Story • Shaya Tayefe Mohajer
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer shares the story of her father's Auto Repair shop, and the impact of his presence on the local community, including their response to the 1992 Uprising.
Our family closed up my dad’s auto repair shop in Long Beach today. Foreign Auto Specialist, near 4th and Cherry, always painted a bright color hoping to catch the eye of a customer. Gonna emote about it, standby.
When he first opened the place in 1987, the neighborhood was so sketchy that my mom had us lay down in the backseat when we’d go visit. I peeked—that’s how I saw my first junkie, laying on a gutter with the needle still in his arm, glazed eyes skyward. He looked like Jesus.
Most nights, my dad came home with stories and we’d get updates on neighborhood people. The autistic man who lived nearby and would sweep the shop sidewalk obsessively. The family that ran the nearby Eash deli (gone too, sadly), whose pastrami was my first and my dad’s fave.
His customers gave us so many Bibles and Christmas ornaments hoping to bring my dear sweet leftist father to the fold. There was the man we always called Almaniyeh, aka The German, a mechanic who was my dad’s nearest competitor yet they struck up a friendship over the years.
Over the years, my dad became a neighborhood fixture and something of a known softie, cutting people breaks on repair costs and letting people pay when they could. Most people are honest, other people wish they could be, he’d say.
During the riots/uprising in 1992, dozens of businesses in the neighborhood were set on fire. Everything he had was invested in the shop. My dad went to stand in front of the shop, hoping to protect it—he would try to reason with anyone, his patience and empathy were legend.
He showed up to find kids from the neighborhood already sitting out front, protecting it. His business—packed with expensive tools and equipment— was spared. I always remember that when riots happen—it’s not greed, it’s deserved rage, it’s targeted. The DMV went up in smoke.
Wow, I never looked it up but really, so much of the shop’s immediate neighborhood went up in flames (link to chronological reporting of the violence in Long Beach in the days after not guilty verdicts in the Rodney G. King case). It’s changed a lot over the years. Friends and hipsters live there now.
After my dad died in 2012, I went to the shop to help run it. I sucked at it. Mostly I would go there to sob hysterically, do the books and pay his mechanics. Every messy drawer you’d open would have photos of his family mixed in with autopart invoices, business cards...
I don’t know what will happen there next, we never owned the building and the owners want to sell now. I expect to drive by someday to see luxury condos or a Starbucks. But for now, so long Foreign Auto Specialist, the shop that gave me everything I ever had growing up.
Shaya Tayefe Mojajer is a ceramicist, journalist, and professor of journalism at USC. She tweets as @Shaya_in_LA and can be contacted through her website. This story is a reformatted version of her twitter thread, republished with permission.