Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Scratch, A Movie, A Harley, & A Paint Job

You can barely see the scratch on the photo. Few people would notice it on the side of our coach “Dolly’s Pride.” Yet, the scratch bothered Ed every day. A stop sign in Fayette City wounded “Dolly’s Pride” and left a scratch mark several feet long. The damage occurred when Ed intended to make a left turn but cars parked on the street in this little Pennsylvania town made the turn impossible. He opted to go right instead. Rounding the turn, the coach rubbed against the intersection stop sign. The screeching sound of metal against metal and the site of the massive coach taking such a tight turn will give folks on the main streets something to talk about for weeks. Fayette City cannot accommodate large RVs. A volunteer fireman who helped route us out of town said the fire trucks barely fit either. Old two-story houses line both sides of the streets along the one way street into town and the one way out of town. The houses have no front yards, just a city sidewalk to the curb. Without driveways, cars park parallel making a single lane for traffic. The main street is a narrow urban canyon.

We infrequently watch movies during our road trip. Opportunities to explore places take a higher priority than sitting inside watching a movie. In Hazleton, we happened to be boondocked in a place with little to explore and within walking distance of Hollywood Video. As a new customer there, the clerk told me I was entitled to “one month of movies rentals at half price.” I took advantage of this offer. Over our week in Hazleton, I rented and watched: Charlie Wilson’s War, Across the Universe, Trade, American Gangster, Into the Wild, and September Dawn. A day before leaving Hazleton, I stopped this movie frenzy. Ed walked with me to return the last movie. He never went inside the video store though, he stopped short of the store to admire a Harley parked on the sidewalk.

The bike belonged to John DelliSanti, the towering man in leathers who exited Hollywood Video behind me. “That has to be your bike on the sidewalk,” I confirmed as we both turned to walk to the Harley. John bought the Harley at an estate sale. He’d done the custom paint job himself. His friend added the pin stripping and Rat Fink character. Custom painting was not a hobby. John specializes in collision repair, restoration and motorcycle painting. John did not hesitate when Ed asked if he’d consider fixing the scratch on the bus. Within moments, John parked his Harley next to the coach and waited for us to walk across the parking lot. He took a walk around the coach and examined the job. If he could get the color match of the paint, he’d easily fix “Dolly’s Pride” the next day.

John told us he learned his trade in high school. He opted out of the Catholic school because of a failing grade in religion class. In the public school, John planned to study auto mechanics but the program was already at enrollment capacity. An advisor suggested he take the body work and painting classes until there was an opening in mechanics. An opening never occurred, setting John on his career path. Now at 46, John keeps a photo collage in his shop office of the work he’s done since he was 15 years old.

DelliSanti’s Auto Repair is located in the rear of 125 W. 22nd Street in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. John’s Dad ran a car dealership on the location 40 years ago. A heart attack killed him when John was just a kid. John can still remember how his Dad’s friends gathered in the building and drew the blinds to play gin late into the night. John was never far from the dealership that his uncle eventually ran. The brick house next door is where John lived while growing up. Ed wedged our coach on a blacktop lot between that brick house and rear shop for John to do a paint job on “Dolly’s Pride.”

From inside the coach, I could hear John masking paper and plastic around the side of the coach to cover areas he wanted to protect. I closed the windows when he began sanding the scratched panel. Ed photographed the process capturing John’s keen attention to his work. Eventually, the fumes from the paint forced me outside where I also witnessed John’s precision. Between coats of paint, John dragged on a cigarette and told us about how a gas leak affected the neighborhood. The EPA fixed the problem by installing what John called a “giant vacuum” in a building across the street. Blame for the problem remains entangled in the courts even today.

As the day grew long, so did Ed and John’s faces. When they lifted the masking, the new paint didn’t blend. The color was too dark. Ed came inside to watch the evening news on TV, leaving John to figure out what to do. In the time it took for me to cook steak hoagies, John corrected the problem. I could hear him tearing off the masking. That was my cue to offer him a Yuengling Black & Tan and call for Ed. When Ed asked him how he managed to get the paint to match, John chuckled, “Sometimes I even amaze myself.”

May 30, 2008

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