This is when I wrote it–10/13/2013. it was 2 months before I almost died!
When I was 16, I loved going to my father’s place of business, a trucking company that he ran with his 4 brothers. It was called “THE FIVE “B” TRUCKING CO. He had 6 brothers, but the sixth and youngest one had married a beautiful women whose family were kinda “connected”,( to find out more about there connection read my Grandfathers story) so, he was able to run his own trucking company, (one truck),that picked up paper rolls for newspaper companies, and his is a story for another time. For now, I’d like to talk about Uncle Joey, the fifth son. Oh, buy the way, when us boys went to work with their fathers, we called the trucking company “The Five “B” Trucking Co and their “sons of B”
Uncle Joey had a fuse that blew in a second. I saw him flatten a big truck driver because he had yelled at my father. When I say flatten, I mean one punch, and down for the count of fifty, but he really was a lovable guy, really, and handsome…WOW!!! Classic Italian American, somewhat like me, except he never lost his hair and bristling mustache.
Well, all the brothers would meet at 4:00am each morning at the railroad yards on 37th St and 11th Ave to pick up the sides of beef in railroad containers that came from Chicago’s stock yards, which they unloaded onto their trucks, then delivered them to the giant refrigerator coolers of wholesale butchers all in the 14th street meat market. thereafter, each brother had a particular job to do with his truck and each has their special way to take care of it. Uncle Mickey’s was perfection and no one was allowed to drive it period! The rest jumped from one truck to the next, didn’t even bother to clean the windshield. When there was a problem with a truck the brothers would call Uncle Joey to fix it. He was called “Kid Screw Driver”. He fixed everything with his trusty screw, even flats! A few times he sent sparks flying when a truck wouldn’t start. He used his trusty screw drive and somehow would create a short and a screeching of sparks would fly. Crazy thing, none of brothers would curse, whereas, cursing was the standard language among the workers throughout the meat market. Maybe it was because us boys were around and they watched what they said, buy I think it was my father who they loved and respected.
It was Uncle Joey’s job to operate “The Route”. What’s the route you ask? Well, it’s delivering to the local butchers in Manhattan that were our customers . Uncle Joey had about 25 customers. What was done daily by each of his customers was to arrive at the meat market at about 6 oclock in the morning and buy whatever they needed for that day, or week. They always bought from their same wholesalers, maybe three or four, as different butchers had different wholesalers that they favored. After each butcher finished his purchases, he would stop off at our office, which on 14th St, along side of our biggest customer, have a cup of coffee with buns, be kidded, or teased about one thing or another, but it was just fun for all, and my father would be there with a wet stogy in his mount with a little smile on his face. Everyone in the market always wanted to stop by our office, especially the mounted police, who tied their horses to the mirrors of our trucks. Each officer would be part of the fun and each made all of their co-officers throughout Manhattan know to leave Bianco Bros alone, no matter what. So, we could travel anywhere in the city and not worry. We had a lot that we could worry about without the “cops” being on our backs. Most of the trucks were maintained by Uncle Joey. We had maybe 10 trucks and they were all old and falling apart. Most didn’t have brakes and it was a challenge to be able to go anywhere and use only your head to get around without brakes. Another reason the Cops liked us was that they shared the stuff that fell off the truck. Cousin Al, who we all loved and was so special, wanted to become a cop because of the ones that hung around our office. There is another story here, but I’ll save it for when I specially write about him. I still miss him terribly.
OOPS! Back to the story. Each of our butcher customers would leave their sales slips they received for their purchases at the Bianco office where my father would be collecting them for Uncle Joey to later take and pick up each order for that day. Uncle Joey would have to cruise the whole market, stopping at each wholesaler to pick up whatever each of his customer bought. The workers from each wholesaler would set aside the orders for each butcher knowing who were Uncle Joey’s customers, and would have those order ready for Uncle Joey to pick up. Again, please realize that almost all the workers in the market made their way to our office for the comradary that was always there. Uncle Joey’s customers didn’t buy every day, so his truck would be full but not overloaded. Before starting out he would plan his route accordingly for that day. Making the last stop on his deliveries to be first to be put on his truck near the front end. When it was my turn to go with him, He would have me use a hand truck and pick up all the boxes and things that would be nearby the truck. Some crates had chickens in them loaded with crushed ice to keep them fresh and leaking a lot of water. Some boxes had assorted deli-meats, such as baloney, or salami, and some had flank steaks. We would load the truck backwards so that when we were fully loaded, the orders on the back were for the first to be delivered.
