was most assuredly correct in that thought, and that if I had seen them I would certainly have remembered it.  We went inside and were waited on by none other than the famous biscuit maker Mae.  She took our order in her jolly fashion and in ten minutes we were on our way back across Rocky Branch, Rick having tipped the happy woman five dollars, which made her even happier.

When we got back to Willy’s he was talking to a man who was apparently interested in a Toyota Camry, XLE, that was by far the best-looking car in the crop.  The other vehicles were pretty ragged, the worst of the lot probably being a 1987 Chevy Celebrity.  While Willy was making his sales pitch Rick said “come over here and take a gander at this gem,” and we walked over to the Celebrity.  Rick set the bag of food on the old car and walked over to the driver’s side. “Look at the window,” he said, laughing.  I looked and saw that the window had a one-half inch chisel holding it up.  “Got to where the glass would not stay up; this is a car that Willy’s wife drove for twelve years. I know for a fact that the air conditioning has not worked for ten.  Come on around to the rear,” he said.  When we got there he pointed to a small lock hanging on a hasp at the bottom of the trunk lid.  “The key broke off in the lock several years ago and instead of paying a stiff locksmith fee he decided on this option; I think he said that he had two dollars in the fix, that being the price of the hasp.  He already had the little lock,” Rick quipped, laughing as he pointed it out.  I looked at what Willy had written on the Celebrity’s window: RUNS.  $300.  I was kind of looking for an old car so I opened the door and went inside.  Everything looked about normal for a car of that advanced age except the upholstery and the headliner; they both looked nearly new.  When I inquired about it Rick told me the story.

“This was Willy’s ex-wife’s car; guess he got it in the settlement,” he said, giggling as he related the tale.  “The reason the interior is so nice is that about a year ago some kids got in the car and carved up the headliner and upholstery, I guess for kicks. She called up her insurance agent and he informed that she had comprehensive coverage, which I am sure you know is very expensive and a ridiculous thing to have on such a piece of crap car.  So she got a new interior and Willy got the car in the settlement; turns out that the insurance agent was his wife’s first cousin.  Like they say in West Virginia, if you’re gonna get screwed might as well keep it in the family,” Rick said, smiling broadly and patting the old Celebrity on the hood.  Then added “it’s a real creampuff.”

Steve and Bo had interrupted their Mensa meeting over at the fire barrel long enough to come over and grab some food, so we picked up what was left and took it over to where Willy was working on the sale.  The Toyota Camry was a pretty good-looking car, and I knew that model was a 6 cylinder ‘cause my brother had one and I figured that it was probably worth about 5 grand; the major problem was the paint job, the body being a bit scratched up and a few dents on each side.  The prospect was zeroing in on the dents and rubbing his hand over the imperfections and shaking his head. 

“I don’t know about this, paint job is not good and these dents don’t help,” he said.

“Oh no, no, no; you are not to worry about that I can bondo those spots, sand it down, paint it, and apply a clear coat for a very low price,” Willy exclaimed, hopping around the car in an animated fashion.  He had his faux English accent going ninety miles an hour and we were waiting on him to spring the price of the fixup to the sucker, er customer.  As we were watching the drama Rick leaned over to me and said “ya know, that bulge in Willy”s right rear pocket is a little .22 pistol; he is never without it.  Pretty much part of the uniform for a used car salesman, especially in this area,” he explained. 

We turned our attention back to the negotiation process; the customer was saying “well I don’t know,” and Willy sensing that he needed to set the hook said “tell ya what I will do; I got to say you are a shrewd bargainer but I gotta make a little bit on the deal.  The price on the windshield is $6500.00 but I will throw in the body work, paint job, AND the clear coat for only an extra $!200.00.”

The “shrewd bargainer” agreed and for his trouble received an over-priced Camry and a body and paint fixup that you could get for $700.00 at Economy Auto Painting over there off Wake Forest Rd. next to the burger joint where that night cleaning man got killed a few years back.  I was pretty sure about Willy’s gouge because Economy had done about the same thing that Willy was describing on my truck just recently; however, I certainly kept my mouth very shut.  With the deal consummated the man left after giving Willy a large deposit and Willy said it was time for a break, so we gathered around the little fire in the barrel; Willy was very happy about the deal he had just made and had already approached Steve about sanding the Camry before Willy worked his magic with the paint job and the clear coat.  “Let’s go over to Miss Mary’s and get a shot; bet she has got some food ready also,” Willy exclaimed; I told him that she had offered us some just a while ago so with a “pip pip” and a “spot on” we walked over to the refurbished buses.  Miss Mary saw us coming and opened the door; when we got inside she already had five shots lined up on the counter.  Willy was looking at Miss Mary kind of hard and apparently had determined that something was amiss with the shot house proprietor.

