In an earlier posting I discussed the evolution of Highway 41 which involved the creation of roadside camps to accommodate traveling families of the early and mid twentieth century making their way to Florida. I also mentioned that the contemporary completion of I-75 had kind of a “Bates Motel effect” on the area wherein only individuals seeking “action” would think of using Stewart Avenue purely as a travel route. It is hardly surprising then that some of the roadside camps eventually evolved into trailer parks as did other parcels of unused land such as the one I’ve linked to here . This particular park, (now a church), was located at the intersection of Langston and Stewart Avenue and was flanked by Sylvan Motors and the immensely popular, family owned La Fiesta Mexican restaurant with its bevy of beautiful sisters. The park extended to the other side of Stewart Avenue (adjacent to Gary’s Motel). I remember going to a Sunday meal there courtesy of Miguel – a classmate of mine at nearby Perkerson Elementary whose family had recently moved in from Guadalajara. There were other trailer parks in the area of course with one being across the street from the Zayre department store although I was not very familiar with it.
Apropos of nothing Earl one day flatly informed us that Schatzi was sexually insatiable and her ongoing satisfaction had became his primary responsibility
It would be too easy to say that the trailer parks were purely for low income residents and immigrants though I can never imagine that copping to trailer park living would be a good opening line in any conversation (then or now). It’s important to understand that these parks were originally there to provide temporary resting spots for motorists with trailers in tow. It was only over time, combined with challenging economic times, that the necessity emerged of keeping or renting a trailer in one spot for an extended period of time. (The history and politics of this kind of housing are briefly explored in this blog). Just to say that the Stewart Avenue trailer parks weren’t part of some master plan cooked up by a group of fat cat real estate developers to erect cheap housing in anticipation of an eventual windfall payout. Nor was it a situation like Cabbagetown wherein the cheapest of housing was provided for Mill workers. The lots were there simply to collect income on under utilized spots of land. So what better to do than accommodate labor-class workers stranded in the very city that had once offered steady trickle down employment. When times were good many of these people made adequate money cutting grass, sweeping up car lots, pumping gas, washing windows, or cleaning motel rooms. Literacy could be, (and usually was), an issue and not being able to complete even the most basic of industrial training meant that factory work at nearby Owens Illinois, Nabisco, or the Ford Plant was out of the question. But let’s be honest – lots of the trailer park residents had little interest in a daily work commitment as showing up to work with a skull-numbing hangover was not an attractive prospect (although plenty of Ford and GM workers did just that). In short the interest in daily drinking always seemed to win out over ambition. These people were mostly binge workers who would labor intensely over a period of days or weeks followed by long periods of alcohol fueled celebration.
Hidden among the trailer park population were those with active criminal warrants or those seeking refuge from other criminal elements. They weren’t too hard to spot as they exhibited a noticeable degree of paranoia combined with an unwillingness to interact with anyone except perhaps only when drunk. Computerized national criminal databases were nascent then so not all warrants were registered thus one might evade the law for years or even decades. And passing an alias to a trailer park manager was easy especially if living parasitically off of a lonely single Mom or divorcee. An extra $20 in the rent might help the landlord take a kinder view of the new stranger who had moved into the lot. There were some ex-cons for whom there were no other housing options and most of these guys were simply cooling off and wanted no trouble. One guy was about as fierce looking as a person could be – a more intimidating and larger version of the ex-con turned actor Danny Trejo.
All muscle and sinew the guy had more scars and tattoos than bare skin. I imagine his shadow alone could subdue the average man. There was a trash talking speed freak type of guy who dealt drugs in the area. He put it out that the ex-con was responsible for the regional drug traffic and the more gullible swallowed the story. It would have been easy for “Danny” to rough up the speed freak but that was precisely what the drug dealer wanted as it would send “Danny” straight back to Reidsville. Instead, “Danny” flipped the guy’s name to my Father including details of past and upcoming transactions which I’m guessing my Father used to his advantage as the speed freak disappeared altogether but not before showing up one day at Brothers Three with a swollen lip, a black eye, and his arm in a sling. Whether my Father had administered the beat down was unclear – he was more than capable of it though it was just as likely that he delegated it to someone else. After that “Danny” had no more trouble except from some rookie cops who were trying to make a name for themselves by harassing an ex-con but that’s another story. My Father frequently intervened in the lives of those he felt deserved some level of help. Technically he was sworn to uphold the law but did so using an old school approach that leveraged information from the street in a manner that was mutually beneficial to all involved. Let’s put it this way – at his funeral there were as many criminals as there were cops and they all seemed to know each other. I was approached by a man the size of modern refrigerator who handed me a card with only a phone number on it. “Call me if you ever get into trouble – I owe your Father and I will be glad to help if I can”.
A young woman was arrested for trying to stuff her grandmother’s wig down the throat of a horseshoe rival.
