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Clunker out of Bay 3

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A SIGN alongside the highway boasts ``10 minute lube,'' but four young men in grease-spotted coveralls, overrun by customers the minute they open, apologize for a half-hour delay this morning. They invite us to help ourselves to doughnuts and beverages in the office, so no one minds. Clear skies and a cool breeze, remnants of last night's thunderstorm which banished a week of overcast, have put everyone in a sociable mood. ``Uncle'' Ernest, kin-less as far as anyone knows, is there. Every Saturday morning he drives in from his farm to buy groceries and livestock feed. He stops by Lightning Lube for a cup of free coffee and conversation. This ritual reminds him, he tells you, how fortunate he is to enjoy the solitude of bachelorhood ... and his hogs. Nonetheless, he is enjoying the attention of an incredulous teen-age girl whose car occupies Bay 1.

``You live in the boonies and don't have TV?''

``Didn't say I don't own a set,'' Ernest corrects. ``Keep it in the chicken coop, that's all. My layers like it. They don't watch, but the commotion scares foxes away.'' What does he do for entertainment? Uncle Ernest sits on his porch at sunset, watching deer and wild birds congregate at his fish pond to nibble grain; notice those feed sacks piled in his truck. News? He has heard all the ``news,'' years ago; why tune in for its latest incarnations? Over dinner, he reads. Newspapers, 17 magazines a month, books. History and philosophy, mainly. (His appetite for reading is reputedly more voracious than for the bounty of his garden, which he shares, spring and autumn, with the boys in the bays. And their customers.)

From the car with Colorado license plates in Bay 2 a white-haired woman emerges, leaving her husband at the wheel to study a map. ``Glorious weather,'' she declares. ``Makes me so itchy to get home, I think I could walk the rest of the way.''

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