<b>MOVIN’ TO MILPAS:</b> Proprietor Woody Robinson is taking his business to Milpas Street’s Prestige Hand Car Wash after a couple of decades at his Chapala Street location.
Sue De Lapa

CAR DREAMS: They arrived in Santa Barbara about 20 years ago with two kids, no jobs or money, but with dreams of a better life than the one they left behind in crime-ridden L.A.

Woody and Angela Robinson moved into one of Dario Pini’s cracker boxes, and Woody hit the streets looking for a job polishing cars. But no one would trust a new kid in town, a black guy from South Carolina, with Montecitans’ BMWs and Mercedes.

Barney Brantingham

He looked around and didn’t see many black-owned businesses. It didn’t look good.

Today, Montecito millionaires beg Woody to detail their luxury cars. But back then, he had to work out of his trunk, cruising from car lot to car lot, hustling for jobs.

Angela, meanwhile, a certified nurse’s assistant, found work right away, working 15 hours a day at two jobs.

Woody was about ready to call it quits in Santa Barbara when he gave it one last shot. He went to car dealer Roger Cochrane and offered to work for free, just to prove his worth.

After a few days, Cochrane told him, “You’re a good worker. You’re hired.”

Now, after years of six-day weeks at his lot on lower Chapala Street, Woody and his partner have sold it. Woody is merging with Frank Phalen at Prestige Hand Car Wash, 524 North Milpas Street.

Same top-notch detailing, Woody promised me when we talked, but now he’s talking of taking his profits from the sale and investing them. Woody, after all these years of elbow grease and no vacations, is going to become a capitalist, the old-fashioned way.

One with dreams and goals. But one of the first dreams became a nightmare. He and Angela rented a shop on State Street and soon turned it into a virtual gold mine ​— ​until a storm hit and killed the business. Undaunted, they solicited insurance companies to hire them to restore the damaged interiors.

“We made so much money,” Angela told me once.

“My dream was to have a business,” Woody said the other day. And, like so many other families scrimping and saving, nursing white-picket-fence dreams, Woody and Angela wanted to be homeowners.

But doubting friends told them to forget it. “You’ll never be able to afford a home in Santa Barbara.”

First, they moved up from Pini’s low-rent palace to the lower Eastside. But the white-picket-fence dream lingered. On Angela’s walks she’d pass a home on the lower Riviera near APS. “I prayed for that house.”

Miracle of miracles, it came on the market and their low-ball offer was accepted. But they were still $6,000 short. At the last minute, a Latino family they’d never met before loaned them the money.

Maybe Woody and Angela earned that good luck by the way they’ve mentored their workers. “I’ve tried to mentor guys without skills,” guys from the nearby Salvation Army who needed a helping hand, Woody said.

“I’d get them clothes and a haircut and called families they hadn’t seen in years. I have all these families calling and sending money to me to help them. I helped a lot of people.

“They wanted to work but had no skills. Probation department people would bring people here.” He spoke of a man who spent years sleeping under a bridge, fighting the battle of the bottle, and losing. “I finally got him out of the bushes and a roof over his head.

“I was therapy for him. I trained him, and he turned out to be my best employee. He’s still struggling and fighting [with alcohol problems], but he’s been clean for months.”

So why the move to Milpas Street? “I had a partner, and we had a deal to renegotiate the Chapala lot deal after 20 years. He decided to buy me out.” Besides, Woody said, it was time. “I wanted to move forward,” learn a new business, and be more flexible, and invest.

At 56, Woody looks back at the time when no one would hire him to when he worked from dawn to sundown just to satisfy those Montecito car owners, to when he was turning away up to 15 cars a day.

I’ve followed Woody and Angela’s careers over these years, and I wonder what they’ll polish up next.


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