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Traffic is shown on Aurora Avenue North on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Seattle. State Route 99 is an iconic roadway — a relic from Seattle’s early days when the city dreamed that free and easy travel by car would attract people to its center, and later, help them bypass congestion downtown.But what sped by was time. The road is better known today for its seedier side — prostitution, homelessness, discount stores and car dealerships.Seattle’s growth is bringing changes and tensions to the throughway some call Seattle’s “Mother Road.” We look at what it tells us about where we came from and where we’re going.

Running a legit business on Aurora, amid pimps and hustlers

Ed Ponce owns and works at JE Wheels and Tires at Aurora Avenue North and North 145th Street.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Ed Ponce owns and works at JE Wheels and Tires at Aurora Avenue North and North 145th Street.

JE Wheels and Tires is the first business you pass as you enter the city of Seattle on Aurora from Shoreline. Here's what it's like to work on the highway.

We customize cars and give them a special kind of look on their wheels. So, the wheels are the shoes. We call them the shoes. So, you dress in an outfit, and you’ve got to have the right shoes for your outfit.

My name is Ed Ponce. I work here at JE Wheels and Tires.  This is a rim and custom wheel and tire shop. We've been in business here for six years. 

The car you drive —  it's your personality. The car I drive is like me, in a car. It's my personality. I drive a Chrysler 300, and it's black. And I've modified it my own way, my own style. Every car I drive, it has my looks.

I love making customers feel great about their vehicles. How they look, how they want to be. The difference between when they come in and they go out, their car looks totally different, so they look very happy about it.

Doing business on Aurora

Aurora is a very busy road. It's one of the busiest principle roads here in the whole city. It takes you from Canada to Portland. There's a lot of businesses: car businesses, restaurants — and a lot of traffic. All the time, there's literally probably like 10,000 cars driving by every day, so we've got a good connection. We've got a good corner.

Change is coming to aging Aurora, a place that hasn't modernized with the rest of the city. In KUOW's Mother Road series, we're meeting the people that live and work along Aurora, Highway 99.

Definitely at 145th and Aurora ... there’s a lot of prostitution. You see girls walking around in little skirts. And you see a lot of drug deals, drug addicts walking around, sleeping on the streets.

It’s the street where everybody’s hustling their own way to survive and to stay alive, I guess. Other guys like pimping girls, other guys like hustling drugs. Other guys like working on their own things, you know.

I stay alive by doing the right thing. Working hard, having a legit business and helping people out with their needs —  and doing what I like doing. Which is wheels and tires, and making a car look pimp.

But yeah, Aurora’s a crazy road. You see everything here.

This story was lightly edited for length and clarity. Interview by KUOW's Megan Farmer. Story  produced by Joshua McNichols.