I remember back when I was growing up that there always seemed to be an old drunk in the neighborhood. The ones that I am writing about were some of those I met while on the Police Department.
I know that they were human beings and most of them had a good heart in them. What is the reason that someone become an old drunk is beyond my knowledge.
Back when I went on the Police Department there were five police officers on Broad Street and two cars. The Cotton Block was the beat that ran from the South Rome Bridge to the middle of the second block on Broad.
At that time there was five beer joints on the Cotton Block. There was someone in them most of the time. On Saturday night it was booming. One officer had the beat. You worked the traffic until it slowed down then you went into the beer joints, trying to keep them quiet.
Back in my young day I done some hanging out at the Maple Street Gymnasium. I got to know a well-known boxer of this area I will call Carl. I do not mention last names, for I do not intend to cause anyone embarrassment. At that time, Carl would teach boys how to box and the art of good sportsmanship. All the boys liked Carl.
Carl went out and made a name for himself as a boxer. I lost track of him for quite a few years. In 1958 I went on the City of Rome Police Department and again came in contact with Carl. I walked into the Bumble Bee Cafe one Saturday night. There was one man sitting at the counter drinking a beer. I stopped at the back and talked to the lady who ran the cafe. She pointed to the man and said, “Watch that fellow.” I took a good look at the man and my heart began to pound. I could not believe my eyes. There, sitting and drinking a beer, was my old boxing teacher Carl.
I walked back to where he sat and stopped. He sensed my presence and turned on the stool to face me. He stared at me and then, to my surprise, he smiled and said, “I don’t believe it.” He struck out his hand and I took it. I waited to see if he could call my name. Then he said, “Adcock, where have you been? I haven’t seen you in years.” I remember making a remark that I had been here and there. We talked for a while and then I hit the street, making my rounds.
I learned that Carl had made it to the big time but alcohol had brought him down. He told me that he was going to quit drinking anything and get himself a job. Every time I talked to him I would remind him of what he had said. True to his word, he quit drinking and got a job at Trends Mill. He drove a truck for them. He turned his life around and, as I told him, made an old Maple Street Gym boy proud of him.
When I went on the Police Department, if you worked the street and needed a car you had to call on the pay telephone. The nickel you put into the telephone came out of the officer’s pocket. No matter how many calls you made, the money was never given back to you. Now a nickel don’t sound like much nowadays, but take a week where you had to call a car 10 or 15 times and you can see where you came up a Krystal burger short at eating time.
I was checking out the parking lot behind the Bumble Bee Cafe when I found a man laying in the alleyway. I managed to get him to the front of the cafe and sat him down on the sidewalk. He was mumbling and was in a drunk stupor. I took everything out of my pocket searching for a nickel. I didn’t have one.
I remember saying out loud, “Of all things, I don’t have a nickel.” I felt a tug on my pants leg and looked down. The old drunk was stretching out his hand to me. I started to say something when I noticed that he was holding a nickel between his fingers. I reached down and took it, saying, “Thank you.” In a slurred voice, he said, “You are welcome.”
The Cotton Block was known to be a rough beat. It was known among the police officers as the Hell Hole. This night started like so many Saturday nights before. First the street, then the beer joints. It had just got dark and I began to make my rounds.
A noise behind the Spur Gas Station drew my attention. I went up on the railroad’s tracks and looked toward the trestle. Hearing but not seeing anything, I moved down the tracks. As I got close to the wholesale house it grew quiet. I walked into the street that ran in front of the wholesale house. As I approached, someone ran from behind, grabbing me and taking me to the ground.
I knew that whoever had a hold of me was a very strong person. I remembered afterward that his breath was on the back of my neck. I also remember that there was not the smell of alcohol on his breath. Whoever had a hold of me had lured me in to the dark so he could attack me. I was doing everything I could to get loose when I heard a thump. The hold was released and the subject fell to the ground.
I turned to face who had hit him. Old Charlie, a homeless man who lived under the bridge, stood looking at me with a board in his hand. “Officer Adcock,” he said, “are you all right?” I picked up my cap, saying, “Here, go and call me a car.” “I have already called you a car,” he said.
I heard the patrol car as it crossed the bridge. They turned into the street where I was and came to a stop. I motioned for them to get the one laying in the street. As they pulled off with the man who had attacked me, I turned to Charlie.
He told me that he had watched the man come into the back street and start to make noise. When he saw me he knew what was happening. He went and called for a car and then came back to help me. I was later assigned to a patrol car and lost sight of him, but I will always be in debt to an old drunk whom they called Charlie.
I have known a lot of what people call old drunks in my life. Some are mean but most of them become addicted to alcohol. Many a good man has been brought down and sent to their grave by alcohol. The one who gave me the nickel to call the car was found on the riverbank, dead. Carl put his life back on track and made me proud of him.
I always remember that old drunks are human beings who have got off track and need help to get back.