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On Assignment: On the Road with My Way

4.18.12 UPDATE: This photo essay won third place in the Feature/Multiple Picture category of the National Press Photographers Association’s Region 3 Monthly Clip Contest for January 2012.

JERSEY CITY, N.J., JAN. 10, 2012 — A photo essay on a day in the life of the people (and dogs) of My Way Automotive Services, Inc.

Henry Cueva, 63, is the owner of My Way Automotive Services, Inc. at 770 Tonnelle Ave. in Jersey City. His business is towing and repairing cars, but he also operates a gas station. Apart from towing disabled cars and recovering vehicles involved in wrecks, his business also moves heavy machinery such as construction equipment. They also have a government account, which lets them tow broken down FBI cars. In this photo, Daisy the dog rides shotgun with Henry in his tow truck. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry, who claims to have been a Nascar driver in the 60s, has owned and operated My Way since 1980. His first shop was located at 3375 Kennedy Boulevard. He moved his business to the Tonnelle Avenue location in 1987. He started his business after working for Ford Motor Company for three years wanting to be his own boss for a change. Frank Sinatra’s song, “My Way” was playing at the time Henry was thinking of what to name his shop. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry and his office assistant, Jessica Arb, tackle paperwork. Though Jessica has only been working with Henry for two years, her mother, Loriann, was also his employee for seven years. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

My Way’s not-your-usual but tongue in-cheek business hours. Henry considers My Way as the “neighborhood shop,” a place customers can take their cars and trust that they are getting good service for a fair price. “Other (big name) auto shops charge a lot because the workers get a commission. They suggest repairs customers don’t even need. When a customer comes to my shop, we check everything out because we care for their safety, not because of the money.” He added, “I don’t steal from nobody and I sleep real good.” Henry recalls how competition between tow truck companies used to be in the 80s in Jersey City. “They would slash tires and burn trucks,” he said. But together with his friend, Al Francis, he said they formed the Jersey City Towing Association which helped foster amity among rivals. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry peers under a van with a brake problem. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Daisy sits on the photographer’s feet–as she often does to customers–at the entrance to the shop, waiting to be petted. Henry calls her the shop’s “greeter.” (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry with his dog, Oreo, barking inside his office. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Sitting under the office desk is the oldest of Henry’s three shop dogs, Becky, who is 18-years-old. Henry said the Jersey City police gave Becky to him after they found her wandering in the street. Henry loves to rescue stray dogs and has nine in total. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Mechanic Celso Paguay checks underneath a van which has a brake problem. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Daisy rolls around on the floor of the shop as mechanic Celso Paguay works on repairing the van. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Sunny Deol pumps gas for a customer. Henry says his station always sells gas for one cent less than the lowest-priced competition on Tonnelle Avenue. “I can afford to offer a low price since I own the pumps so I pay no franchise fees. In fact, Getty pays me to use their name,” he said. Henry recalls a time many years ago when his gas station’s low prices caught the attention of the news media which swarmed his business while he was away on vacation. Dozens of cars were lined up on Tonnelle Avenue waiting to fill up. When Henry saw his gas station in the news, he called up his employees to find out what was going on. “They said people think we have cheapest gas in town,” he said. It turned out, his employees mistakenly posted the price as “$1.19” when it should have been “$1.91”. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Mechanic Raymond Zepeta organizes lug nuts at the shop. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry restores classic cars such as this 1962 Ford Thunderbird convertible. When he retires, Henry said he would keep one tow truck and just restore old cars. “If I can get two old cars to restore in a year, I’d be set,” he said. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Daisy is Henry’s constant companion, often tagging along on his errands. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Daisy gets a treat from delivery man Joe Ackerman during her visit to J.C. Auto & Truck Parts Inc. where Henry is buying a new brake line from Michael Walsh, left, at J.C. Auto & Truck Parts Inc. on Laidlaw Avenue for a van being repaired at his shop. Henry, who has been a customer at this store for almost 30 years says he prefers to come here because at big name stores, the sales people are “not mechanics. When you need a part, they look at a catalog and don’t really know how it works.” He says Michael and his wife Joanne Walsh, who owns the store, are “like family to me.” (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry and mechanic Celso Paguay re-attach a tire on a vehicle in the shop. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Tow truck driver Scott Oswald carries a bumper to deliver to Rendies Auto Body Repair where work has been subcontracted by Henry. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

