Rogue of the month: Steve Tross
Steve Tross: Roving, straight-talking mechanic
(Photo by Stacey Warde)
(Photo by Stacey Warde)
Steve Tross, with his stocky build, bulging forearms, walrus mustache, deep voice, deliberate and dead-on manner of speaking, could pass for a blacksmith in Dodge City 150 years ago. Actor Sam Elliott comes to mind. But in today’s world, Tross is a mechanic, and not just any mechanic—a mobile mechanic lumbering around the county in a boxy, monster of a 1971 Gruman van, once part of a SWAT unit’s arsenal, and the only one of its type that you’ll see for hundreds of miles. It’s stocked with every conceivable tool for Tross to service ailing or dead cars and trucks.
Tross is one of those naturally born grease monkeys who knows how to take apart that which doesn’t work, then put it back together and watch it run like a clock. After spending a year and a half at auto mechanic school in Florida, where he moved from his hometown of Greece, New York, Tross, at 20, set out with his tools for Southern California beaches in 1974 because he’d heard they had the hottest, most beautiful and willing chicks in the country. And, at that time in his life, what drove a man to drive 3,000 miles across country was chicks. Among other treats. I interviewed Steve while he tinkered with a pickup truck in North Morro Bay and the sound system from his van piped in nonstop jazz.
RV: How’d you end up in a tiny, obscure little beach town like Cayucos, when you had all those hot beaches down south, and up north?
ST: I started out in San Diego and made my way up the coast, look-ing for the right place. I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I figured I’d find what I wanted by instinct. I stopped off in places like Santa Barbara, Goleta, and kept going clear up to Eureka. It was too rainy and cold up there. When I stopped in Cayucos, I was down by the beach wall for about half an hour when somebody invited me to a party. I had the long hair then, so I looked like a hippie. Anyway, I went to the party, and it lasted ten days. They had everything—the best cocaine, the best green bud, plenty of booze, cool people, and beau-tiful girls. I ended up staying for 25 years.
RV: What was Cayucos like in those days?
ST: It was actually like a hippie place, and a blue-collar place. I really dug the old shacks lining the main drag and the beach. There was a big apartment house up on the hill, kind of a communal atmosphere, a people-friendly place. Wide open, off on its own, where anything goes. Mellow. Laid back. I found a place to live right off, and stayed there eleven years and they never raised my rent, and if anything went wrong there was somebody there the next morning to fix it. You try and find that today. No way. They’ll bump your rent every two years, until they push you out, and then they can either rent it to a high-roller from the big city, or they can knock the place down and turn it into an exorbitant beach rental.
RV: Why’d you move out of Cayucos?
ST: Things started changing in the early ‘80s. All of a sudden the cops had a bigger presence, and they made it a goal to drive out all the hippies and all the drugs, and gradually, like I say, the town turned into a beach rental haven. One day you woke up, and instead of having neighbors to hang out with, you had a ghost town all week, and then on weekends you had these yahoos from the Valley partying all night, turning the place into a goddamn dump. I moved out five years ago because I couldn’t stand the place any more. I still love Cayucos, but you take the Fourth of July parade. It used to be a funky local gathering. Now you got 25,000 idiots coming from all over hell, and especially the Valley, and they don’t care where they park, they’ll park in front of your driveway. I had a guy park in my driveway and I jacked his car up and moved it into the middle of the street and called the cops and had it towed. These people think because they rent a place they own the town and can do anything they want. Another thing that happened is real estate agents that don’t care about the town, just the bottom line. You’ll never see them selling to somebody making forty-grand a year. What they’ll do is quote you a price, then start a bidding war, so you can’t afford it, and then somebody with big bucks will buy that particular house; and the next house like it will start out at that exorbitant price. What I call them is property pimps. They sell to people that don’t give a fuck about Cayucos, but just want investment income, or a rental. They’ll tell you this load of bullshit that they want to keep Cayucos a rustic little beach town, which it was, and which it should be, and they’re the first ones to hunt down one kind of person—somebody so wealthy that sooner or later that’s all we have in Cayucos, and it’s not a rustic little beach town, but some goddamn thing like Malibu, or Carmel. That’s why I’m out of here. Who’s left? Very few of the kind of people I know and get along with. We’ve lost our working class. We lost the hardware store, where everybody met. That was the last straw. That was a people-friendly hardware store, and now you got antiques and wine-tasting.
RV: Now that you’re wound up, Steve, tell me why you stopped work-ing for other people in garages, and started your own mobile auto service in that big old beast of a van?
ST: Why do most people go to work for themselves? Because, work-ing for other people sucks! You work for other people and they want you to do more than is expected for less pay. They wanna squeeze you dry. Only way you get a raise is to threaten to quit, and then the bastards give you a minimal raise, enough to keep you hanging on. I finally got fed up twelve years ago and started my own business.
RV: How are you doing? How do you like it?
ST: Hell, I love it. Instead of an owner being my boss, you, the customer, are my boss. I don’t have any overhead except this van, which I might have to put a new motor in every ten years or so. I can cut some slack on labor costs. The way it is in garages, it’s the bottom line above all else. I’m able to give something back to the customer in that I can charge by the hour and not have to quote an estimate that usually runs over. I feel good about that, and so does the cus-tomer. I’ve been a lot happier being my own boss. I’m the kind of guy who has to be his own boss. I just won’t put up with the bullshit of working for somebody else. It sucks.
RV: As you know, mechanics have bad reputations as ripoff artists.
RV: Most people don’t know their asses about cars, and they’re at the mercy of mechanics, fearful of getting shafted. How many mechanics, or garages can you trust?
ST: A few, I wouldn’t know how to put any percentages on it, but I’d say a few. Not a lot.
RV: How does one go about picking a mechanic he can trust?
ST: I’d say talk to him, feel him out, try and get a feel for the guy, and go by instinct. If he’s shady, or too smooth, or gives you bad vibes, don’t use him. I always go by my instincts whenever I hire somebody to do something I can’t do.
RV: Is that how you built your clientele?
ST: Damn right. The more honest you are, the better quality of work you do, the fairer the price, the more repeat business you get. Instead of working in a garage, like a peon, you get a chance to shoot the shit with the people you’re working for, and as you can see, I enjoy shooting the shit. It’s more personal. The time goes by in a more pleasant manner when you can talk to somebody while you’re fixing their car, and explain what’s going on, and so forth.
RV: So you moved to Los Osos, where the brain-dead squabble over sewers and water, and there’s no downtown, just a soulless, half-assed shopping center. You like it?
ST: I like it. I miss the beach, but I like Los Osos. It’s more like a bedroom community. It’s not going to end up like Cayucos. In seven years, Cayucos’ll be just like Carmel. Its shit won’t stink. Just another enclave for the rich. Los Osos still has a solid working class. Oh, there are some would-be gangbangers, real punks. They think the only way they can write anything is with a goddamn spray can, I got some neighbors like that. They think it’s funny setting off car alarms in the middle of the night. They remind me of dogs pissing on your tires. If I find them pissing on my tires I’ll take out my .45 and turn it loose on THEIR cars, or I’ll kick their goddamn asses! §
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Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.