Rear brake shoes. Replaced.
New timing belt.
Right-rear-wheel cylinder. Check.
Changed oil and filter, one new brake-light bulb, new spark plugs...Check.
Chief mechanic Jon Van Zandt checks off the work he has completed for the Toyota on his lift. It is a white Corolla DX, 1990, rust-pocked. But the compression reading for all four cylinders is good. Transmission, OK. Drive belts, OK.
"All ready for ..." (checking his sheet) "...for Dee Bright Star."
He lowers the car and starts the engine. Smooth. He backs the Corolla outside the three-bay garage and parks it in a row of other aged cars, all donations. Some came from here in Vermont. Others were donated in Massachusetts or Connecticut, or points south, and then trucked all the way to Burlington.
Van Zandt, a large, red-bearded man, balding, leans against his scarlet Triumph motorcycle, parked beside his workbench. He wipes his hands on a rag. In a slow bass voice, he intones, "Wheels to keep Dee Bright Star working." It reminds him: "Yesterday, a guy came in who was living in his car -- he drove it in and it died, so we gave him a Volvo for $80."
On the wall behind him is a letter from U.S. Senator James Jeffords: "What a fantastic way to aid the needy!" There is a 1998 Community Development Award from the City of Burlington, a proclamation from Vermont's governor, a U.S. Small Business Administration Special Award. And a special recognition citation, for nonprofit innovation, from the Peter F. Drucker Foundation. It has zoomed, this idea: fix up donated old cars, with the donors earning a tax write-off, then sell the cars -- for just the cost of repairs -- to people otherwise too poor to buy a car and who need one badly.
Jon Van Zandt learned auto mechanics at his uncle's shop in New Jersey. He has been an engraver in New York City and a lobsterman in Key West. "But this is probably the best situation, working for the Good News Garage, because it's rewarding," he says, raising the lift to elevate his next patient, a 1989 Dodge Colt. "Here we only do work that needs to be done."
Back-up lights out. Air cleaner defunct. Right-rear tire blown. Tune-up ...
Lifts clatter up and down. In their bays, the garage's three mechanics untwist bolts with staccato-sounding pneumatic impact guns. They test-start engines, making them roar. They clang screwdrivers and pliers into toolboxes. Ignoring the din, the garage's director, Hal Colston, tall and trim, with a neatly clipped mustache and beard, and wearing a blue shirt and a yellow bow tie, sits at a grimy table, frowning over applications from would-be car buyers. He is rapidly going through a stack with Kathy Shand, the garage's service writer, sorting them into three piles: "Pressing"; "Iffy"; "Call Them Back for More Information." Right now, more than 300 hopefuls are waiting for cars, with more applications pouring in.
"This one's going to lose her job," Shand says. "Where's she working?" asks Colston.
"Health club -- she absolutely has to be at work at 6 a.m. or they say that they do not want her at all."
Colston drops that application onto the "Pressing" pile. "This one's, he's going to lose his housing," Shand says. "Boy!" Colston says. "OK, get him a car that's $600 to $800." …