The bottom of the door to Homer’s Auto Repairs scrapes against the cold, concrete floor. In the window of the door, next to the “Open” sign, swings the declaration: “Out for Parts,” barely kept stable by aging duct tape and paper clips.
Homer Collins is usually smiling. He squints when he does it, and his smile is known to be infectious.
Decked in a classic, old mechanics shirt with his name embroidered on the top left shoulder, his CarQuest Hose cap rests atop snow white hair, the 74-year-old works slowly and meticulously.
He keeps up several different conversations without faltering on the installation of a new water pump in a silver Buick at the shop at 1200 Blue Ridge Road.
“I started workin’ on cars in the streets of L.A. after World War II,” Collins says. “All the white kids that came back from the war were building hot rods, so I learned to do what they do.”
He says that growing up in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles sheltered him from racism. Not him, nor his friends, were aware of the hostility that was sweeping the nation during the ’60s.
As Collins straightens his burly stature and unfolds from the inside of the Buick, he leans and adds, “I wasn’t introduced to racism very early, not until I joined the Army.”
His clear blue eyes are magnified by thick- rimmed, tortoise-shell readers that sit on the tip of his nose, “You know, I was blown out of a jeep in Korea, and they fixed me up and sent me back.”
He turns back to the transmission and starts another story.