Outside of North Philadelphia's Central Appliance Service, Nichella White stands in the doorway, trying to hide from the hazy sun. She watches and waits while Lefty stands by the curb eyeing her once-prized possession, her air conditioner.

Once in the bedroom of White's third-floor apartment, the machine now sits on a long table outside of the worn storefront, joined by six other air conditioners that gave out in the city's unforgiving heat wave.

White hopes Lefty - Victor "Lefty" Garcia - can fix it, and cheaply.

It's a wish for cool held by many who have been clogging phone lines of area repair shops and wiping store shelves clean of air conditioners.

"They're waiting for them to come off the truck," says a salesperson in the appliance department at Wal-Mart in South Philadelphia. "It's insane."

"We got more than we can handle, that's for sure," says Mike Toran, manager of Philadelphia Gas & Electric Heating & Air Conditioning in the Northeast, which has a five-day backlog on service.

Yesterday, at Central Appliance on Ridge Avenue, White explains to Lefty:

"It wasn't blowing cool air like before." Even after she added two fans to her muggy room, "it wasn't enough. Even if you kept completely still."

To combat the thick heat, White, 32, and her two children have been getting wet in their inflatable pool out back, then going up to the bedroom to huddle in front of the ailing air conditioner.

White watches as Lefty, working with his left hand, bangs and unscrews, then pops the cover off her air conditioner. It's noon and way up in the 90s, and the 57-year-old repairman is wearing a damp rag on his head.

He checks the filter, and brushes out the dust with a small broom, as Teddy Pendergrass growls on the radio.

When it comes to fixing air conditioners, explains Lefty, who's been doing this "too long," sometimes it's just Freon. Sometimes the filter is dirty. Sometimes there's a hole in the line. Sometimes it's the compressor, and once that goes bad, the air conditioner is dead.

"Yesterday, I didn't get to eat lunch until 6 p.m.," Lefty says of the demand for his expertise.

His cousin, the shop's owner, has a different outlook.

"Business is beautiful," says Juan Padilla, with a wide grin and his mother's name tattooed on his arm. The day before, Padilla says, the shop didn't close until after midnight.

Padilla opened his business in 1972 as an Army vet frustrated with his factory job that paid $69 a week. Since then, he's watched some nearby businesses become abandoned lots.

Inside the shop, George Henry, 53, who's been friends with Lefty and Padilla for years, answers the phone, which never stops ringing, while a group of men play spades in front of a giant fan. Large pots sit on the stove, and a plate with the remnants of beans and rice sits on the counter.

The shelves are bare, stripped of appliances.

Outside the shop, a half-dozen drivers line up for Freon, as a steady stream of people drop off their busted air conditioners, or look for some to buy.

Eric Rice, 38, lives down the street. Until a few days ago, he had only a fan. "I didn't expect the heat so soon," he says.

So on Saturday he bought an air conditioner here for $70 and put it in his bedroom. "It works pretty good," he says.

Now, with a folded $100 bill in his pocket, he wants to buy another for the rest of his apartment, but the shop is sold out.

After 40 minutes, Lefty is done. With a lot of Freon, Wright's air conditioner has been made whole, at a cost of $50.

"I feel great," White said, clapping her hands, as Lefty puts her air conditioner in the trunk of her car. "I feel like I just saved some money."

As she pull off, Lefty wipes the sweat from his brow and continues down the line.