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Small World

Our connections to others are closer than we expect

Tom Ferrara - March 20, 2013 11:30 AM

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On a beautiful October Saturday, my middle daughter, Claire, and I headed out to our local Mobil station in our ’66 Corvette convertible.

While there, an older, statesman-like, gentleman pulled up to the pumps in his silver ’86 Corvette.

We exchanged pleasantries and chatted about our cars and their respective mechanics. He spoke of a repair shop with a “Corvette specialist” located on the grounds of the old Readers’ Digest headquarters in Pleasantville, New York. About 30 miles north of mid-town Manhattan, the Readers’ Digest estate once housed the publishing offices of one of America’s iconic magazines. The property and its stately building have been resurrected in the form of a private, gated business and residential community. On the grounds, in its furthest corner, sits the original gray/white maintenance garage, which now houses “The Auto Center.”

A busy schedule and distractions at work had kept me from visiting the facility to see if it lived up to the accolades of the owner of the ’86 Corvette. On an unusually warm December Wednesday, the opportunity for a visit presented itself. What was discovered was more than just a mechanic, but a window into the Bronx of the 1970s.

Entering the office of the building, one immediately notices an eclectic collection of ’60s and ’70s vehicles, interspersed with more contemporary cars. John, the youngest of the shop’s threesome, greeted me and was told of my search for the Holy Grail of Corvette mechanics. “Oh, you want to talk to Stu. He’s the Corvette expert.”

John motioned to a lift on his right, pointing to a trim, gray-haired gentleman with glasses. Though he wore dark blue overalls with “Stu” embroidered on his pocket, he reminded me more of one of my professors in grad school, rather than a technician.

We shook hands and he remembered the gentleman that had his ’86 serviced. We connected with the fact that we both own ’66s (his being a 17,000-mile original) and then Stu described in detail his 14,000-mile ’69 L-88! As the conversation progressed, we began to reminisce about our childhoods, and discovered both of our families hailed originally from the same section of the Bronx (eating at the same White Castle hamburger stand). The conversation carried on as Stu sat at a desk, showing me photos on his computer of his ’66 and the L-88.

Somehow, Stu mentioned the Bronx street, Paulding Avenue, to which I responded: “Gee, my aunt and uncle lived on Paulding Avenue.” He asked their name and I told him Salamone.

“Salamone! Oh my God, John Salamone?!”, he exclaimed, pushing himself away from the desk with a startled look. Yes, that John Salamone and his wife, Rosemarie. “I used to work on his car. He had a beautiful, gold 1970 Charger 500 with a 383 and pistol-grip four-speed. It was fast.”

Taking a deep breath, I looked at him and said, “Stu. I have the Charger.” His eyes and mouth opened wide, but no words came out.

In late 1969, my uncle, John Salamone, a New York City Fire Department captain, sat down in the showroom of Scarsdale Dodge and ordered a metallic gold 1970 Charger, with the aforementioned drivetrain, console, bucket seats, Magnum 500 wheels, AM-FM, no vinyl roof ... and no air conditioning. Built January 14, 1970, it was one of only 990 in that combination. At any and all family events, when Uncle John and Aunt Roe rolled up in the Charger, all of my 16-year-old attention span was lost on that car.

Upshift to the late ’80s. My uncle and aunt head into retirement to Florida. The non-air-conditioned Charger was not invited to go along. Knowing my love for the car, Uncle John offered to sell me the Charger at a deep discount. With 56,000 original miles, it was a no-brainer. From that day in 1988 to now, it’s remained in our family, all original, down to Stu’s service stickers on the door jamb.

Stu and I parted ways that day with a newfound friendship, incredible coincidence, and wonderful memories all rolled into one. Simply put, a reunion of strangers.

But save room for one last irony. As we shared goodbyes, with promises of coming back with pictures of the Charger (it’s stored at our summer house in Maine), the third of the trio, Frank, the shop owner, looks at me and says; “By the way, you know my son, Castelli, Frankie Castelli.”

Pausing, since the name wasn’t ringing a bell, my expression asked the question for me. Frank smiled and answered the question, minimizing the embarrassment “He mows your lawn...”

My Uncle John passed away a number of years ago. As for my Aunt Roe, she is still as friendly and alert as ever, living in Florida, and has a deep belief in God and divine providence. When I called her to share the story, 30 seconds into it, she stopped me and said, “Don’t tell me it was Stu from the Bronx?!” It certainly was.

In the end, the random meeting with Stu was more proof that it’s a small world and all roads do lead to the Bronx. Sometimes, you just need a Corvette to get there.

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