By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It’s not every day that you get the oil changed in your car (in fact, it’s every 3,000 miles) and drive away feeling like you’ve just struck oil.
But that’s the way I felt recently when I spoke with Tony Didio, a service adviser at Hyundai 112 in Medford, New York, where my car routinely goes for oil changes, filter replacements and medical procedures such as open-hood surgery.
Tony is a car doctor who has prescriptions not only for a healthy vehicle (“If you can’t stop, those are the brakes”), but for a healthy lifestyle (“Never stand in front of a shooter at an archery range”).
Tony also is an archer who has a point.
“I’m right on target,” he told me.
“That pun made me quiver,” I responded. “Do you know what Custer wore at Little Bighorn?”
“What?” Tony said.
“An Arrow shirt,” I answered.
Since I don’t have a Pierce-Arrow, which stopped manufacturing automobiles a decade and a half before I was born, I asked Tony about my 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe.
“When you change the oil in my car,” I wondered, “do you use extra-virgin olive oil?”
“No,” Tony said. “I’d use that on pizza. But we don’t serve it here.”
Ironically, Tony began his automotive career at his father’s pizzeria in Plainview, New York.
“I was 12 when I started working there,” said Tony, who’s now 65. “But I was always interested in cars. I used to clean off the ones that came over on boats from Germany, so I switched from olive oil to motor oil.”
In 1971, Tony officially entered the car business when he went to work for a guy who was a mechanic for legendary race-car driver and designer Briggs Cunningham.
“Did you ever want to race in the Indy 500?” I asked.
“No,” said Tony. “But I’d have a better chance there than I would here. New York drivers are crazy.”
“You’re a New York driver,” I pointed out.
“Yes,” Tony acknowledged. “But I’m not crazy enough to ruin my car. Then I’d have to fix it.”
He’s had to fix plenty of other people’s cars in his 45 years in the business, during which he has learned that women know just as much about cars as men do. And they’re not as cheap.
“Like the guy whose brakes were worn down to the rotors, metal to metal, so I changed them,” Tony recalled. “The guy got all bent out of shape, just like his brakes, and insisted I put the old ones back in because he didn’t want to pay for new ones. Then he drove off. I was waiting for him to come back with a smashed front end because he couldn’t stop. I should have put him up on a lift and examined his head.”
Tony hasn’t repaired cars since he slipped on a patch of ice while carrying an engine and threw his back out.
“I threw it out, but nobody would take it,” Tony said with a deadpan expression, which he admitted is better than an oil-pan expression. “You have to have a sense of humor in this business,” he noted.
Tony, who loves to joke around with his customers, recalled the time a woman heard a ticking sound in her car and thought her husband had planted a bomb in it.
“I guess they weren’t getting along,” Tony said perceptively. “So I told her I was going to call 911. I kept her in suspense for about 10 minutes. Then I said, ‘I’m only kidding. There’s no bomb in the car.’ She was greatly relieved.”
Tony said people are always telling him that he should be a stand-up comic.
“I can’t stand up that long,” he said. “My feet get tired.”
But not too tired for this husband, father and soon-to-be grandfather to stand in the kitchen occasionally and, recalling the pizza days of his youth, make a delicious Italian dinner.
When I told Tony I’m not handy enough to be either a mechanic or a cook, he gave me the secret of his success: “If you just remember that motor oil goes in cars and olive oil goes on pizza, you’ll be OK.”
Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima