CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Like so many other returning troops after Vietnam, Joe De La Cruz made his living doing odd jobs.
“I’ve done just about everything,” he said.
But then, you could say he would eventually return to service as an attendant at the Exxon service station at the corner of Alameda Street and Doddridge Street.
“GI Joe,” as his adoring customers call him, has been there for almost four decades. It’s now a place where full service has just about become a lost art.
“I get a ‘thank you’ sometimes,” quipped Joe as he was checking the tire pressure for a regular customer.
“Howya doing? Gettin’ gas?,” Joe rushed to another customer nearby.
Spend any time with Joe and you’ll soon notice that pep in his step. It’s fueled by one source.
“The people," Joe smiled. "I meet all kinds of people."
And they are pretty pumped up about Joe, too. They get to see him every day except Wednesdays — his regular day off.
“Joe is awesome. He always comes out and says 'Do you need anything,' ” said Janet Hallows, one of Joe’s regular customers.
There is a synergy at work at this gas station: Customers come back to see Joe, and Joe really needs to see his customers.
That became especially true after one Wednesday back in 1994. His family lost a loved one, a fellow veteran, to suicide.
That incident, along with having a mild stroke, prompts Joe to also deliver another service: free life advice, if you want it.
“We’re here in borrowed time,” said Joe as he rolled up an air hose. “When the good Lord wants us, he’s going to take us away. “
That kind of extra service is rare these days. It’s part of the reason why people keep coming back to the station.
Joe’s popularity doesn’t go unnoticed by the gas station’s new owner, a fellow military veteran.
“They’re (the customers) used to Joe," said Gilbert Quinones. "They trust Joe. He’s gained their trust, and now he’s just another part of the community. They look for him.”
And they also see humanity from this funny, metaphorical mechanic.
“Patience is a virtue of life,” said Joe. “We gotta have patience.”
“We need lots more kindness,”said Hallows. “We definitely need more Joes.”