Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Miami Junk Yard Story

                                                              The Miami Junk Yard Story
                                              Written 2010 and rewritten 10/29/2015 unedited
                                                                         Howard Yasgar                 

      In November of 1963, I was in Bridgeport Connecticut standing in the living room of my friends Lou and Gladys Gladstein. This was just after my wedding that had taken place on twenty second of November. I had gotten married on the same evening John F Kennedy was killed. That should have been an omen.

      Lou had been my best man at the wedding and Gladys was our witness.

      At the time, Lou was running the auto wrecking company and used car lot in Stamford Connecticut. It was the same yard that I used to lease a few months earlier.

      How all of that had  happened, was kind of unusual, while I was going to college I worked part time for Lenny Wisniewsky of Milford Auto Wrecking Company in Milford Connecticut, and when I graduated, I had leased the Stamford yard from Lenny, who was my former boss.

      Of course, at the time I had no way of knowing that my former boss Lenny was a con man and had no right to lease me the Stamford yard. Anyway he did lease it to me. I found out after I took over the yard that half the city of Stamford was stealing from it, so when the real owner appeared I was pretty disgusted so I closed the operation down. After I left the yard was leased to Lou Gladstein, and Lou and I eventually became friends.

      After I closed the business in Stamford, I was just driving around Connecticut and New York buying and selling any type of government or factory surplus that I could find. I was having a good time finding deals and meeting all kinds of interesting people.

      Every Wednesday I would drive from Connecticut to Canal Street in Manhattan, New York. Canal Street at the time was a place with lots of stores that sold all kinds of surplus items. Every day they would push little carts full of oddball surplus parts onto the sidewalk in front of the stores. Many of their customers were engineers that would walk down Canal Street at lunch time looking for just that type of odd stuff.

       I had made friends with an old timer that had a store on Canal Street, his name was Earnest and his little store was called Asco Metals and Alloys Co. How I met Earnest was when I bought out a lot of surplus wall clocks in Connecticut, Earnest had a blind brother at home, and the clocks I had were perfect for him as Earnests brother could feel the numbers with his hands. I gave Earnest several of the clocks and we became good friends.

       One day, while I headed to New York from my home in Westville Connecticut, just out of curiosity,

I got of the Connecticut turnpike at the Stamford West Street exit. I wanted to see who was leasing my old used car business there on West Main Street, and that’s how I first met Lou Gladstein. Once I met him we became wonderful friends and worked together for several years.

       The day that I first met Lou, he was operating the Stamford yard as a used car lot, using a small building on West Main Street as his office, it had once been my own used car office.

        Lou I found was always an interesting guy to deal with, his main source of income was selling the used cars, but he would get involved with anything that he thought would make a buck. So on the day I went into his office I noticed that there was a string hanging out of the pay telephone on the wall. When I asked Lou what the string was for, he said that he had acquired a key to the phone and whenever you made a long distance call, you pulled the string all the money came back, so I tried it and it worked perfectly. That evening Lou took me to a small sandwich shop that he had invested in. He introduced me and it meant I ate free anytime I was in Stamford. Lou said the deal was good until the sandwich shop went out of business.

       As time went on, any time Lou had some good deal cooking, he would always offer me a piece of the action. I can't say that I ever made a lot of money with him but I sure had lots of fun and learned a lot.  So after I got married, it appeared that both Lou and Gladys were concerned about my future, and that’s why when I was in their living room in Bridgeport, Gladys had suggested that I take my new wife to Miami Florida, she wanted me to help Lou find out what was going on with a business he owned there. It appears Lou had put up the money to open up an Auto Wrecking yard called ABC Auto Wrecking located on NW 46 Street near 37 Avenue. He had put a friend in charge but he suspected the guy was stealing all the money.

       So Gladys said that my going to Florida would accomplish several things, I could find out what was going on with Lou’s business, and I could see my mom who had leased a small hotel called the Norman’s, located on Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. Gladys said I could tell my new wife it was like a Florida honeymoon, and Lou said he would lend me a good running 1959 Plymouth to make the trip, so how could I refuse them. So in December of 1963, my new wife and I drove down to Florida. Besides from an unpleasant episode with a motel in Georgia the trip went well, and we ended up at my mom’s hotel on Collins Ave. It was a cute hotel with about twenty eight rooms that caught the overflow from the big hotels across the street, it also caught a lot of Hippies with nowhere to stay. Underneath the hotel on Collins Avenue was an auction gallery, so the auction dealers also stayed at the hotel. Mom said some were pretty weird people and slept with bags of diamonds under their pillows.

