Main street

A woman, visibly upset, walks into Aladdin Auto Service Center, in Cambridge, Mass. "Sit down," says owner Mahmood Rezaei-Kama-labad soothingly, as he ushers her to a couch. "Have some tea." The woman, a regular customer, explains that her car's radiator is leaking, and she doesn't know how she will get to work. "You can use your mother's car," says Rezaei-Kamalabad. "It is an old car, but it will get you there. When you are in the desert, old shoes are a gift." He laughs. "Don't worry; I will fix your car. When you have the money, you give it to me."

Aladdin -- located in a scruffy, low-slung building nestled between railroad tracks and a housing project -- is an unlikely haven of inner peace. But Rezaei-Kamalabad knows that when cars break down, their owners often do as well. So he gives customers not only wheel alignments but also spiritual tune-ups. "I try in some way to help, to take care of the person, not just the car," he says.

BODY WORK AND SOUL: Mahmood Rezaei-Kamalabad tends to the whole customer.

Rezaei-Kamalabad, 49, is a mechanic, but he is also an inventor, a science buff, and a deeply spiritual man. As his assistant removes a distributor cap, the repair-shop owner relates homespun parables and gently offers advice, his voice ringing with the cadences of his native Iran. He always, always, offers a cup of tea. And he assures departing customers that God is with them.

In the back of the shop is a prayer room, where customers meditate, pray, or read books of poetry or books about religion or popular mechanics. The more adventurous strap themselves into the "Sense of Unity Machine": a large gyroscopic invention of Rezaei-Kamalabad's that he claims establishes inner harmony. Sprinkled about are the steel sculptures that he builds in his spare time.

Aladdin services about 35 cars a week and grosses about $120,000 a year, but Rezaei-Kamalabad has no desire to expand. "A garage with 20 lifts has no feeling of who comes and who goes," he says. Rezaei-Kamalabad, by contrast, knows most of his customers inside and out. And they, in turn, are doggedly faithful. "I come here all the time," says Ashrafali Sheikh, who is having his car's oil changed. "He does a very good job. He understands our needs."

Copyright © 2001 Chris Wright.



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