After he made his rounds of the wholesalers it would be about 8:00am, he would then begin to make his deliveries which would take him till about three o’clock. As each of the kids of the brothers were old enough, they would love to come to work with their dads, but always wanted to go with Uncle Joey. My older brother Al has his own stories, as does each of the sons who came to work. It usually worked out that only one nephew would have the chance to go with Uncle Joey, except when little Al came along, and when it was my turn, I reveled in just being close to him. He was a man’s man, a boys man, and especially woman’s man with a beautiful mustache, bushy black hair, and very handsome, but usually with a little scowl on his face. No, not because of anything in particular, but that was how he looked, serious! Nobody would ever think of approaching him to threaten him. When he smiled, it hit you in the gut…it was beautiful. Our dress for work was a light blue striped uniform that usually would last one day, as we were working with meat, blood and a lot of greasy fat, not to mention all the oil and guck we got from the trucks. We all had to wear a flat hat, called a “newsboys hat”. Because we had to carry the meat on your shoulder, a part of it would rest on the side of your head over your ear, for balance.
Sometime it was a hind quarter of meat that weighed two hundred pounds, or maybe a four quarter that could be over two fifty to three hundred pounds, and very, very, very greasy. The hat was a must, but he looked like a guy who knew who he was, who was not afraid of anything, anyone, except my father, who each brother adored. I’ll write about my father in another story, but for now it’s Uncle Joey.
At his first stop, the butcher’s name was “Joe De Mino”, a guy who loved to pull jokes on him, and later on, us. He spoke with a strong Italian accent and always looked like he was always laughing. In those days, each retail store would put down sawdust on their floor, fresh every day. It just was the way it was done, no matter what retailer you went to, a restaurant, grocery, bar, butcher, baker, or candle stick maker, all would have a floor of saw dust. Spill something and the sawdust absorbed it. Actually in those days, the main the real reason was that people usually would spit on the floor wherever they went. It was a bigger problem in the subway, cause people would spit on the shiny cement floor and others would slip on the spit, and wind up in the hospital. It got so bad that eventually, starting in the subways, they passed a law “NO SPITTING”. “NO SPITTING” signs were everywhere. Didn’t do much good till heavy fines were handed out. Then people got the idea, fast. But please remember, at that time, it was socially accepted, well, maybe not the “high fluting” people, but they never really went anywhere and had servants to do the daily stuff. Getting back to my story, “Joe De Mino” would ask us to be careful not to disturb the sawdust and he would make a pathway through it and lay down newspapers in our path till we left as naturally blood would spill down as we carried the meat, as his butcher shop had to be perfect when he opened for the day. His neighborhood was in the center of Greenwich Village, where at the time, a lot of the gay people lived. Not that there is anything wrong in that! So, he catered to mostly single customers, small portions, and he bought accordingly, small stuff, and maybe not the best.
Uncle Joey would then go to his next stop, go through the same procedures and continue on. Each butcher was a character, and each had his idiosyncrasies. Each had a different clientele, as is the case in each area in lower Manhattan, it had either a certain nationality, or class of people, but always with different tastes. After a while, he would wind up on Mulberry St, the street where our family began, with two customers who were unique.. (“Make sure you get to read Grandpa’s story, there are things in it no one in the family ever knew about”), The first was called “Stingone”, and as it turned out, his son was very interested in my oldest sister, Elizabeth. She didn’t like him and tried everything to avoid him. Guess what? She eventually married Dominick, whose mother was “Stingone’s” sister, and both Liz and Dom started their own little empire. (Here again is another story for another day). Stingone’s butcher shop was in the lower part of Mulberry St, whose neighborhood was very ethically Italian where a lot of “sweat” shops were going full force. So you ask “What is a sweat shop?” They were places where small manufacturers made either parts for sweaters or dresses. They paid very little to their workers who just arrived in America and would do anything to send money back home. They really weren’t as bad as they were made out to be, as the comradery was fun. My Grandmother and all her girls would be given work that they produced at home. I would love to watch them sewing dresses on putting sweater parts together. I loved it so much that I would help…not very good at it till later. A man would come to the third floor of 250 Mulberry St, where our family was based. We rented the whole third floor and everyone of the brothers and sisters grew up on that floor. Eventually my parents rented an apartment on the fifth floor, were the first four of their children were born and grew up.
Back to “Stingone’s! A change was beginning to take place on Mulberry St as Chinatown, which was south of Canal St on Mulberry, the people there were moving North and eventually, by 2010, moved their border right up to the end of the Street at Houston. I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “SO HO”. Well, everything south of Houston street is “SOuth HOuston”, until Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese founded the area directly below called “Tribeca”. They both grew up one block behind Mulberry called Mott St. They are probable 5 years younger than me, so I didn’t know them, but they went to St Patrick’s Old Cathedral school and church.
OK, let’s get back to “Stingone”, he was cheap and never offered us anything, but he always asked about my father and mother. The meat he bought was always “Good” grade. And we always made sure stuff fell off the truck before we reached his stop. It’s amazing how those dead chickens got out of their box.
Our next stop was one that always amazed me. The butcher was a skinny guy with wild curly hair who thought we was an artist, acted like an artist and painted like Picasso. As we arrived at his stop, because the street was narrow, we held up all the local traffic. The place was more like a pig pen than a butcher shop, but he had such a great personality, his customers loved him. He mainly sold goats, very skinny goats a grade lower than good. Every day he would paint a gigantic picture, drawing on a roll of brown paper used to wrap packages. He would display it in his front window which was not too clean. He had other painting on all his walls. He too spoke very broken English, but it always was with a wonderful smile, you just had to love him. I’ve forgot to mention here that when we arrived on Mulberry street, I would do some crazy antics. In order for anyone to jump onto the back of the truck easily, there was a knotted rope about one inch thick with the knots about a foot apart, so that you could grab a lower knot with one hand and with the other hand grab the next knot up and so forth till you eventually got on board the back of the truck either with your butt or onto your feet. What I loved doing was to hold the bottom knot while standing on the road and swing out and bound along as the truck moved forward. Each bounce would take me about 8 feet till the next bounce. It was like flying. Some times I would swing out past the side of the truck where Uncle Joey would see me in his side mirror and he’d have a big smile on his face. I did things like that when I was young, and then continued on till now, but more cautiously.
Uncle Joey always planned to reach a particular butcher, whose shop was off of Delancey Street, at noon time. Why you ask? Well, to have lunch, not just a little lunch, but a spectacular lunch. I can’t remember his full name, but his first was Carmine and his wife, and Uncle Joey’s wife, were childhood friends. Boy was she beautiful, just like aunt Peewee. Both Carmine and Uncle Joey with their respective wives were terrific dancers. Being they grew up at the end of the 1920’s, they danced the popular dance at that time called “The Peabody”. I would watch them at some party and dreamed of being that good… The dream came through… didn’t it? At any rate, we would have a great fresh piece of meat fried before our eyes with a glass of wine, then black coffee to kill for, topped with anisette. The area where the shop was located had Burlesque theaters, with vaudeville shows on their marquee. I remember seeing names that would eventually become TV stars. Vaudeville was a Jewish event where up and coming comedians would start.