       One day, I was waiting on the street for my wife, and as she came down the stairs a squad car motioned for her to come over. I went to her rescue, but I had to prove I was her husband, seems that

Norman’s hotel had quite a reputation on Collins Ave.

       My mom had put us up in one of her best rooms and after a few weeks we started to feel guilty as mom wouldn’t take any money from us, so my wife checked the newspapers for a place to rent that was closer to Lou’s business in North West Miami.

      She located a trailer park on North West 79 Street in Miami, they had rental trailers for only twenty dollars a week. We had never lived in a trailer before so it was going to be a real adventure for us.

      We moved in, and found all the people to be friendly, most were either going to court for something or just out of jail. They directed me to a used TV store and for fifty dollars I bought a used TV that still had holes in it from a motels pay for TV box.      

      Finally I had to go to Lou’s Auto Wrecking yard to find out what was going on.

      I drove up and parked in front, it was an impressive place with a large four bay garage and perhaps a half acre of junk cars piled up behind it. Painted across the front in giant letters it said ABC AUTO WRECKING. I walked into the office to introduce myself, and that was the moment I recognized the manager Lou had put there. His name was Dave and I remembered him from my old days working at Milford Auto Wrecking in Connecticut. He had sold used cars there and didn’t have a pristine reputation.

      The moment I walked in and introduced myself, Dave knew why I was there, but I must have caught him off guard as he acted like he welcomed me.

      I told Dave that as I was coming to Florida anyway, Lou had suggested that I come to work at the wrecking yard and help Dave run it. Dave did a good job of making out that he was happy to see me.

      The next morning Dave started explain the operation of the business. He said the building had four bays but he rented one to a window installer for four hundred dollars a month. The other three bays were used to fix cars. He took in repair work using parts from the junk cars in the back. Dave had one mechanic, a short fat black fellow who showed me how, when he tuned up a car, he held on to the spark plug wire and let the spark jump from his tongue to his teeth. It was quite a scary sight.

       The business was pretty interesting, customers would come in to buy used parts and we would offer to install them, and most people wanted it done. One day we needed some parts to complete a job and I went to the parts store to buy them. That’s when I had my first rude wakening, ABC Auto had no credit. They said Dave didn’t ever pay any bills, so I paid for it and then I paid the past bills. I started to find out this was the case all over Miami, and soon I started running out of my own money paying the bills.

      One evening we had supper at Dave’s house and his wife lamented that the mail service in Miami was terrible as she received all kinds of dunning calls for money that Dave told her he sent in the mail.

      I was seeing a pattern of theft, and assumed Dave was pocketing everything. So I questioned Dave about it, but he was being cagy, and he said he wanted me to meet the landlord of the property we were leasing. We drove to the home of a lovely elderly lady named Mrs. Cunio. It appears that Mrs. Cunio owned considerable property in the area of the junk yard. My stomach dropped when Dave introduced me as the new investor in the business and said that I would be paying all the past rent which was thousands of dollars.

       I think at that point Dave knew the jig was up. He knew that I knew he was stealing everything and I would report it to Lou. Dave was right, the following Monday he didn’t show up, so that evening I called Lou to report my findings. Lou got on the red eye flight to Miami and I picked him up at the airport at about three thirty in the morning. We drove to the wrecking yard, and I showed Lou where the safe was.

        Using the junk yard torch and a pry bar, I was surprised but Lou had the safe open in half an hour.

It made me think he had cracked safes before.  Inside were the ledger book showing daily income but very few deposits. I told Lou the extent of the unpaid rent, and it appeared Dave also took the rent money from the tenant renting the fourth bay. It was sad, because we really didn’t know the entire scale of the theft and it appeared the only solution was for Lou to abandon the business, and he did. Leaving me unemployed in Florida.



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