Miracle In Roosevelt Island's Neighborhood: A Honest Auto Mechanic. Really.
You’d have to know some of the stories to appreciate why a trustworthy mechanic came to be a sort of grail, the kind of thing you must believe is possible, just to continue living as you do.
You have to believe there is a shop somewhere where all those hoses, power drills and densely oiled surfaces actually coalesce into something resembling poetry. That is, your car goes in willingly and, for a reasonable price, returns better or, at least, with a fresh inspection sticker.
The Pains of Car Ownership
I was inclined to compare my history with auto mechanics to miserably failed love affairs, but that would be unfair to the love affairs. You enter both relationships full of hope, inflated with trust, but with only one do you carry on with at least a few fond memories.
Once, I waded through ankle deep rain water after a storm, leaving my wife inside our dry car, which had selected just this spot as the place to die, to get to a phone booth.
When I dialed up the Volkswagon dealership where they’d cha-chinged my credit card, the day before, I was treated to a debate with the service manager concerning the remote chance they might have any responsibility for my predicament or would be willing to send out a tow truck to rescue us.
Auto club membership became as mandatory as having a roof over your head.
The first time my wife got to be in the news was when her car stalled on an expressway during morning rush hour. A traffic copter hovering overhead advised commuters to find an alternate route.
Such incidents are the low hanging fruit for automobile repair shops, and you can’t blame them for not fully harvesting the goodies, preserving something for the future.
Well, yes, you can blame them, but what would be the point? You rarely know enough about what goes on under the hood after you drive away in your loaner, certainly not enough to make a case.
And mechanics are like doctors, extremely unlikely to rat each other out.
After having the car that made my wife famous towed to the shop and paying dearly to have it fixed, we drove on a winter evening to visit my father, two-hundred miles away in my hometown, Binghamton, New York.
After forty miles, the car launched a retrospective of its previous symptoms.
The best way I can describe it for you is to have you imagine speeding along at sixty-five on the New York State Thruway and feeling the power, at first in brief wheezes, gradually surrender its punch, the status of your foot on the pedal irrelevant.
Wisely, I did what any optimist would do on that cold winter night. I sat and chatted with my wife for a while. (Actually, I cursed and pledged to kill the mechanic who recently “fixed” our car.)
Then, after a while, I turned the ignition, and Bingo! It ran perfectly again.
For about fifteen minutes.
But by then, I had learned to deal with it and, by this method, hiccuped the remainder of the way home.
I’ll spare you the interim details but invite you to a scene in the parking lot outside a restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I have raised my car’s hood so I can do a repair with the butter knife I’ve stolen from the table at which my embarrassed wife still sits.
You see, I discovered how to repair the problem that several expensive mechanics could not. It seems one of them, innocently, of course, forgot to screw down the distributor cap after a tuneup and none of the others found it.
When my car warmed up, hot, compressed air began flipping it up, allowing fresh air to mingle with what was supposed to be controlled combustion.
Butter knife in hand, I bravely secured the distributer cap.
There’s much more, but you get the picture.
Nirvana in New York
No, rock fans, we’re not talking about the greatest grunge band of all time touring the East Coast.
We are talking about a little bit of heaven with the utterly mundane name of Metro Tire Co of Queens, just across the Roosevelt Island Bridge, at 3555 Vernon Blvd.
After decades of dealing with car insurance, parking, insane drivers, traffic jams and the horror of mechanics, I spent my first fifteen years in New York auto libre. An under appreciated joy of living in New York is being relieved of the necessity of owning a car.
Need to drive somewhere. Easy. Just pay Hertz or Avis a ridiculously high rental fee for a car that might not really be available when you drop by for your pick up, and you are on your way, most likely.
In spite of excessive costs and surly service, you drive without worrying about repairs, tuneups or anything else that would require you to stand across the service desk from a manager who cannot look you in the eye.
(Later, I got joyfully into the Zip Car thing, but so far, I have been unable to come up with any wisecracks about it.)
Then, long story short, my work in technology sales demanded that I drive a lot to cover an expanding territory outside Manhattan, a world I had only heard about and only partly believed in.
After a lot of rentals, it made sense to own a car of my own, that sense improved by our getting one free.
Our used, South Korean car came with sentimental values that meant we would never discard it as long as it continued to run at all.
Fast forward ten years and it’s my Costco car. Once a week, I fill it up with enormous packages of toilet paper, giant boxes of cereal and cases of water. I will also own up to a trip to the on premises liquor store to stock up on wine.
With Jamie Grieco and his team at Metro Tire, I would not be driving a car that, for more than a year now, is old enough for car dates, should another car find it fetching.
For one thing, when this car first took its place in Motorgate, replenishing its oil was a more frequent requirement than filling it with gas.
Strangely though, it never left a trail of greasy leaks or the telltale puddle left behind in a parking space. Jamie was never able to find out where the spectral oil went, but he found a solution that kept it in the crankcase.
“There something Indy drivers use to stop leaks, an additive,” he explained. “Let’s try it.”
Nine years later, still no more leaks.
Why I Love Metro Tire
It’s not just the minor miracle of solving intractable problems that makes Metro Tire the grail in auto work for me. After all, such problems are rare.
Two other things stand out for me. Well, three, when you discover that Jamie is one of those rare men who actually looks you in the eye when he talks to you. He’s honest, and he lets you know it in the most direct way.
The first is that neither he nor his team tries to supersize you when you come into the shop. You know, would you like to try our new, super duper combination windshield wiper and kindle device with that tuneup?
Some shops just install new equipment and explain to you, stupid customer, that you needed it or you car was going to go off a cliff without warning, probably with your mother in it.
Bluster and baloney just don’t seem to be in the Metro Tire DNA.
The other thing I love about this shop is not as obvious but is certainly related.
If you’re my age, you can relate to certain functions not operating optimally over time. It’s the same with cars.
My bad left knee regularly inspires suggestions that I see a doctor who can get me a brand new one, even though the old one works just fine for everything I need.
The infatuation we have with treating our bodies like a collection of parts where, if you replace enough of them, you will stay young forever has not captured my heart.
So, it’s consistent that, when the air-conditioning in my car broke down, I thought twice about spending hundreds on a repair.
Actually, I thought once and Jamie thought once.
Without dollar signs turning his eyes green, Jame asked, “Are you sure you want to do that? How often do you drive when you need air-conditioning?”
“I can have it repaired, but at your car’s age, it’ll cost more than the vehicle is worth.”
How many mechanics do you know who will recommend that you save your money and don’t see an old, old car as a gold mine?
And there’s one more thing. I have never driven away from Metro Tire and had to make a return trip shortly thereafter. You get a fix there, you’re fixed.
If you’re like me, a Roosevelt Islander who deals with owning a car, save yourself some sorrow and heartache. Make the quick trip across the bridge and experience Metro Tire for yourself.
The place isn’t much to look at, but frankly, neither am I. We’re both a bit weatherworn, but sturdy and genuine.
Metro Tire and I, my car as well, fit. I believe you will too.
Tell Jamie I sent you.
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