During another run, Scott loads a tire onto his truck to take to Dewland Auto Wreckers where a bead breaker machine can safely separate the rubber from the rim. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Henry, left, seeks the help of his friend, Al Cyril, owner of Tonnelle Auto Repair, to determine–using a car diagnostic computer–what could be causing the engine of a customer’s BMW X3 to misfire. With newer cars come new technology. Henry earned his degree in automotive engineering 40 years ago but he admits most of what he learned back then no longer apply. “Cars don’t even have carburetors anymore,” he said. Henry said he constantly has to teach himself and to study his craft to keep up, even going online to do research. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Scott jump-starts a disabled SUV in Union City to make it run long enough for him to position it better to be lifted onto the tow truck. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Scott prepares to hook the SUV to the tow truck. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Scott operates levers to raise the disabled SUV onto the tow truck’s flat bed. Scott has worked at My Way for 10 years. For him, a good day is “when I can just pull up and hook a car up without having to push or jump-start it.” A good day is also a busy day, he said. “Makes the day go by faster.” And being busy helps with the tips, but these days he said, not many people do because of the bad economy. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Scott drives the disabled SUV to the customer’s mechanic. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

On Madison Street in Guttenberg, Scott secures another disabled car with chains to his tow truck. Sometimes, he said, he would do as many as 15 tows in a day. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Daisy gets a rub down from tow truck driver Scott after he returned from a delivery. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Back at the shop, mechanic Celso Paguay perfoms an oil change. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

It’s lunchtime and Henry makes calls as he waits for his food at Healy’s Tavern. He has two phones, one to receive calls from customers and another to send his employees on tow jobs. There is no routine to his work, he said. His business has him working 24 hours a day, seven hours a week. Once he said, he got a call at 5 a.m. to tow cars involved in a crash on the Pulaski Skyway. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Tow truck driver Joe Spino, 27, drives into the impound lot at Phillips Street to pick up a brand new Cadillac which was stolen and stripped of its four wheels to transport back to the dealership. Joe said that being a tow truck driver, “is probably the best job I ever had. It’s not really hard work and Henry pays well, twice what other places pay.” He added that apart from learning a lot about towing from him, Henry encouraged him to go back to school. Joe is currently studying for his GED. “Henry helped me to grow up, to improve my life. I used to want to beat other people up. I now have a lot more respect for myself and others.” He said Henry would tell him that if he ever sees an elderly person or a woman with a disabled car in the middle of the road, to help by towing her car to a safer place, even for free. He continued, ” Henry’s got a heart of gold. A lot of other companies, if you make minor mistakes or damage, they dock your pay. Not with Henry, he is very fair.” (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Burned cars at the impound lot. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Joe spots the Cadillac Escalade he is supposed to pick up at the impound lot. The release papers, however, were still not ready, so Joe will have to return the next morning. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

On the way from the impound lot, Joe got another call to tow a disabled car on 14th Street. The owner of a BMW said his car broke down inside the Holland Tunnel and was towed by a Port Authority truck out of the tunnel. Joe said that he has towed the cars of a couple of sports stars before like Avery Johnson, the coach of the New Jersey Nets, and Boone Logan, a pitcher for the New York Yankees. But neither tipped as big as the owner of a beat up old Jeep Cherokee who gave him $100. Not all tows have perks. Sometimes, they can be grisly, as in the case of a murdered Jersey City Heights woman whose body was found encased in cement inside a drum last September. Joe said one of their night drivers got the call to transport the drum for investigators. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

Joe arrives with his cargo at My Way. (Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal)

  • Peter WolfJanuary 23, 2012 - 1:40 pm

    A wonderful picture, in words and images, of this guy’s work life. Congratulations, Reena.ReplyCancel

    • ReenaJanuary 24, 2012 - 12:30 am

      Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to view and comment on my work.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen San MartinoJune 22, 2012 - 3:11 pm

    Henry is a great guy and someone you can trust to fix your car right. He was my mechanic for almost 13 years when I lived in Jersey City up until I moved. It’s nice to see a great article on his work!

    I still send him letters at Christmas sometimes.ReplyCancel

  • Robert BlombergOctober 25, 2015 - 10:58 am

    Henry hooked me up yesterday when he brought my granddaughter’s car to his shop last night. I’ll be calling him today. I just moved back to NY from Miami. Thanks, Henry. Doing it your way, a great way! (Think Billy)

    Best regards,

    516 871-6160ReplyCancel

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