Sunday, June 11, 2017

(18) A Last BraveAttempt

A Last Brave Attempt

Johnny Tat, Owner Of Johnny's Auto Repair

Karen, a friend indeed
Wednesday I returned to Oakland via Muni and BART. On Monday my friend from high school, Karen, picked me up at the BART station in Oakland and drove me to Johnny's.
On Wednesday Karen had to work so I walked the 1.8 miles both to Johnny's and then back to the BART station. At least I'm getting my exercise.

Johnny's repair shop is best described as organized chaos. Johnny and his employees speak Vietnamese to one another. Johnny's English is heavily accented and he yells a lot. At one point Johnny explained that he wanted to help me out because, as Johnny put it "Basicawly, you skwooed." He also added that since I was from Idaho and stuck in the middle of Oakland "You nowhere".  I have tried to accurately portray Johnny's tone and accent, not to be demeaning but because I believe Johnny accurately and eloquently described my situation.

I respect Johnny and in my time at his shop I could see that he provides a very valuable and needed service to his customers and the community. With their cars Johnny is a very competent mechanic. In his own way he is also compassionate and professional. With my 1959 Ranchero, however, Johnny was out of his element. His knowledge of the car and its modifications was no greater than mine. In addition, Johnny was very busy and didn't want to listen to my ideas.

Johnny came to America in 1978 after Vietnam fell to the Communist. He explained to me that he left Vietnam because of the lack of freedom and because of the discrimination he suffered because he was of Chinese descent (Cantonese). Johnny told me how he has basically had four lives. The first one was in South Vietnam before it fell to the communist. The Second Life was when he left Vietnam through the North and into China. He then escaped China by boat to Hong Kong. The boat was terribly overloaded and everybody on board had to bail to keep it afloat. Finally he arrived in America where he went to college for a year to become a mechanic. He saved his money and bought the repair shop he now operates.

Johnny explained that he would be unable to work on my car on Wednesday. At that point, I volunteered to do the work. I began working on the car and although we made progress we were unable to get the car to run on Wednesday or Thursday in a fashion that would leave me confident to drive it on the highway. In a couple of words, "I was screwed."

Linda, Jill and Jerry decided I needed an evening to help me forget my problems, so we went to dinner, and a movie at the Castro Theater where the show began with an organ recital. I cheered up, after all, it was my birthday!

We came back with renewed efforts on Thursday. On Thursday Johnny posited the theory that since my car had an aftermarket distributor that was based upon a General Motors design that maybe the firing order was a General Motors firing order rather than a Ford firing order. It was at this stage that I lost all confidence that the Ranchero would be returned to me properly fixed and in a timely fashion.

Johnny settling the bill with a customer

I walked back to the BART station on Thursday completely exhausted, discouraged and quite literally bloodied and bruised. It was time for a new plan.

The Ranchero, feeling a bit  embarrassed as it
is pulled up on the tow truck 
I called my friend Lynn who called his friend Jim Fry who was just opening a shop in the East Bay. I had spoken to Jim before, but was not sure that he would be able to get to my car in a timely fashion. Now it was clear to me that nothing was going to happen in a timely fashion. So I may as well go to the guy that made me feel confident. Jim's specialty is electronic ignition, classic cars and hot rods. He applies high tech solutions to old cars. Sounds made to order for my unique set of problems. His business is Hot Rod Wire Service and his phone is: 1-510-329-7775. His web site is:

Thursday night and Friday morning Linda and I worked to arrange to have the car transported from Oakland to San Ramon, California. Jim's shop is in an old Nike Missle base in the hills behind San Ramon. I would leave the car with Jim until the middle of July when I would be able to return to California.
Good Bye Johnny
In the meantime my 2006 Mustang was fitted with a trailer hitch and my son, Charlie, would drive it to Donner Lake, California. Linda rented a car and drove to San Ramon. I rode in the tow truck. Upon arriving in San Ramon I discussed possible remedies with Jim. With each conversation my confidence in him has grown. Linda and I bid farewell, for now, to the Ranchero and drove to Donner Lake in our rented KIA. I chuckled to myself as I thought that "KIA" also means "killed in action." How fitting.

We have not given up yet. On Monday Linda and I will leave Donner Lake and drive to Ely Nevada. We hope to continue to be a "Ford on the Lincoln", we just won't be the same Ford as we started out. We will have to do some long stretches, especially in the early days and we will continue to reevaluate the trip and in Iowa we will make a decision as to whether to return to Idaho or to continue to New York City. In any event I am still determined to drive all the way across to America. It just might take a bit longer.


  1. Good for you guys! When you get to Iowa, I predict you will keep going. Drang nach Osten!

  2. Sorry for your troubles. Know that we are all rooting for you! Leave troubles behind and enjoy your time on the trip. Love you

  3. Although Johnny was a good choice at the time, the move to Jim definitely seems appropriate now. See you in Denison.

  4. Look at the bright side, you get to see the country with the top down!