As a freshman at Seton Hall in 1968, I
was lucky enough to have friends who were upperclassmen and who
had local connections. Needing pocket money, I cut classes one day
and took the advice of one of these guys and showed up for the hiring
of daily workers (the "Shape," or "Shape-up"),
at the Pabst brewery on South Orange Avenue in Newark. I don't remember
the details about how I handled age verification, but suffice it
say that it was lax, and on that on the very first day I was assigned
to a quality control assembly line in the factory, checking for
bottles containing more or less than exactly 12 ounces of beer.
The 7 hour shift, which paid about $50 (a lot of money in 1968)
comprised of a 45 minute lunch hour and two 20 minute "beer
breaks." The lunch/break room was fluorescent bright but windowless
and bare, with concrete walls decorated with a few old yellowed
Pabst posters. An industrial-sized beer refrigerator dominated one
You could tell instantly whether a worker was a long-timer, as
these veterans only drank the warm beer stacked up in mounds of
cases along the far side of the room. Stern signs warned that you
could drink all the beer you wanted in this room, but would be fired
on the spot if you tried to bring one bottle outside. As an under-aged
drinker, I was agog at the thought you could drink all the beer
you wanted during the 3 breaks.
At the first break, I had 2 or 3 cold beers, and talked with a
few old-timers in the room. No problem returning to the assembly
line, sitting on the stool watching all the bottles trundle by.
In fact, at the time, I thought there was a certain enjoyable rhythm
to this roll.
At lunch, there was a large crowd in the lunchroom; it was hot,
stuffy, and smoky. I washed down my brown-bagged sandwich from Roscommon
House with 4 or 5 cold Blue Ribbons. I returned to my assembly line
stool to begin the rest of the shift. Shortly afterward, I began
to feel uncomfortable. The bottles now seemed to travel much faster
and were no longer dancing in a pleasant conga line, but were now
growling and surging past me like an evil rush through whitewater
rapids. It soon occurred to me that I hadn't yet visited the factory
Men's Room, even after consuming 5 or 6 beers.
I don't remember what happened next, except that I was on the
floor, passed out. The assembly line had been shut down in my honor,
and I was the focus of everyone's attention. I remember well my
horror, until all at once everyone started laughing. The foreman,
between wheezing fits of laughter, sarcastically asked if I needed
another beer. I had been christened! Afterward, whenever shaping
at Pabst I was known as "Diapers."
A few weeks later, my friend Bob suggested I go out on a Pabst
delivery truck with him, supposedly better than a shift inside the
brewery. We lugged kegs down narrow stairs to filthy cellars ruled
over by rats and cobwebs. We also maneuvered hand-trucks laden with
cases of long-neck, returnable ("exports") bottles to
coolers behind the bars.
The senior guy drove the truck and called the shots, and the junior
guy counted up the cash collected and kept account of what was delivered.
Bob warned me that we shouldn't start accepting bartenders' offers
of a set-up drink until the end of the route. We mostly took that
advice, but one hot July afternoon we couldn't avoid a cold one
or two. Having started our route around noon, we finally pulled
into the Grove Street lot close to midnight, more than a few dollars
and bottles short!
One day, unaware of my age, the shape supervisor assigned me to
a delivery truck as the senior guy. He called on a "rookie"
to ride shotgun with me. Our route included the North, Central and
South wards of Newark. Though I had moved out of Newark with my
parents long before, I felt confident that I knew the city, especially
North Newark, well enough to accept this assignment.
Undaunted by the Riots which had occurred only months prior, we
set out to deliver to the many taverns on our route. I took my friend's
advice about not drinking early-on, thus we did well tending the
many establishments on Bloomfield Avenue, and throughout the North
ward and Belleville. Feeling smug, we proceeded to the Central ward.
I picked a quick route from memory, but unfortunately, the State
Police were not amused that I was driving a commercial truck on
the Garden State Parkway (a major no-no) with a Massachusetts JUNIOR
Drivers License! Attesting to the goodwill of Pabst Blue Ribbon,
and my beginner's luck, the trooper let my partner drive (who was
barely 21) and allowed us to continue on via City streets only.
The delivery route took us to some tough neighborhoods throughout
the Central and South wards, but there were no problems. The bartenders
(most of whom were black), were very kind and protective to us two
white college kids, taking care to direct us to the next gin mill
on the route.
I learned many life lessons working with the fine people of Pabst
and the tavern-keepers of Newark.