Located in the dusty parking lot of the Green Light Garage which is situated at the innermost cradle of Eagle Harbor, is an old-timey billboard – next to a creek, behind a dumpster. But before we get to the billboard, let’s first consider the implausible existence of an auto repair business on coveted waterfront property; a throwback to a bygone, free-wheeling, less regulated era on Bainbridge Island.
Its enduring presence perhaps reassures us, not quite everything has changed but of course, so much has. Even the repair shop changed hands several years ago when it was purchased by the Allen family. Sons Nick and Baxter work at the garage and although their mom, Alison (Ali) makes a living outside the shop as a pediatric nurse, the heart and soul of the Green Light Garage is distinctly Ali’s; and is chiefly reflected in the billboard. Each Sunday she drives down to the shop, drags a ladder and two dog-eared boxes of lettering out of the garage and creates her weekly post. Her sons have affectionately named it, The Motherboard.
A turn of phrase as you turn the corner. As you round the 15 mph bend on Eagle Harbor Drive in either direction (the Motherboard is delightfully double-sided), you’ve undoubtedly noticed and likely anticipated, uplifting quotes from songs, philosophers, novelists, poets, famous actors and children’s books. The sources are surprising at times. Wise words from characters who don’t normally share the same stage – spanning Winnie the Pooh to Walt Whitman, yet all share top billing on The Motherboard. As disparate and unlikely as the authors may sometimes appear, a common thread of boundless positivity radiates from Ali’s heart to ours in phrases so apropos at times you may have thought, that is exactly what I needed today and your trust in the cosmic universe is restored. Your connection to humankind is reinforced and in the privacy of your car, you’ve smiled, reflected, perhaps even, wept as the words gently sweep by. Like exhaust from a tailpipe, each quote trails a sentiment, or emotion so powerful it lingers as you drive onward. That each phrase be positive is Ali’s number one rule and she only has three; the other two? – No politics and no religion.
Sure, Ali could have chosen to use the billboard to advertise $29.99 oil changes, promote deals on alignments, lubes and tune-ups but as improbable as a waterfront repair shop is, so too is what’s offered up each week on The Motherboard; meditations on creativity, gardening, happiness, hope and courage; her gift to us. Ali says she always envisioned the board as an opportunity to give, not take. For six years, Ali has used the billboard to share words that matter with us. Words that withstand the sun, wind, and of course, the rain. Words which have seen as many tides ebb and flow as they’ve seen cars in and out of the garage. Words as sure and sturdy as Ali.
Ali’s husband Tom was still alive when they purchased the garage. The love of cars was a passion he shared with his two sons and owning a repair shop, a dream realized. When the boys talked cars, Ali smiled and nodded but this woman, whose own mother was a teacher that quoted her poetry at bedtime, hadn’t a clue about clutches, carburetors and camshafts. All the same, Ali and her sons have kept the shop going along with Rob, the master mechanic and they in turn, have kept many of us going. Last year on what was her first wedding anniversary without Tom, Ali posted a quote from their wedding song, Unforgettable.
Not surprisingly, Ali has journals full of quotes to choose from and there’s reason and rhythm to which quotes find their way out of Ali’s journals onto The Motherboard; they’re in synch with the seasons, holidays and commemorative events like Pride Month. As reliable as the calendar, Ali posts weekly, with the sole intention of creating community and building goodwill. I consider a chance sighting of Ali in the act of changing the quotes (it’s only happened twice) supremely lucky, not as in a bird-pooping-on-your-head kind of lucky but being touched-by-an-angel kind of lucky.
It’s not uncommon for motorists to pull over and take pictures of the billboard or to stop in and offer thanks – I’ve done it a million times. Ali sometimes receives personal letters of appreciation in the mail, for which she is grateful. As luck would have it, about an hour before submitting this article I drove past and caught someone in the act of taking pictures of this weeks’ Motherboard quote;
“Hope greeted me on the horizon with a warm gleaming smile” – Angie Weiland Crosby
I immediately pulled over to photograph the picture-taker, Cezanne Allen. Yes, last name also Allen – of all coincidences! But not at all related to the Green Light Garage Allen family. Cezanne explained the quote resonated deeply because she works with an organization, Bainbridge Youth Services, for which “hope” is a central theme and she wanted to share it with their Facebook group.
As compelling and comforting as The Motherboard is, so too is “the park” at the other end of the property which Ali maintains by mowing the grass for visitors to enjoy. The unofficial park offers a respite with benches and pretty views of the water. A hauntingly beautiful old stone chimney stands stripped of the home it once warmed and invites the imagination to ponder what life may have been like on Bainbridge Island a hundred years ago and why remnants of things past make us feel so deeply in the here and now – much like words written by other people, before our time and in different circumstances. Such is the power of creativity and nature.
What’s Ali’s favorite quote?
“There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds” – Gilbert K. Chesterton.
Indeed. Ali has so many favorites, and perhaps because she’s used to doling them out in pairs on The Motherboard, she immediately follows with another
“What day is it?”
“My favorite day,”said Pooh.
May today always be your favorite day, may you always round the bend on Eagle Harbor and find connection, may you always keep people like Ali in your heart for the generosity of spirit they share with us.