After Drive-All, I drifted a bit, working odd jobs.
Then, from 1985 to 1999, I worked at the New Center outpost of Crowley’s Department store.
I used to shop at the downtown Crowley’s store. It had closed in 1977 and was demolished in 1978. I remember riding the old wooden escalator there. That impressed me. I used to go to the downtown Hudson’s store as well.
When I first started working there, they were at the old Demery’s Department Store building, across the street from Lewis Artist Supply store. Crowley’s had bought the Demery’s company and had moved into the New Center space in 1972.
I got to be elevator operator now and then. That was fun. I did this mainly when the regular “elevator guy” was on a break or on vacation. Customers would say “You’re the only guy I know who makes his living running people down.”
Primarily, I worked in shipping and receiving and in housekeeping. As the years rolled on, I did a lot more. I’ve always told people “I did everything at Crowley’s except for sewing, selling and management.”
After about a year, in 1986, we moved out of the Demery’s store and into the New Center One building. Employees rolled racks of clothes down the street. We walked a lot of the merchandise to the new location. It was only a few blocks away.
We moved into the New Center One building, across the street from the street from the Fisher building on Grand Boulevard. We organized everything and carried on. It was interesting setting up the new store and settling in.
In the new shipping and receiving area, there was ramp that was on an incline. You had to push loads of goods up the ramp and onto the truck. If this was something heavy, you had to use all your weight or have a second person to help you push it. When you moved a pallet full of goods down the ramp, sometimes you needed to bounce it off of the wall so that it didn’t pick up speed.
Later, I became the maintenance man there as well. That involved climbing up and down ladders to change light bulbs.
I’m sure that those ladders and that ramp help lead to my present arthritis in my knees. *
Then there was the housekeeping which could get to be very unpleasant. This involved sweeping, vacuuming, carpet cleaning and cleaning rest rooms.
Also, we’d have to strip off the old wax and put down new wax on the aisles. When we stripped it, I’d have to scrape the wax build-up off of the edges with a putty knife. We used those machines that have a round pad which spins around. The black pad helped take off the wax. The red pad polished, after the wax dried.
Like the factory, it was mostly good old manual labor aka a lot of hard work. I continued to favor my dark blue work clothes, similar to those that I wore for my factory job. At Crowley’s though, I had to launder my work clothes myself. At Drive-All, they washed them for you.
Crowley’s was very social. I had to deal with a large number of other people instead of just a few. The customers were interesting. I enjoyed people watching and interacting on the fly. My fellow employees were mostly a good lot. Besides clothes, we sold handbags, hats, shoes, cosmetics, household goods and a few surprise odds and ends.
One a squirrel got in the store and caused a big panic. I chased it out the door, carrying a cardboard box.
Celebrities would come by to shop. These were mainly people staying next door at the Hotel St. Regis. Redd Foxx walked though passing out autographs. He’d pre-signed a stack of them. I wish I would have got one.
There was a small display department and an alterations department.
Once, while sweeping, I found a $100 bill. I heard that a cashier had dropped it and was in a lot of trouble. Thus I turned it in. They gave me a box of candy as a reward. Since that happened, I’ve found well over a hundred dollars, on the streets of Detroit and New York City.
I threw tons of trash into this trash masher. Bored white-collar workers would deposit their rubber band balls nearby. I started to collect them.
I saved many mannikins from the crusher as well. They let me have them and I’d walk them home, usually in sections. Cars would honk their horns at me.
When I became maintenance man, I got my own desk and office. That was nice. I changed more light bulbs, built racks, put up shelving and more. I’d still have to help with the truck and the cleaning, but not all the time.
Most of the managers were OK. In 1996, one of them even bent the rules a bit so that I could go to France and still keep my job!
Then there were the two horrible managers.
I used to vacuum the carpet area nearly every morning. First I’d sweep up all the larger things, then I’d get to it. The boss got really upset with me for having too many lights on. Every day, before I’d vacuum, I kept turning off more and more lights. He’d still yell at me “You don’t need this many lights! You’re wasting electricity.”
One morning, I vacuumed the floor holding a flashlight! It was pretty dark. I thought this would appease him but he went into a fit. I felt like Bugs Bunny trying to deal with Elmer Fudd.
Then there’s the other manager who’s always yell at me. How mean was he? In 1999, when the company went bankrupt, he told me “Well you’ve had a free ride for 14 years. Now that you’re not with Crowley’s, you’ll be on the streets within a year. You’re going to join the homeless club.”
Those may not be his exact words, but close. I didn’t become homeless. Next month I’ll tell you what I did do.
To be Continued/ Part Two of Three
*Of course, my kneeling on the sidewalk to do hundreds of sidewalk chalk art drawings also were bad for my knees, but sometimes I’d sit or stoop as well.