A fraction of the trailer park women turned to prostitution for extra cash although this practice wasn’t viewed favorably by the residents as it drew heat down on the Park itself. In the Summer, short shorts and halter tops were standard for most women walking up and down The Avenue but they did it more so for personal comfort than for attracting attention although it was a standard response for men working in the car lots and gas stations to line the street and whistle or cat call them. Kind of a “white trash” beauty march. One day a resident named Al offered me five dollars to help him move in some new furniture. None of the pieces he described seemed particularly heavy but once I got inside and saw how narrow the trailer hallway was it became evident that he definitely needed assistance tilting the furniture to avoid puncturing the paper thin walls. He could have gotten help from someone within the trailer park itself but as he told me, he needed someone “sober” for the job. Upon entering the Trailer Park I felt like an interloper at a Carnival who had accidentally walked past the Ferris Wheel and Cotton Candy machines into the tents where the Carnies themselves actually lived. It was like catching the bearded lady engaged in some mundane activity such as eating dinner. Everyone we passed stared at me even though I recognized several of them as being customers at Brothers Three. One of the women whistled and screamed out. “Save your strength honey – Mama’s got some lovin’ for ya”. My own role in all of this was more of an observer as I initially found the accents of the residents to be so thick so as to be incomprehensible. I thought it must be like “The Cant” of the Irish Traveler or perhaps some organically evolved Trailer Park Patois – and maybe it was. After a month or so I could get my head around it.
The most well known of Trailer Park characters was Earl Bennett – a tall lanky hillbilly with a bloated belly that characterizes the career beer drinker. From behind you might never know that, from the front, he looked as if he had swallowed a bowling ball. Miller or Rough House would flip him a six pack of tall boy Pabst Blue Ribbon in exchange for odd jobs such as cleaning up the lot, washing windows, or cutting weeds. The beer had to be doled out every 45 minutes or so, which kept Earl working with a nice enough buzz but not so strong as to interfere with his productivity. At the conclusion of his labor he would retire to the area behind the store to finish off the beer in peace while deeply inhaling a few no filter Camels. He was the originator of the infamous Sunday afternoon Trailer Park Horseshoe games. They could, and usually did, get quite ugly. After the alcohol kicked in aggressive accusations of cheating were common. More often than not, a horseshoe would be thrown at someone’s head and that’s all it would take for a full on melee to break out complete with rakes, kitchen utensils, and mops. A young woman was arrested for trying to stuff her grandmother’s wig down the throat of a horseshoe rival. These events caught the attention of the Atlanta City Police who found themselves in the odd position of having to instigate a ban on Horseshoe games although they really had no legal basis. But they scared the residents enough that they found other ways to entertain themselves on Sundays. Anyway it was during one of these events that Earl injured his hand which led to further calcification of his already arthritic fingers so holding a can of beer became a challenge – but he found a way of course.
Earl moved across the street to do clean up duty at Gary’s Motel – one of the first in the area to aggressively promote the availability of “Water Beds” for the “sleeping” (wink wink) comfort and pleasure of its customers. It was at this point that Earl became a full time gigolo for Schatzi the operational manager of Gary’s. She was an older German woman who was the most unattractive female I have ever seen. Her accent was so thick almost to the point of self-parody – She could have been an extra in a Mel Brooks movie. The story was that some shell shocked GI (I’m guessing also blind) had married her and brought her back to the US after which he promptly died – perhaps in a Medusa like event wherein upon recovering partial sight his heart turned rigid with regret. Given the abundance of WWII vets in the area she caught a lot of heat more so for being world class ugly than German although the latter did not help her cause. Apropos of nothing Earl one day flatly informed us that Schatzi was sexually insatiable and her ongoing satisfaction had became his primary responsibility in exchange for free room and board. (Since that time I have yet to encounter a more extreme non sequitur). According to Earl it was his hand, the one damaged in the drunken Horseshoe match with its calcified bumps, that provided Schatzi with unspeakable pleasure. He would then reproduce for us (completely unsolicited mind you) these events along with an approximation of Schatzi‘s ecstatic moans. I’m still in therapy as a result.
At some point around 1974 I think – Kroger purchased the lot and the residents were displaced to make room for a brand new grocery store and some other business. Caruso’s Italian restaurant which had previously been located down the street across from Nalley Chevrolet tried to recreate the magic next to Kroger and it seemed for a while as if the area might turnaround – but it didn’t. The other area trailer parks experienced a similar fate though whatever replaced them failed also. I don’t know what ultimately happened to Earl – he came in one day to tell us that he had left Gary’s (and Schatzi) and moved down to the Town and Country Motel but that wasn’t working out either as Schatzi had said bad things about him to management so he was packing it in and leaving to escape sexual slavery . I find it interesting that micro housing is now something of an interest to those not wanting to commit to a specific address or large mortgage payment for extended periods of time. Mobility, both geographic as well as social, has always been a feature of the American way of life so I’m not at all surprised that people might be pursue such a lifestyle given the shenanigans of the real estate bubble. Let’s hope that the economy doesn’t tank again as even those capable of towing their homes behind them might have to “park it” due to lack of work or opportunity. It happened before. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid