November 6, 2015
“You know, life has been good to me, I’ve been blessed”. Indeed Sonny, life has been good to you, but you’ve been just as good to life, and your customers. Sonny Cox is one of those men, one of those men that my father would’ve called a “good man” and he didn’t sprinkle that term around. It took a certain level of honesty, workmanship and character to be honored with that term and Sonny has earned it many times with me over the many years we’ve know each other. Sonny has been keeping my Toyotas on the road since the early 1990’s and me out of dealerships and debt for just as long. If you believe in the philosophy of vehicle ownership as “Drive them til the wheels fall off” then Sonny is your kind of man. Sonny has steered me in the right direction with my aging Toyotas (Sonny has always pronounced them Toe Yodas) from when to and when not to, repair or replace certain items, preventative life prolonging measures, some things that can slide and things that need immediate attention. Sonny has been much more than a mechanic, Sonny has been a true friend and an entertaining humorist during drives home (Sonny doesn’t need directions to our house).
Sadly, but understandably and certainly deservedly, Sonny will be retiring at the end of November since opening his shop in 1983 and working on Toyotas for many years before that, either at a dealership or from his Medlock Park home garage, near Decatur Georgia. When I came by last month to shoot his portrait, Sonny was taking down his long standing carbon crusted and dusty signs off the walls of his garage, old muffler ads shock fit guides and the like. Not to mention the various collection of oily and worn out parts that I used to refer to as Sonny’s 1000 Word Museum. Sonny would take down a part he’d stripped off a vehicle to show exactly what he was talking about when talking a customer into a much needed repair. Timing belts with no teeth left and threadbare, clutches that looked like two pie plates that had been dragged behind a car and bulbous radiator hoses with various herniated ready-to-repture features. Like it was meant to be, I looked in the trash can which was nearly full and ready to head to the street and there was the sign that meant so much to me. A hand painted sign that had greeted and informed customers that he “Positively Did Not Accept Checks” or credit cards for that matter. This sign was particularly meaningful to me for the fact that Sonny DID accept my checks after years of knowing him. The sign is now in my garage and I feel so lucky to have been there the day it was taken down. I will always cherish it as a part of our relationship, and gained trust for one another.
When Sonny started the small three bay garage in the early 1980’s at the end of Aldridge Avenue in Scottdale, folks were filling his bays with the 1960’s and 1970’s Toyotas they were valiantly keeping alive, Coronas, Celicas, Corollas, FJ’s, small sensible-sized pickups. By 1975 Toyota had eclipsed the #1 import (VW) for number of imports into the US. Sonny had made a great move to capture both the older cars business and the newer owners who were tired of the dealership’s bays and their sometimes exorbitant prices for routine maintenance. It also helped that Sonny loved and respected the product itself. Sonny would always use Genuine Toyota Parts and had a severe disrespect for shoddy workmanship and substandard parts. Sonny has stood behind his work, always and has built his reputation and loyal customer base on it.
Yesterday I brought Sonny this farmed portrait and a thank you card for him and his masterful mechanic Paul, who’s been working with Sonny for a decade. Sonny and I had a walk together in the soft warm unseasonable rain, so he could show me the boundaries of the property that would eventually be something new and modern some day. Huge oak trees all over the property will eventually come down, as will the 1950’s rental homes as well scattered on the gently sloping property. The old block squares that once were foundations for barbershops and stores from the early 20th century will be bulldozed and leave no trace of what was once there. Sonny told me of the old passed-on friends who’d lived in those houses and once again told me just how blessed and fortunate he felt to have been able to experience it all.
Quite possibly as blessed and fortunate as it has been for all of us to have known you Sonny.