The Ex-Street Guy Who Goes by Cadillac Man
by Nancy A. Ruhling
May 25, 2018 | 65 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cadillac Man’s 2009 book, "Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets," made him a celebrity.
Cadillac Man’s 2009 book, "Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets," made him a celebrity.
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He has breakfast every day at Sal, Kris & Charlie’s Deli.
He has breakfast every day at Sal, Kris & Charlie’s Deli.
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Since 2015, Cadillac Man has lived in HANAC’s George T. Douris Tower.
Since 2015, Cadillac Man has lived in HANAC’s George T. Douris Tower.
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Tom Wagner, cap and coat in hand, is itching to get outside. He was homeless for two decades, and although he loves his apartment, anything with four walls feels confining. Besides, he needs a cigarette. It’s hard to kick a habit you started when you were 10. But he’s down from two packs to two to five cigarettes a day. Out in the street, he leans on his quad cane and lights up. Now he really feels alive. “I like to get the gossip,” he says. As he does every morning, he heads to Sal, Kris & Charlie’s Deli for a buttered roll and a cup of coffee (a little milk and three sugars). He likes to hang out at Sal’s because it’s across the street from the 23rd Avenue viaduct at 33rd Street, which is where he and the shopping cart he “liberated” from Costco in Long Island City made their home. In those days, everyone knew him as Cadillac Man, the name he’s still most apt to answer to. He won the motorized moniker after he and his cart had six close encounters with errant Cadillacs in the mid-1990s. In the last crash, he landed on top of a piece of the logo. “It left an impression on my stomach that I showed to everyone,” he says. “After that, people started calling me Cadillac Man. The name stuck.” So did Cadillac Man’s story. While he was sleeping in the street and collecting cans and bottles for coffee and cigarette money, he was writing about his experiences. In 2005, Esquire magazine published a piece he wrote about being homeless. That led to the 2006 documentary, “Cadillac Man: Life Under the Viaduct.” His 2009 memoir, “Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets,” was based on his handwritten diary, which filled 16 spiral notebooks. By that time, Cadillac Man was living in a basement room in East Elmhurst with Carol Vogel, his girlfriend. She offers him a cup of coffee when he returns from his street rounds. On September 10, 2006, she was on her way to the grocery store, and when she walked by, he was setting up a memorial to the 9/11 victims. They struck up a conversational friendship, and during the deep downpours of that autumn, she invited him to sleep on the floor of her apartment. “I fell in love with her,” Cadillac Man says. “But I didn’t want to tell her.” In 2007, they became a couple. “I didn’t help him, he helped me,” Carol says. “He’s calm and level-headed and has common sense. He’s a grounding force in my life. My life straightened out and stabilized after I met him.” Cadillac Man, giving her a hug and a kiss, insists it’s the other way around. Carol, he says, saw him as a man, not as a homeless man, even before she knew his story. They tell it together, Carol adding so many details that it’s almost as if it’s her life she’s talking about. Cadillac Man, who was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, was one of seven children. He had a pretty ordinary life. Until, all of a sudden, he didn’t. At 16, he quit high school to take a full-time job at a candy store. It was the $40-a-week salary that seduced him. (Later, he got an equivalency diploma.) Cadillac Man joined the U.S. Army for a three-year stint when he was 19. It was during the Vietnam War, and he was stationed in Belgium as a bodyguard for a general. When he came home, he bought a canary yellow Chevy Impala and drove all over the country. “In 15 months, I passed through every state except Alaska and Hawaii,” he says. “Around this time, I found out that I had become a father at 15. The girl, whose last name I never knew, sent me a letter with a photo of my daughter. There was no return address; I’m still trying to find her.” In 1974, he married a girl in the neighborhood and had another daughter. After their divorce, he remarried and had a third girl. Carol brings out a binder of newspaper clippings and photos. She points out a picture of Cadillac Man, wearing a baby-blue tuxedo, with wife No. 2 on their wedding day. She remarks that he looks like the actor Donald Sutherland. By this time, Cadillac Man had had a series of jobs – at a meat market, a cigar store and a liquor store – that led to an office position at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant in Long Island City. “When I lost that job, in 1990, it was the beginning of the end,” he says. For a while, he returned to the meat market, but when it closed, he never found full-time work again. His wife took on two then three jobs, and Cadillac Man became a house husband. He earned certificates in asbestos abatement and fire safety, but the jobs he applied for required more experience than he had, which was none. When he wife was divorcing him, in 1994, he found himself out on the street. “My first night, I slept across from the Waldorf Astoria at a bank,” he says. “I got free food at St. Bart’s Church.” For a short time, he lived with his brother. Then his sister took him in temporarily. Collecting cans and bottles gave him something to do; each day he earned $20 to $100. “I saw being homeless as temporary,” he says. “When people yelled, ‘Get a job,’ I shouted back, ‘Give me one.’ I’m proud to say that I never asked anyone for a dime. But sometimes, if people offered me money and I needed it, I took it.” He rolled his cart through all the boroughs except Staten Island. “Several times each week, somebody picked on me,” he says. “I was shot at, stabbed and lost my teeth.” In 2002, Cadillac Man, barrel-chested, red-haired and an avid reader of Clive Cussler thrillers, parked himself at the Astoria viaduct. When Carol, who is a quarter century younger, encountered him, Cadillac Man was ready for a change. The book and the documentary caught the attention of Richard Gere, who consulted Cadillac Man for the 2014 film “Time Out of Mind.” In 2015, he got his apartment at HANAC’s George T. Douris Tower on Hoyt Avenue South through a program that benefits homeless veterans. He still marvels at his good fortune, even though it didn’t bring him much money. “The royalties from my book go to my second wife,” he says and shrugs, adding that he didn’t write it to get rich but to make people aware of the homeless. The $275 in subsidized rent he pays for his spartanly decorated one-bedroom apartment leaves him some money in his pocket. Carol, who lives in Rockaway Park, chips in for food and other necessities. When she visits, she cooks and cleans and takes him to doctor appointments. Cadillac Man, who is 68, is writing some more stories. He’s working on one about Christmas; he left his live table-top tree up for inspiration. He hopes his story helps people put faces on the homeless. “Homeless people are not born homeless,” he says. “They’re real people – they are somebody’s husband or wife or son or daughter. If I can get even one person in a crowd to understand this, I will consider myself a success.” He looks out of the windows of his 12th-floor apartment. He keeps them open even in the winter so he can hear the sounds of street life. When he moved in, he felt right at home because he could see the 23rd Avenue viaduct. Now, however, new, tall buildings block most of that view. Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is September 23. Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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Comptroller releases report on “booming” Queens economy
by Benjamin Fang
May 25, 2018 | 124 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While Queens, with its trademark diversity, may be known as the world’s borough, a new report confirms it’s also a borough of tremendous economic and population growth. According to a newly released economic snapshot by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who unveiled the report last Friday at Borough Hall, there are more residents, jobs and businesses in Queens than at any time in its history. “This is really a historic time for the borough,” DiNapoli said. “We see the Queens economy is soaring.” The borough added 110,500 private-sector jobs between 2009 and 2017, 10 times more than were lost during the Great Recession. The greatest gains, responsible for two-thirds of the job growth, were in the health care, leisure and hospitality, and the business services and retail industries. The record job growth has also cut unemployment to a paltry 3.7 percent in March 2018, the comptroller said. During the peak of the recession, unemployment in Queens was 8.6 percent. “It keeps getting better and better,” DiNapoli said. Since 2009, the number of businesses in the borough has gone up 22 percent, faster than the citywide rate of 17 percent. In 2016, business sales reached a record-high $12.9 billion, an increase of 54 percent since 2009. The two Queens airports, LaGuardia and JFK, played a big role in those job gains. Together, they employed 49,000 people and contributed $64.4 billion in economic activity in both New York and New Jersey. Queens accounted for 58 percent of all transportation jobs in New York City, and 96 percent of air transportation jobs. The comptroller noted that both airports are undergoing major upgrades, which will bring even more jobs to the region. Between 2011 and 2017, there was a 49 percent increase in construction permits. Last year, construction employment grew by one-third to reach a record-high 52,700 jobs, the most of any borough. Howard Beach and Ozone Park saw the highest job growth, 43 percent, between 2009 and 2017. Other neighborhoods with strong gains were Flushing, Jackson Heights and Richmond Hill. While the economy grew, the population of Queens also increased. According to the report, a record-high 2.4 million people live in Queens. Immigrants made up roughly 47 percent of the population, the second-highest share of any county behind Miami-Dade in Florida. While immigrants represented more than half of the borough’s workforce, they accounted for 69 percent of self-employed