PORT JERVIS, NY — You can quickly travel cross country on the interstates making stops at off ramps that look like all the others: same hotels, same fast food, same gas stations or at least that’s how they look. Consistency on the interstate is a very good thing.
But consistency is boring. Side roads are a much more interesting route.
Take, for example, Route 97 outside Port Jervis, New York, not that far outside and closer than traveling to say Cuddebackville or Cahoonzie. There you will find a veritable zoo of metal creatures grazing alongside the highway. Made of steel and iron, welded, sanded, brazed and buffed they stand as silent tribute to their creator John Eschenberg owner and operator of John’s Mower Shop.
You needn’t ask him how long he’s been in business here if you first ask about an obscure riding lawn mower, say one built in the 1980’s. Ask about balky throttle linkage or mention that it won’t run but twenty minutes before dying off. He’ll give you a list of likely solutions in under ten minutes without referencing a parts book. That’s how long he’s been in the shop.
John is a genuine character, one who makes life interesting, entertaining and for the time spent with him, not boring. Stroking his long beard he will tell stories of the old days, offering sage bits of wisdom blended with morsels of information salted lightly with the language of a man who knows how and when to use it.
The zoo? Well, that’s a hobby taken up only every Sunday morning, the only day the store isn’t open for sales and repair. He welds things together and plays with finishing them, work that lasts he estimates eighty some hours each. The whole group of metal critters outside is almost matched by more, smaller examples of his work inside. There is, it seems, always room for yet another product of the imagination.
We spent some time shooting the breeze about this and that, solving the worlds problems, that kind of thing. It was closing time before long and we shook hands in parting; John wished me well and I returned it. The side roads had put me in a good place and I hoped it was the same for John.