Now the first of December was covered with snow,
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting,
With ten miles behind me
And ten thousand more to go . . .
(James Taylor - "Sweet Baby James")
That song, James Taylor's first solo hit, is most likely the only reason 99.99% of the world knows that Stockbridge, Massachusetts, exists.
I know it exists because my friend, Jeff, lives there. I also spent a surreal evening there last Tuesday night...
A little history...
I met Jeff 25 or 26 years ago. I had an old Alfa Romeo at the time and one of my favorite activities was to just go for a drive in it. No destination in mind, no map, no time limit... Just fill it with gas and go for a drive.
My girlfriend at the time lived in New Hampshire and would come visit me on the weekends. We woke up one Saturday morning and decided to "go for a drive". We packed our toothbrushes and some clean underwear. (This was a tradition. Most of the time our "drives" lasted for an afternoon, maybe into the early evening. Once, we went a little too far and wound up in Northern Maine. I was too tired to drive back that night so we grabbed a hotel room. Finding toothpaste and a toothbrush in the middle-of-the-night, in the middle-of-nowhere Maine, is not too difficult. The one convenience store in the town had that. Finding underwear in the middle-of-the-night, in the middle-of-nowhere Maine, is impossible. From that point on, we left my house "prepared". That's probably more than you needed to know, huh?) This particular Saturday, we wound up in a town called Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As we approached a stop light, I spotted another Alfa Romeo. "Hey look", I said to my girlfriend, "Another Alfa". As we pulled up next to it my girlfriend looked over at the car and exclaimed "Oh my god, the driver could be your brother. He looks just like you." Jeff did look a lot like me (I have aged better. That's now a matter of public record, by the way. - More on that later.) Jeff, whose girlfriend was with him, pulled into the parking lot of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop. There's not much better in life than Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Alfa Romeos, so I followed him into the lot.
Jeff and I hit it off immediately. Our girlfriends hit it off immediately. We spent some time talking and as we left, Jeff handed me a card. "I own a repair shop. If you ever need work done on your car, call me." Hell, my car was an Alfa Romeo, of course I was going to need work done to it. I called him a few weeks later.
I spent a lot of time at Jeff's shop. We became close friends. After awhile money stopped changing hands. Jeff would just ask that I pay for parts, which he got for me at cost. Over the years, I met a couple of other car geeks at his shop; Tony, an all around good guy with a taste for Alfa Romeos and Volvos, John, a BMW 2002 and Volvo owner, and Rick, another Alfaholic - with an incredible Montreal - who had decided to take up SCCA racing in a GTV and along with Jeff was building the car in the shop. The shop was major force in Rick’s successful SCCA campaign. Together and separately, we all hung out at Jeff's shop. It was sort of our own little car club.
Owning a business is not all that easy. I know, I've owned one for 28 years. In my case, a retail store. As long as I pay the rent, the utilities and keep the tax people happy, I can survive. In the case of an automobile repair shop there's all that and more. You need to satisfy the EPA, the DOT and more. By 1994 Jeff had had enough. He had enough money, it was time to retire.