We hang an ornament on the Christmas Tree each year that is a hand-made, crystal star, as finely crafted, as anything you will ever encounter. Though it appears fragile, being made of glass, the star is as big as the palm of my hand, has some weight to it and appears solid. We received it as a going away gift in 1982, when we moved up here to Bell Springs Road, from John Molinari, who was anything but delicate in appearance. Also known simply as Pescalone, John was the manager of United Auto Stores, where I worked, at the time Ann and I moved. He had the polished ease of fifteen years behind the counter of the busiest domestic and foreign auto parts house in all of San Jose.
He stood six feet six inches tall in his bare feet, but when you added the four inches of platform that ran the length of the front counter, plus his boots, a person was looking up at close to seven feet of Big John. He was lanky, and he never moved quickly, so he always seemed very fluid. Add to that the fact that John was as polished as a chrome valve cover, and a person came away from United Auto, Story Road, feeling that the shop was in good hands.
I didn’t even realize his name was Molinari, until after I had known him for more than five years. He was the long-time manager at United Auto Number Two, on McKee Road, and came over to Story Road after Mike Emily opened All-Parts Auto, and left the manager's job open. John had previously worked at Story Road for years, and was so well-thought of, that he had been made the manager of the new store on McKee Road, when United Auto opened its second of what would eventually be four stores.
He drove a one-ton Ford Pickup, that he kept meticulously clean and well-tuned. His expertise in the auto parts business was initiated by his enthusiasm and knowledge of cars and engines. He could handle any sort of problem that came up, be it mechanical, electrical or common sensible. If you had a technical question, Pescalone was your man. He got the name Pescalone way back in high school, because he drove around in a 1953 Chevy Sedan, with the name “Pescalone” inscribed on the back fender. That was it; that’s how he got his name.
He also specialized in British sports cars, and had forever owned an MG. As we well knew at United Auto Stores, owners of British sports cars, spent an inordinate amount of time, keeping those little cars on he road. There was no secret; they simply required a lot of time, and more importantly, patience. The cooling system on a British car alone was enough to make the hardiest of car buffs shudder, not to mention the electrical system. The types of problems that MG’s had, always seemed to require the dealer, unless Pescalone was around.
When it came to VW’s, he could recite off the directions and the specs for all engine work, down to the number of foot pounds you had to torque the nuts, to tighten the cases of the engine. And he could do it while he was taking care of the guy who brought back the Carter carburetor, after installing and running it, and who now was demanding a Holley Four-Barrel. If there were a hammock available, he could have napped, and simultaneously handled the situation.
If he had a fault, it was that he was a hard guy to get to know initially, especially if you were a squid. A new guy at United Auto, quickly discovered that if you asked Big John a question, it had better have merit. Dumb questions constituted anything that had already come up once; best have and keep your wits about you, if you intended to stay on John’s good side.
Conversely, once you had arrived, he was the best friend a guy could have, especially if you drove old VW’s and didn’t have a lot of money. Pescalone’s typical kind of day off found him working on automotive endeavors, and he didn’t seem to care whose car it was. He reveled in all things mechanical. When I was up on the property in the summer of 1981, working on a construction project in Brooktrails and building my cabin up on Bell Springs Road, I managed to blow up the engine on Old Paint, again.
Dust and water-cooled engines mix as well as tree-fallers and tree-sitters, and thus it was that Ann, who was still down in San Jose, made a series of trips to United to get the necessary parts. Pescalone insisted on taking care of her personally, and I felt as though it was his way of saying that he hadn’t lost his touch.
In August of 1982, three months after we moved up here, United Auto Stores laid John off, in an organizational shakeup that started at the top, and filtered its way down through the ranks. From what I heard, John took the firing as a blessing in disguise, because he had been working part time for over a year with his electrician brother, and wanted to pursue a living with a more flexible schedule than United Auto provided. No one worried about John; he radiated confidence and we figured he could do anything he set his mind to.
You can therefore imagine my absolute shock and dismay to hear the following winter that Pescalone had pulled his truck up against the big garage door out front, and climbed into his MG inside the garage, turned the motor on one final time, and gone to sleep forever. Like the crystal star which graces our Christmas tree every year, John had proved, to my great sorrow, to be far more fragile and delicate than his gruff exterior would ever have indicated.
As long as we hang that star up each Christmas, Pescalone continues to shine. I don’t take anything for granted though, and I wrap that ornament up all the more carefully each January, so that I do not lose another old friend.