“You lookin’ kinda funny, Miss Mary, is something wrong?” he asked.

“Them boys is locked up again; I swear I ain’t got no idee what I am gonna do with them,” she said.  Rick had mentioned earlier that Miss Mary had “adopted” a set of twins many years ago who were now nearly thirty years old and were constantly in trouble. “I just got word that they both wuz convicted of grand larceny last week,” she lamented.  Rick had said earlier that the boys, known as “Popeye” and “Peepeye” had been in the carjacking trade and recently gravitated to what they felt like was a more lucrative pastime, that being breaking into car parts stores at night.  Apparently things had gone pretty well until a couple of months ago; seems the two of them had all of the things they were going to swipe gathered in one spot in the Advance Auto over on Western Boulevard and were getting ready to start carrying things out to the rented box truck when five of Raleigh’s finest blue and whites roared up with lights flashing.  “Peepeye” and “Popeye” always prided themselves on doing their larcenous homework but familiarity with “silent alarms” had not made it into their sphere of expertise.

“Smells like pork roast and collards; how ‘bout getting’ us some, Miss Mary,” Willy caroled in his best attempt at a cockney accent.  I am sure Willy was hungry but I was also positive he said that to change the subject.

We all ate vigorously and when we were done asked what we owed her and she said “two dollars each,” and gave her big grin.  We gave five bucks each and got to enjoy that big smile, then walked back over to the fire barrel. 

But in a world filled with beer and pot moods can change quickly; we were all standing around the barrel when Willy accosted Rick with a very direct question, to wit, “when you paying me that twenty dollars you owe me for the electric bill?”  Rick’s congenial mood immediately deflated and he began stammering “you know we ain’t had no work lately,” he managed to get out. 

“And you, Beauregard, don’t guess you got any money either?” Willie said, his eyes narrowing as he looked at him. 

“You ain’t gonna pull the plug on us again are you?” Beauregard asked, giving his best pitiful look.  I didn’t say anything but I guess Willy felt I should be filled in on what was going on.

“These hard working,” big eye roll, “gentlemen,” another one, “have been staying in that house, rent free, since the middle of last winter.  The only thing I asked of them was to pay part of the electric bill, since they were running a cord from my shop over to there to run their heater and refrigerator.  I have been extremely lenient with them but I am getting sick and tired of it,” he shouted.  At this point he started tugging at the little pistol in his back pocket.  I don’t know if he were going to actually use it or not but it certainly got his point across in grand fashion.  I guess his point was further buttressed when he actually pulled the gun out and shot it in the air four times.  I was too shocked to run but Bo and Rick took off and got behind the garage; Steve, having no skin in the game, stayed put.  I stood there looking at Willy, not knowing what to expect next, when I saw a big grin cross his face; he nodded to where Bo and Rick had disappeared and said “works every time.”  The duo had emerged from behind the garage, Rick holding a twenty-dollar bill aloft in his hand, making sure that Willy saw it.

“What in the world is goin’ on here,” came a voice from over toward the shot house.  Miss Mary was standing there with her wig askew holding a .45 caliber pistol. 

“I was ‘bout to take me a lil nap and here come all this racket,” she said, lowering the big gun.  “Just doin’ a lil bill collecting,” Willy replied, “tally ho.”  Miss Mary just grinned, straightened up her wig, and went back in the shot house.  I have never quite seen the type of interaction that I had been exposed to, for as soon as Rick got over to the fire barrel and handed over the twenty it was like nothing had happened.  It was “pip, pip,” and “spot on” all over again with Willy passing out the beers.  I was still a little shaken, thought fleetingly of mentioning work to Rick again, said my goodbyes, and crawled into my straightened truck and departed Rocky Branch. 

“He looked a little funny when he left, didn’t he?” Beauregard said, watching as the truck pulled away. 

“Spot on Bo, but I guess it takes all kinds.” Willy replied and threw Rick the bag.  “Twist one up,” he said, grinning and putting his pistol back into his pocket.

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