The Gentle Gearhead

The karma of a dedicated mechanic

A small puddle of gasoline has leaked onto the warm, black pavement near Pavis Dogan's head, but he calmly worked to fix the problem while he explained the origin of his unusual first name.

"It's from France," Dogan said as he wrenched off a nut holding the '89 Pontiac Bonneville's gas tank, part of a fuel pump replacement on his son's girlfriend's car. "In the dictionary, you look [Pavis] up and it was a shield they used back in the Roman days. My father was in the Marines, and he was stationed over there in Paris."

Someone suggested the name to the young warrior and he took it back home to Memphis, where Pavis was born and raised.

He still has a slight Southern softness to his voice, acquired in the warmth of Memphis and not totally frozen out in Minneapolis.

"But if someone gets to shooting anything, I'm going to be the first one to hit the ground," Dogan said with a laugh. "Don't duck behind me."

Helping hands

Some folks might not have a sense of humor after working on the car in the NAPA Auto Parts parking lot at 36th & Lyndale from midnight to well into the afternoon. As luck would have it, this is where his son's girlfriend's car died and this North Side father was willing to give up much of his weekend to twist wrenches and have oil, grime and gasoline drip on his face.

Dogan had replaced the starter and was now finishing up the installation of the fuel pump, which required disconnecting, moving and reconnecting the gas tank, among other nuisances.

"Well, I help the kids out as much as I can," he said from underneath the car. "They don't have very much money and they just moved into their place."

He said he didn't feel bad about missing Sunday football on TV or relaxing with his wife, Adrian, who was there in the parking lot with him. "Not at all," he said. "We said a prayer at the house this morning, and then I get out and get at it."

He said he normally spends weekends working on cars. In fact, he said, he wouldn't be surprised to be spending more time working on the one he was fixing right then.

"It's a pretty old car. I don't even know how many miles it's got on it. I know it's over 100-and-some-thousand. It's got to be. They probably put that on there themselves," he added with a gentle laugh. "I can't figure out how the car lasted this long, because they drive, drive, drive, drive."

Getting his attention

Dogan was just a kid of 15, living in what he calls "Elvis country," where his father raised snapbeans, when he began fixing cars for people.

A 30-year-old man named Ivory, who lived in Dogan's neighborhood, approached him one day.

"I was walking just through the neighborhood, and I guess he had been noticing me. You know, 'Well, I guess this kid isn't a troublesome kid.' So he said to me, 'Say, would you like to make any money?' 'Doing what?' 'Help me take a transmission out of my car and I'll pay ya.' And I told him, 'I don't know how to do that.' 'Well, I'll show ya. Me and you'll do it together and I'll pay ya,' Ivory said.

"Well, sure enough, I got up there and helped him and the guy gave me a hundred bucks. I been working on cars ever since," he said with a big laugh. "That got my attention."

Dogan and his wife moved North a decade ago to open a little body and detail shop here. "I haven't opened up the detail shop yet, but Minneapolis has been keeping me very busy, very busy.

"Basically, I would do like cleaning cars, detailing 'em, and then I also want to do light body work. You know, little dings and stuff, 'cause I do body work, too. If somebody had a crashed door, I'd change the door, but no major, major wrecks.

"So that's what I really want to do. That's one of my prayers, that's what I want, my own business. That's what I'm working for."

He said he's got a name all picked out for the business: A&P Body Shop.

"My wife's name is Adrian and my name is Pavis, so we'll name it A&P. Or P&A. But I always like to put the lady first."

Good kids

Adrian's metal-flake-blue Mustang sits sparkling in the sunshine next to the Bonneville. She said that even though she and Pavis had basically spent their entire weekend working on their son's girlfriend's car, it was OK with her.

"They're good kids," she said. "It's best to help them now and maybe later they'll appreciate it.

"My grandmother always told me, you treat people the way you want to be treated. You don't disrespect nobody.

"I've got a lot of people who tell me, 'Your kids, they still say, 'Yes, ma'am, no ma'am, yes, sir.' You know, you don't find too many people who are like that."

Pavis interrupted her gently. "OK, hon, turn the key for me."

The leak had slowed but not stopped.

He paused to think back to his first car.

"It was a 1972 Oldsmobile. That car was in mint condition. All I ever did was drive it over to Shoney's, where my mother worked, and back home."

He craned his neck around from underneath the car to look up at Arian. "OK, try it now."

She turned the key again.

"Yay! No more leak," he cried from underneath the car.

"Let me give you a little hand," Adrian said as she clapped.

"Let me put one more little tightening on it," he said.

"You're gonna take me out to lunch," she said, laughing.

"Oh, yeah," Pavis said, crawling out from under the car. "We got a lot to be thankful for."