WATSONVILLE — For more than 30 years Nicholas Diaz spent long workdays buried in the back of televisions and other broken appliances. He was living his dream of being a neighborhood repairman.
That dream came to a horrific close Sept. 1 when he died in a car crash in his home state of Michoacán, Mexico, while visiting family and friends. It was the day he was supposed to fly back to California and rejoin his family in Salinas.
“I was here in my father’s repair shop [on Alexander Street] when I got a call from my aunt,” said Diaz’s oldest son, Jose. “She said there had been a big crash and that my dad was badly hurt. I had just been getting ready to drive to San Jose to pick him up at the airport. All I could do was wait for the next call.”
During one of many follow-up calls with his aunt, who lives in Los Angeles, Jose said he heard her other phone ring in the background.
“Someone on the other phone told her that my father was gone, that he didn’t make it,” Jose said. “I was frozen. I couldn’t move. I just wanted to start punching all the TVs around his shop; I wanted to punch the walls.”
But something happened that night that surprised Jose: He was struck with a vision that it was now up to him to step up, to be a leader and fill in where his dad left off.
“I am the oldest boy in our family,” he said. “I saw just then that I had to follow my dad’s example and lead; I had to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I didn’t even know where this power was coming from.”
As a young man growing up on the family ranch in the small town of Rancho Nuevo, Nicholas Diaz was influenced by his brother in prying open television sets to find out what made them work. Jose said that was the starting point of his father’s dream.
Nicholas Diaz eventually moved with his wife, Carmen, to Pajaro and started picking berries in the fields around 1986. But tearing into TVs and other electronic household goods was never far away, an interest that eventually led to his purchase of Lee’s TV on Brennan Street.
On the night Jose learned of his father’s death he decided he had to unload on someone so he called a friend who came to the repair shop. Jose said he broke down as his friend heard him out. His friend then drove Jose to one of his relative’s homes in Watsonville where he had to share the bad news. Then his friend drove Jose to Salinas.
“There was no way I could have driven that night, so I had my friend drive — it was all too powerful,” Jose said. “I had to think a long time about how I’d tell my mom — you know, the right way to say it. At the bottom of the stairs that went up to our house I just stopped and stood there for like 40 minutes — I couldn’t go up there and tell my family. But I was the one that had to do it.”
Jose said he somehow drummed up the strength, fueled by his newly found mission of having to step up and to help guide his family forward.
“At first I opened the sliding door to my brother’s room and I just straight out told him,” Jose said. “He yelled out loud and started to cry. That’s when my mom came in and asked what was going on. She was thinking my dad and I were coming back from the airport together.”
That’s when he hit his mother with the news.
Jose said the three of them hugged each other in the hallway for a long time, not saying anything.
He said, as a young boy, he used to travel around Monterey and Santa Cruz counties with his dad, stopping at repair shops and stores and making house repair calls.
“I’ll never forget how many smiles my dad created when he went to people’s houses and worked on their TVs,” Jose said. “They were so happy. My dad knew almost everyone. Everywhere we went people knew who he was. He wanted to make people happy.”
Jose said his father was so skilled at TV repair that owners of other shops for miles around would often call him asking for help in solving big repair orders.
“These people knew who to call; they knew he could fix just about anything,” Jose said.
Debbie Baker, owner of Baker Brothers Furniture and Appliance, said she remembers Nicholas as a friendly and “very dedicated” businessman.
“He worked very hard and could repair just about anything,” she said. “He even repaired a washer and drier for us once. It’s very sad that he is now gone.”
Jose, a Watsonville High graduate — class of ’07 — said his dad beat a lot of odds to get as far as he did. In recent years he worked a second job as a security guard, a field Jose is excelling in as well.
“My dad told me that when he was picking berries in the fields, the workers laughed at him and made fun of his idea of repairing TVs for a living,” Jose said. “They told him he’d never make it. Well…he did. And he was only 51.”
Jose said that Nick’s TV Service will be permanently closed.
The family has set up a GoFundMe account. To donate, visit bit.ly/2nxloC8.