As we worked our way across the tip of Manhattan, well before the Twin towers were built, stopping for different customers along the way till we would eventually arrive at “95 East 3rd”. Now here was a butcher, a Prime butcher. What’s a prime butcher? Meat quality is federally controlled and it has established 3 different grade of meat. Good, then a little better, Choice, then very much better PRIME. Most butchers bought a combination of Good and Choice, but never PRIME. It had 2 inches of fat around each piece, and you could tear a piece off and eat it just like that. Really, we did it all the time (when we could get away with it). So, when we went to “95 EAST 3RD ST”, it was an honor. The butcher was a German Giant and spoke with that German English accent and would laugh so loud that your ears hurt. His two gigantic sons also worked for him and they too spoke with the accent and laughed just like him. His shop was spotless, big, with shiny chrome hooks along the walls, and gigantic mirrors on all walls. His saw dust was twice as thick as anywhere else. What sawdust you might ask? Well, on entering any butcher shop, you walked on sawdust covering the entire floor of the shop so what ever dropped was absorbed by the sawdust.
He never bought anything small, so his hinds of beef were 300lbs. Try swinging that on your shoulder, when you’re a skinny young man, but his sons didn’t bother doing that, they just would grab the hind under their arm and carry it in to the shop, twist it and reach it to a hook on the wall. Uncle Joey, or myself, didn’t have to carry anything into the shop as the boys did it all. Usually there was always a couple of wooden crates of chickens cleaned and ready to sell, a pig, that weighed 250lbs(Got to have pork for sausages) and a two hundred pound prime calf. This stop was the only one that Uncle Joey was careful to make sure that nothing was falling off of the truck. WHAT… did things fall out the truck? Well, they must have or else our family would never have the best of everything that meat could offer. Each uncle was great at their one style of falling off the truck. Uncle Tony was the best. Every day when everyone was ready to go home, my father would have a package ready for each of his brothers. It was share and share alike. With always enough for the Patrolmen, garage workers who cared for our trucks, and even our neighbors in the Bronx, when we return home.
We had about 3 more stops, but it was all downhill from here. This didn’t mean we were through for the day, no, no way. Now Uncle Joey had to take another truck that had rails inside along the roof, so that hanging meat could be stacked from back to front. One driver could handle the load, as the rails allowed the driver to bring the meat, usually hinds or forequarters, and roll them to the back of the truck and stack each of the ten perpendicular rails, Another short rail could be attached later to the “A and P” warehouse loading dock rails. Then all the hanging beef would easily roll from the truck into the warehouse cooler. There were 5 “A and P” warehouses we had to deliver to. They were located as follows: In the Bronx, where Uncle Joey delivered to; Brooklyn where uncle Tony delivered to; Garden City, Long Island where Uncle Mickey delivered to; Newark, NJ where Joe Gag delivered to ( he was married to Aunt Millie), and finally “A and P Maspeth, NJ” delivered by Louis (married to cousin Maryann). Later, my new brother in law, Dominick, married to my oldest sister Elizabeth, would now take the load to A and P Bronx. By then Uncle Mickey got a job working for a provision house.
The reason we delivered to the A and P warehouses, was that my father, with his trusting way, was able to land this large account that used our trucks exclusively. It was called Berliner and Marks and they sold only calves and veal. It was owned by two Jewish men, Herb Berliner and William Marks, who were my father friends and who trusted him completely to make sure all their business was handled correctly, and it was. So, now three day a week we had to deliver all the veal to freezers to be sent to our armed forces overseas. Bianco Bros became their new name and all the trucks were painted white with Berliner and Marks logo on all sides. We got more trucks and hired more drivers, as we were growing.
As I finished High school, I wanted to go to College, but still found time to work at Bianco Bros. I never finished College as Bianco Bros was growing and my father wanted me to work with him thinking I would one day take over. In 1954, I bought a new car with $3500.00 cash with the savings my Mother held for me. I was 22 and saw that there was no future at Bianco Bros, as my Uncles weren’t that much older than me, and I realized that if I stayed I would never get to run the business. So, I left to start my own business… Here again is another story for another day, but this story affected my parents, my immediate family “to be”, my siblings, and my future. It’s coming soon. Wait for :
How our family started here in America
My Father’s Story
My Life and it’s Wonders