A Local Life: Carlos Bonds
He Repaired Cars and Restored Trust
Sunday, June 3, 2007
A couple of decades ago, a man driving from South Carolina to Pennsylvania broke down on the Beltway and managed to nurse his car to the Westbard Citgo service station in Bethesda. Carlos Bonds, the station owner, looked under the hood, then tossed the man a set of keys.
"Here's my wife's car," he said. "Just bring it back in a week."
The driver went on his way, and when he returned he had a fully repaired car and a newfound friend.
"My dad had never met the man," recalled Terry Bonds, who has spent most of his life working at the bustling service station one block off River Road. "He didn't even get his name and number."
For years afterward, the South Carolina man would stop at Bonds's station, delivering oysters, vegetables and other treats, as if in repayment of his unexpected good fortune.
There are countless stories like that about Bonds, who owned and operated the Westbard Avenue station for 43 years, until his death May 4 at age 73. He got an infection after a stem cell transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment of lymphoma.
Until then, he had hardly ever been to a doctor, unless he needed to have something splinted or stitched. Bonds grew up tough and self-reliant in southern West Virginia, where treating an ailment meant making a home remedy from wild ginseng.
One of 13 children, Carlos joked that he got his Spanish name because all the others were taken. His father was a coal miner who died of black lung disease. By the time Carlos was 8, he could shoot a rifle and shotgun. If he didn't bring home any game, the family went hungry.
"He grew up extremely poor," Terry Bonds said. "They lived off pinto beans, fried bread and potatoes, and that was it."
Carlos Bonds left school after sixth grade and learned mechanics at a local service station. He served in the Army, where he earned a graduate equivalency degree, and married his wife, Mary, who hailed from a nearby hollow. Bonds spent two years working in the coal mines before coming to Bethesda in 1964.
"He came here with a pickup truck, three kids and $50 in his pocket," recalled Terry Bonds, who was 5 at the time.
Gasoline sold for 30 cents a gallon when Bonds and a partner, who later left the business, bought a service station, built a tow truck and went to work.