First Job, Tony Pieroni

Three decades ago, Tom failed in his attempt to fix that fence with a tow truck.

Tony owned the service station I worked at as a younger man. From 1982 to 1986, Tony hired me three times and fired me twice.

Tony worked his guys hard, but never harder than he worked himself. He was at the station at least 60 hours a week, and he knew most of his customers by name. And while he was given to bouts of crankiness, Tony treated us like family, and he made a point of meeting our families, spouses, and girlfriends.

Tony was a businessman, but as a businessman he had one near-fatal flaw: his willingness to give jobs to hard-luck cases. A lot of guys with no place left to go ended up turning wrenches for Tony. Sometimes these guys worked out, often not. Still, they got one more chance than they probably deserved. And while I wasn’t actually one of those cases—I did my job well, and had no ghosts in the closet (yet)—I was green and had a lot to learn.

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I worked hard for Tony and was excellent with customers. I was also an idiot. My exploits included attempting to straighten a fence with the tow truck and getting in way over my head doing weekend repairs on customers’ cars without a real mechanic around to bail me out. Before there was SpongeBob and the Krusty Krab, there was Tom and the gas station. Though well-intentioned, I was immature, and I didn’t deserve to be hired back—either time.

So, thank you, Tony. You echoed a number of the lessons my father taught me, including the value of hard work, forgiveness, and just general good-naturedness. You also taught me to sling profanity like a garage mechanic, for which I am also grateful. I frankly did not know, until working at a service station, that it was possible to use the F-word as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and, most interestingly, a pronoun.

Tony has moved on now, I can’t say where. The three-bay gas station that closed daily at 10:00 p.m. was long ago converted to a 24-hour gas-only location with a convenience store instead of a quick-lube stall. I pass the place all the time but hardly recognize it. It’s not as spotlessly clean as when Tony owned it, and the bell that once rang when cars hit the lot was silenced long ago.

So, Tony, for working my ass off changing oil on 96-degree days, for the burns I suffered on Mitsubishi turbo housings doing the same, for teaching me what a really clean garage floor looks like, for buying me my first gin and tonic, and mostly for giving me more chances than I deserved, thanks.

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First Job