In the early 80s, I managed a dive saloon — the Tunnel Bar — at the corner of 15th and Henderson. Just up the block on 16th Street, there were unused tracks on a railroad bridge that ran over Henderson Street. In the limited shelter from the rain offered by the space under this structure, a group of winos lived — in shacks, cardboard boxes, and even bizarre collections of discarded furniture set in plain view.
As crime was rampant, from time to time I’d look out the door to make certain that items were not in the process of being removed from customers’ cars. I also wanted to make sure that items were not being removed from the regulars themselves. Since arson, police activity, public fornication, theft, assault, and murder were fairly common occurences for those “drinking under the bridge,” I’d always glance towards 16th Street to see what the winos happened to be doing.
One day, I was surprised to see what seemed to be the entire Jersey City Police force assembled on 16th Street. All the winos were face-down, spread-eagled on the sidewalk. Then, hands cuffed behind their backs, they were hauled off in police cars.
I couldn’t imagine what the bompies might have done to merit such an energetic response from the police.
Next, maybe a dozen or so City workers arrived. They proceeded to demolish the shacks. The Incinerator Authority delivered a garbage container. The crew deposited the trash and debris in the container and then left. A truck arrived, taking away the container.
Maybe only an hour or so later, the wino chief, Jimmy Wolf, ambled into the bar.
“Thunderbird. A quart. Cold.”
What the hell happened today!?!”
“We was jes’ like mindin’ our own business and enjoyin’ a little relaxation, when some guy in a suit stops his fancy new car in the middle of the street. He gets out and says, ‘Hey, I’m tryin’ to sell real estate down here and youse guys are makin’ the place look bad. I want you outta here!’ We-all start havin’ a good laugh over this. He turns red and yells, ‘I’M NOT FOOLIN’!’ So, thens we start peltin’ ‘im and ‘is car with bottles. . . . How was we to know that he was Mayor McCann’s brother?”
“Well, did the cops lock you up? How’d you get out so quick?”
“Naah, the police just rode us over to the New York side of the tunnel. We’s-all hitched a ride right back.”
And sure enough, there “under the bridge” were Jules, Jackson, Lucky Sheehan, Chang, and all the rest of the winos. Like a group of ants whose colony had been dug up, hard at work, the boozers were diligently dragging “home” wood, cardboard, and other debris. By the next day, you’d never have known that they’d been disturbed.