#YEG: Bert’s Place, Avenue magazine

July 2014

I bought it off the Internet — a mint 1962 Mark II Jaguar sedan, black with tan leather interior.
I didn’t tell my wife.

But she found the insurance company’s letter. I came out of the shower, dripping and defenceless, and there she was, brandishing the pink card.

“What’s this?” she said.

“Ah,” I said. “And, anyway, where are you going to get it fixed?”

That I did have an answer for: “Bert’s place.”

Bert’s place (officially called Sports Car Centre, but everyone knows it as Bert’s) is in a row of white, one-story cinder-block buildings tucked into residential Prince Charles, a neighbourhood that backs onto the municipal airport lands.

Our other car goes to a glass-and-steel palace on the edge of the city. You sit on black leather couches until the receptionist in the little black dress calls the consultant in the tight black suit to read you your bill, as if you’re illiterate. The mechanics are quarantined behind frosted glass.

When you walk into Bert’s shop, Bert himself will come out from the back, in blue coveralls, wiping the grease off his hands, to talk to you about your car. With his sad eyes, drooping moustache, and cautious pessimism, he reminds me of Eeyore. His partner, John, is like Tigger. John rides to work on a hopped-up orange Vespa, so fast he once beat a Lamborghini across an intersection.

We are standing in the shop as he tells me this. There’s an Aston Martin DB6 (a James Bond car, minus the machine guns) on the hoist, an antique Rolls with headlights as big as dinner plates in the far back of the shop and a Triumph beside us.

No signs warn customers to stay behind some blue line. Is this OK? “Of course!” says John. Bert grunts, which means, “Absolutely!”

He tells me how, back in the ’60s, my car was the ride of choice for British bank robbers — four doors for jumping in and out, a capacious boot (trunk) for hauling the swag and a top speed of 202 km/h, making it the fastest sedan on the road.

I fear that the small auto shop where real characters talk to you about your passions will disappear (like the small bookstore), but the size of Bert’s place is what sustains it. He has no plans to expand, no plans to move. Will the development of the airport lands affect him? “Nah,” he says. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Ted Bishop is the author of Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books, which garned a Governor General’s Award nomination and 11 words of praise in Playboy. Social Life of Ink, a biography/travel book, will be published by Penguin this fall.