on May 18, 2014 - 6:07 PM
The weekend was bittersweet for Long Nguyen.
He graduated Saturday from the University at Buffalo with his doctorate in pharmacy – a milestone the 26-year-old had been itching to hit.
Feeling the relief and fulfillment of completing his studies was compelling, but he also was excited for another reason: Nguyen had arranged a Sunday graduation party, not so much for himself but to present his parents a special gift he had planned for years – a 2011 Lexus RX 350.
But before he crossed the stage at Saturday’s commencement, he received a devastating phone call from a friend. The Lexus he had purchased for his parents – a car he had been saving for since he was 14 – was damaged by a hit-and-run driver during the night.
Nguyen and his parents emigrated from Vietnam to Buffalo when he was 6. They have lived on the West Side for 20 years, and for years they washed dishes at a former Italian restaurant to support the family.
“They came here for me and my sister,” Nguyen said. “Coming to a foreign country – not knowing the language, not having family here.”
He remembers seeing his parents cry because of financial troubles. He wasn’t sure why when he was younger, but it made sense as he grew up. To help out, the Hutch-Tech alum has worked two jobs since he was 14.
Seven years ago, he saw a Lexus commercial in which a man gives his fiancé one of the luxury sedans with an oversized red bow on top. So when Nguyen purchased his parents’ new ride from Northtown Lexus last month, he said, “I want the bow, period.” And they gave it to him.
The bow was sitting in the car when it was hit Friday night.
After the car had sat in Northtown’s parking lot for a month, Nguyen left the vehicle at his friend’s house Friday so his parents wouldn’t see it until the grand revelation at his graduation party Sunday.
Police have not yet found the hit-and-run driver who caused $6,500 worth of damage to the car, but they know – based on pieces of the bumper and headlight left at the scene – that the driver was behind the wheel of a blue 2006 Ford Fusion.
Nguyen has insurance on the car, but will need to pay a $1,000 deductible and wait for two weeks while it is being repaired.
He had told his parents to invite all their friends for the party on the first block of Brayton Street in Buffalo on Sunday. Friends, family and co-workers were to be there as he presented the car – bow and all.
His parents had been told, “It’s just a barbecue for me,” Nguyen said, not realizing they were the ones who were supposed to get “the gift of a lifetime.”
After the crash, his biggest dilemma became figuring what whether to tell his parents and what to do about the party.
“I had a speech planned out. I was telling my sister about it, and I was literally crying – not crying because I lost the car but crying because I feel bad for my parents,” he said.
As the clock ticked down to the party late Sunday morning, Nguyen still hadn’t decided what to tell his parents. The car had already been taken back to the dealership for repairs, leaving him with nothing to show them but a police report and a photo of the damaged vehicle.
“I don’t even have a key,” he said.
He ended up telling them the whole story, he said later, including, “I worked to get you this car, but I don’t have anything for you because this is what happened.”
“They cried, I cried, some in the audience cried,” he said of the touching moment.
His parents now work at New Era Cap Co. in Derby, where they are paid based on production.
““They wake up at 5:30 a.m. to work out in Derby,” Nguyen said.
So, Nguyen rationalized years ago, it would be nice, and certainly deserved, for his folks to receive a luxurious gift. He can rattle off facts about the automobile for which he’d been saving for 12 years.
“It’s fully loaded, black pearl on black interior, navigation, backup camera. It was my pride and joy,” he said. “Pretty much my life savings are in it.”
Nguyen attended School 45 before proceeding to Hutch-Tech and then UB. He is planning to stay in the area.