George Graham

Behind the Faces in a Midas Waiting Room

I had put off getting an oil change for far too long, probably because I knew there would be more to it than that once I decided to have our old Marquis checked out. There was the intermittent chatter coming from one of the wheels, for one thing.

I figured it would involve taking off the wheels, and the prospect filled me with dread. I hadn’t done that in years, and I didn’t want to know what was under there.

But I worked up enough courage on Monday to head for the neighborhood Midas shop I usually go to for oil changes and repairs.

When I got to the shop, I found it had been converted from a corporate operation to a franchise and was under new management. I got to know the new owners quite well while I waited for a complete overhaul of the brakes and replacement of a wheel bearing, plus replacement of the sway bar bushings and a wheel alignment.

I was there so long I thought they might charge me rent.The work couldn’t be completed in one sitting, so I spent two sessions at the the shop – more than two hours on Monday and even longer this morning.

Not only did I get to know the new owner and his wife but I also heard the life stories of several customers as we sat in the waiting room. They were a lot more interesting than the magazines on the coffee table or the TV on the wall.

The franchise operator was a tall, sinewy, middle-age guy with chiseled features and close-cropped hair. His name is George – so that was one thing we had in common. And, like me, he is an American by choice.

George is originally from the Czech Republic, and came to America back in 1983 to escape the rigors of Communism. He had been working as a technician at a Miami hospital but got fed up with the institution’s inhumane new¬† policies.

For one thing, they limited the amount of time he could spend with patients.

“Imagine,” he said, “I’ve just told a lady she has breast cancer, and she’s crying, and I have 15 minutes total to spend with her.”

So he decided on a career change and bought a Midas franchise here in Lakeland three months ago.

As we chatted, I found out his hobbies included mixed martial arts (he had the broken bones to show for it) and distance running. (Coincidentally, one of the customers was also a distance runner. He and his wife run marathons, he told me. You should see the shoes he was wearing – weird!)

Talking with George’s wife, Bei, I discovered they’d met through the Internet.

Bei is a bright and bubbly young lady from the Philippines, where she did market research. She told me that, after getting to know each other on the Internet, George flew there to meet her. They returned to the United States together and have a 4-year-old daughter, Vivian. Bei showed me Vivian’s picture on her camera phone – with justifiable pride.

Among the many other interesting characters in the Midas waiting room was a blonde woman in her forties and her 16-year-old daughter. She had developed a breathing problem from mold that accumulated in her window air conditioner, and punctuated her conversation with sessions on her nebulizer. She asked what I did before I retired and when I told her I was a reporter, she was thrilled. You see, she always wanted to be a writer, and had an idea for a book – about those youths with the pants that hang down below their rear-ends and why they dress like that.

She figured that writing is something she could do at home, since – what with her breathing problem, her back broken in two places in a car accident and other ailments – she couldn’t very well work outside the home.

She told me she had just come to Lakeland from the Daytona area after losing her home to foreclosure. She was living in a hotel, subsidized by a local church. Her ex-husband is very rich but “a psychotic judge” let him out of his child support payments, and her disability checks are only $960 a month…

She is a Republican, she said, a Christian who is very much against abortion. But how can the Republicans be pro-life when they’re against food stamps for the kids when they come into the world?

I tried to tell her I was wondering the same thing myself, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

So I let her talk…. about homeschooling her daughter…. about other ideas she had for books or feature articles…

Listening to these – and several more – life stories, I wondered why television and movies are so boring nowadays. The writers could come up with many more interesting ideas if they would just hang out at the neighborhood Midas shop for a few hours.

You think we might see a reality show like that some day?

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for