- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Von “Aspen” Ruder got the name for his Kind Auto Repair business during a Grateful Dead show.

It was 1978 at the old Hollywood Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines. A girl was selling bottles of water with a sign saying, “$1 or kind.”

He asked what that meant and she said, “Water is $1 but if you’re thirsty I don’t want you go to without something to drink and if you don’t have $1 give out a dozen random hugs, do someone else a favor, take two and give one to someone else who is thirsty. Give me a hug.”

“I’ve tried to take that approach all through my life and especially in auto repair.”

After operating a two-bay shop at his house, Ruder, 56, recently moved into a storefront at 4502 NW Sixth St. because there wasn’t enough room for parking at his house and he was spending too much time coordinating pickup and dropoff times.

“I couldn’t bring in two more cars until I got rid of the last two,” he said.

Ruder said he always tries to fix one thing for free on every car, such as a squeaky door, and usually doesn’t tell the customer.

He worked for some local repair shops in town before striking out on his own because he was appalled - he repeats the word “appalled” with emphasis - at their business practices.

“I can technically find a dozen things with your car. Do they all need to fixed? No,” he said.

Ruder also rejects standard practices that separate the mechanic from the customer.

“I love the sounds that people will make to imitate car problems, the ‘chicky-pop, chicky-pop, chicky-pop-pop-pop.’ It means something. They’re driving it every day. For me to fix it right I need to talk to the owner and most shops take that away from you.”

Is he rewarded for free work and no unnecessary repairs?

“Yes, magically so,” he said. “I saw this direct relationship of my giving and my getting back and I started to worry, am I giving solely so I’ll receive? I had some friends kind of straighten me out on the issue. ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re doing great. It’s selfish in a good way.’”

The front room of his new shop is sparsely furnished with a couple benches. A 16-year-old Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix - named China Cat Sunflower after a Grateful Dead song - sleeps in a pen in the center of the floor.

Ruder has large, round-rimmed glasses and a Grateful Dead “Steal Your Face” skull tattooed on his right leg and another painted on his prosthetic left leg.

He lost the leg in a rock-climbing fall in Yosemite National Park in 1981. He had knocked loose a rock that fell on his friend’s head, knocking him out, and taking his belay rope with him. After hanging on the wall for a couple hours he realized nobody was going to come along “and I had to let go,” dropping about 175 feet. He spent nine months in the hospital but was back to full rock climbing within a year of losing his leg.

Ruder did competitive bouldering - rock climbing without ropes or harnesses - for 15 years. On his last climb in 2015, he broke a collarbone, two ribs and bent his finger.

“Fortunately, it’s permanently bent in the right position for playing the guitar.”

“I still see rock climbing in everything I do,” he said. “As much as you might cut up and joke around, inside you’re just stone serious about it. It’s a way of thinking. You can’t have any negativity. You can’t allow that to creep in.”

Ruder grew up in a $250-a-month beach shack in Boca Raton.

“It was the greatest place in the world to grow up,” he said.

By the time he married his first wife, who had two young kids, he said Boca was no place to raise kids. In 1980, they moved to Gainesville where someone offered them a garage to live in.

He was the mechanic at Osburn’s Mobil station for 12 years until the owner sold it and the new owner turned it into a convenience store.

Ruder took the name Aspen on a summer trip to the Grand Canyon when he met a little old man sitting in the clearing of an aspen grove. The man kept calling him Aspen.

“He said, ‘You’re like the aspen tree. The aspen tree doesn’t sow seeds, it spreads through underground roots. An aspen grove is a single plant, which makes it both male and female’ and he said that he could see both the male and female in me. And the name Aspen stuck.”

The man’s name was Light, founder of the Gentle World commune of vegan activists which coincidentally had property in Alachua. Ruder and his wife, Sky, became caretakers of the property, but left Gentle World when it sold the land and moved to New Zealand.

Ruder said he is still involved “behind the scenes” as an animal rights activist as a member of the Animal Liberation Front.


Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, https://www.gainesvillesun.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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