Meet Your Merchant: Tahoe mechanic learns trade from mentor, friend
April 22, 2014
INCINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Rigo García unlocks the front door of his shop and steps inside the small building. The sun is barely up, and the shop, for the moment, is quiet. He breathes in the silence and the stillness: He knows it won't last.
García enters his office and hangs his keys on the wall with a hundred others, and key chains from García favorite companies: Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
The mechanic peers into the garage and sees the workload waiting for him. Cars lifted high by jacks, tires and wheels and tools, cars in the parking lot outside.
"Owning a business is not that easy," said García, who's owned Tanager Street Auto Service since 2005. "There is so much to worry about … I'm the first one to open and the last one to close."
“Listen to your mechanic like you listen to your doctor.”
Staying late at the shop is where García first learned about cars. The young man worked as a cook at Austin's and would stop by Tanager St. Auto Service, owned then by Gary Gleason, in hopes of borrowing a tool or getting some advice on his car.
"He offered me a job, and I was dying for that opportunity," García said.
For many years, García split his time between the kitchen at Austin's and the garage at Gleason's.
"For some reason it was my dream to be a cook and a mechanic," García said.
Gleason taught him about engines and batteries, mufflers and air filters. The men stayed as late as 10 p.m. to work on cars.
García went home with oil on his hands and cars on his mind.
"Everything I know I learned from him," García said about his former employer. "He said, 'think about each car as your mother's car or your sister's car … Whatever you'd do for your mom or your sister's car — that's what you should do for that customer.'"
Apart from the mechanics of engines and brakes, Gleason taught García about life and geared the immigrant toward one day owning the business.
"Gary taught me that honesty is the best policy, in your life and in your business," Rigo said.
Gary Gleason owned Tanager Street Auto Service for 14 years before selling the shop to García in 2005. When Gleason died a few years afterward, García lost a mentor and a friend.
It's said the best barber is the one with the worst haircut. If the same is true for mechanics, García is the best. García walks to work six days a week and has sold his Mini Cooper and his Audi "because he just doesn't have time for them."
His office computer is always on. Rigo spends any spare moments he has reading car blogs and researching parts.
The calendar near his desk is full of appointments. Occasionally the mechanic will take a Saturday off from the garage to head to Sacramento or Truckee, where he takes classes in management.
"I take the classes so I can be more professional and take care of our customers because they take care of us," he said.
The things the mechanic hung in his office when he bought the business from Gleason nine years ago don't grab his attention now as the phone rings and there's work to be done.
An AAA foldout map of Mexico hangs above the computer, a roadmap of the country García left 16 years ago, the country he still calls home, and now visits maybe twice a year.
In the southwest region of the map, García pushed in a green thumb tack to denote the small village where he grew up: Pedernales. In the state of Michoacán, the village of 6,100 people is sublime for growing avocados and stays green most of the year.
García left Pedernales and his family to come to the United States when he was 16 years old.
"I wanted to try to have a better living and a better life," García said of his decision to move.
Just underneath the map, tacks hold up two old photos — one of a class of third-graders and another of a Mexican rancher in a plastic chair sitting next to his wife, their five sons behind them.
The way he appears in the family photo is the way García remembers his father. His skin is tanned and he is smiling to be with his sons.
"My father had an Apache truck," García remembered. "That is probably where my love for cars first started."
García recalls endless holding the flashlight for his father as he worked on cars. García beamed the light into the different engines, illuminating their insides.
And when García was deemed old enough, his father let him drive around the ranch. The first time he drove, he said, was through the avocado trees in a Jeep Wrangler.
García is a certified technician and offers his expertise on both foreign and domestic automobiles. For all of his customers and all car owners in general, García recommends regular oil changes and seeing a consistent mechanic.
Just as a doctor knows your health records, a mechanic will remember your car and its needs, García said.
"Listen to your mechanic like you listen to your doctor," he said with a laugh.
Tanager Street Auto Service is open six days a week.
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at email@example.com.