My Exposition Park apartment has an urbanely picturesque view of David's Garage, an auto repair shop whose gated parking lot has recently been packed with cars like the screen of a Tetris game. As I make my coffee, I'll notice the garage doors roll open, and sometimes, when I go to bed, the lights are still on. Some hours. My tendencies as a nosy neighbor fed my curiosity, so I paid the shop a visit today, only a few hours before the thermometer hit 109 at DFW.
Turns out this summer is the busiest season owner Mike Gonzalez has seen in his 15 years as a self-employed mechanic. His corner shop, where he's been located for two years, has become a drive-through for cars with weather-related problems, and his brother Mario, also a mechanic, can diagnose a vehicle's ailment before a customer even starts talking. These days most of the cars pulling in are overheated because of problems with the thermostat, radiator or improper circulation of cooling fluid.
The brothers and the garage's two other employees are hustling to keep up with the flow -- guzzling water all day, taking breaks in the small office with a window air conditioning unit that keeps the temperature slightly cooler than bearable.
The space is flanked by two huge open doors. Electric fans circulate the air, but they're practically decorative. One step into the direct sunlight outside yields instant beads of sweat on the mechanics' foreheads, while inside the heat builds more gradually as the warm air grows hotter throughout the day, even under the shade of the roof.
Tarzan, the stray puppy they adopted recently, hides between the office counter and the wall, staying as far from the heat as possible, and only drinks cold water -- a huge relief for any species as Dallas races toward the record for consecutive 100 degree days.
"It's too much hot. It's terrible," Mario says, only to clarify moments later that he has "no complaints" because of the uptick in business. The weather is a blessing and a curse.
In addition to the daily deluge of overheated engines, plenty of customers pour in with broken air conditioners that they've been waiting to fix until encountering the most desperate time -- now -- when driving with the windows down delivers the opposite of relief.
Mike, the shop's owner, has been pulling 12- to 16-hour days. He rarely works such long hours in the winter, but like Mario, he's hesitant to complain because he needs all the business he can get. In 2007, a gas explosion on Industrial Boulevard wiped out his previous business in an instant. He lost dozens of cars and almost all of his equipment. Without insurance, he started from scratch here in Exposition Park.
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"We got a hard time for about two years," he said, having struggled to regain the foothold he lost in the instant fireball. Moving locations wiped away his roster of repeat customers, and he was forced to rebuild his customer base in a new neighborhood. He says that when potential customers asks whether he can fix a particular problem he always says "Yes."
As a result, they've got a business that's slowly bouncing back, in no small part because of the heat that also makes their job damn near unbearable.