Niko's Auto Repair // Otay, Calif.
I loved driving Woody, my '87 Volvo 240DL that Kelly named for me. (She said his proper '70s aesthetic made her think of Woody Allen's glasses.)
One of the principle reasons I loved it--and I'll admit it's a strange one--was that driving a Volvo meant that Richard would work on my car.
Richard runs a salvage yard spitting distance from the border of Mexico, and if you live within the limits of Yuma's rock canyon and Orange County, I heartily recommend you take your car to him. I've written at length of his virtues in the past. Since there's only one Richard, I knew that my itinerant lifestyle would demand a different vehicle. As Richard himself cautioned me, if the car was anything but American or Japanese, "those mechanics out there will rape you."
Letting go of Woody was very emotional, but I've been mightily and tenderly consoled by the General ever since. However, Richard only works on Volvos, so when I got back to San Diego this winter on the strength of "Jesus in a bottle," I needed his advice on where to take my old man for a tune-up.
Richard recommended me to visit Niko, who works within a sort of salvage-yard mall at the top of Heritage Road, even closer to Mexico. You go up a tortuously winding road that looks like something out of a Bond movie, if it weren't for the chaparral, cholo graffiti and trash in the ditch beside it, and rumble down a wide promenade, gutted with potholes, between vendors neatly divided by chain-link fences. One sells mufflers, one sells bumpers, one deals in windshields...it's garish but quite orderly.
Niko is actually Niko, Jr. But since his dad has passed running of the business to him, he gets to wear the badge without an abbreviation. He has a wife and a couple of kids and grew up in Mexico, but lives here in Otay now.
The first time I visited Niko, Richard sourced the radiator I needed himself; I picked it up from him, then drove up to Niko. But now I trust him equally. Like Richard, he can fit you in within a few hours of the time you call, finds the parts you need for practically nothing (and can always source great salvage parts for the more expensive repairs), and gets the work done in record time. I miss Richard's pally hazing, but appreciate Niko's quiet integrity. And while Richard's snarky office decor was always entertaining, Niko's office affords you the opportunity to catch up on telenovelas.
I visited Niko again, just before leaving town again. I wanted to do him a solid with this blog post, so I wandered around taking photos. There's really some beautiful strangeness, in a salvage yard. I chose to ignore some of the pointed stares I was getting, from the other vendors...I assumed it was on account of my cut-offs. (I was wearing my most modest pair, but there's only so much you can do with the kind of legs my grandmother gave me.)
But then I was accosted...like seriously walked straight up to by some burly dude from out behind a car he was working on...and told that I couldn't take pictures here. I said it was just for my blog, but he didn't care. So I capitulated, and slunk back to Niko's space, gripping my camera tightly just in case they decided my word wasn't good enough.
I'd only been sitting in front of the telenovelas a few minutes, when through the office window I see another guy enter the yard. He's wearing glasses and holding a clipboard, and his shoulders are bent in that obsequious way of a guy who has authority but hasn't quite grown into it yet. I heard him talking to Niko for a few minutes; then he came into the office and addressed me.
He was the manager of the salvage yard, he said, and he wanted to apologize to me. Someone had believed I was an inspector, and they had reported my presence to him. He was all smiles and obsequious ducking of his head, as he assured me it was fine if I wanted to take pictures. I told him all I wanted to do was prop my favorite mechanic. He kowtowed his way out of the office. And here we are.
I left with the water pump replaced, several hoses replaced, and no more oil leaking from the rear differential, all for a pittance.
Niko's Auto Repair is located at 973 Heritage Road in Otay, Calif. See more here.
If you drive a Volvo, though, visit Richard at RC Imports, just up the road.