entrepreneurs. The report also listed the racial breakdown of the borough. Latinos made up the highest share at 28 percent of the population, followed by whites at 25 percent, Asians at 25 percent and black residents at 17 percent. Queens is home to nearly half of the city’s Asian-American population, the snapshot said, including the largest populations of Bangladeshi, Chinese, Filipino, Indian and Korean residents. The borough also has the largest Colombian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Salvadoran populations. “Queens truly is proof that immigration is something to embrace, not to fear,” DiNapoli said. “It stands today as a testament to the opportunity America and New York can offer for those seeking a better life.” However, the comptroller said, the borough still faces significant challenges. Queens schools are overcrowded, a consequence of the growing population. Another challenge is affordable housing. DiNapoli said as the economy improves and home values go up, residents are feeling more pressure from increased rents and a lack of affordable options. Queens residents also face long commute times, particularly in southeast Queens, which the comptroller said has the longest commutes. “All that being said, when you look at all the data points that we analyzed, the borough is moving in a decidedly positive direction,” DiNapoli said. “There is absolutely no question about that.” Borough President Melinda Katz said now that Queens is second only to Manhattan in tourism, generating more than $1 billion in tax revenue last year, that should translate into more money for local schools and streets. “As our economy grows so do our families, who need the infrastructure,” she said. Katz said in a few weeks her office will unveil a new Long Island City strategic plan that looks comprehensively at not only workforce development, but also education, development and community. The plan will focus on training the workforce on technology in all businesses. Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said another sign of the borough’s economic growth is in its retail. Last year alone, Queens Center Mall had 27 million visitors. “Just think about the trickle effect of the people who visit,” he said. “They come from all over the place.” Grech said he has seen many more businesses develop over the last few years in the borough. “It’s a great time to have a business in Queens and grow it,” Grech said. DiNapoli said the report can be used by elected officials, community advocates and local leaders to advocate for the borough. The comptroller regularly releases reports on the economy of individual neighborhoods and boroughs. “I hope it validates what many of you have already been feeling or seeing on the ground,” DiNapoli said. “I hope it will be a useful tool as this community continues to work on all the issues and move the borough forward.”
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Little Neck-Douglastion Memorial Day Parade details
May 24, 2018 | 218 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The 91st annual Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade will observe the 65th anniversary of the Korean War cease-fire, remembers the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War, and pay homage to the U.S. Navy. The largest Memorial Day Parade in the nation begins at 2 p.m.on Monday, May 28, at Jayson Avenue and Northern Boulevard. A Navy pilot killed in 1965, whose remains were discovered last year, will be represented by his daughter and family as a posthumous parade marshal. Deborah Crosby will wear the marshal’s sash for her father, Lieutenant Commander Frederick P. Crosby, whose remains were only recovered and returned to the U.S. in 2017. Parade organizers had planned to honor the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard for their rescue work after superstorm Sandy, and hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The focus changed when four members of the Westhampton-based unit died in a helicopter crash in Iraq that killed seven guardsmen. The families of Long Islanders Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs, Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, Captain Andreas O’Keeffe, and Captain Christopher Zanetis will receive honorary marshal sashes . Marine Corps Brigadier General William Seely will represent the Navy as Grand Marshal and swear-in a group of future sailors. Councilman Paul Vallone is Man of the Year, ROTC advocate Andrea Licari-LaGrassa of Douglaston is Woman of the Year, and local resident Linda Lee will receive the Community Service Award for her work as executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York. Baysider Ted Han, a Vietnam-era Lieutenant in the Korean Navy, will also be a Parade Marshal. He will be accompanied by groups representing Korean veterans of Vietnam and other wars. “It’s time to recognize the contributions of all Americans who are veterans, not just those born here,” said parade spokesperson Victor Mimoni, noting that Seely was born in Saigon. A party of French WWII veterans will also participate, along with a French Consular official who will present a Silver Star medal and other WWI artifacts belonging to deceased Douglaston resident Eugene Brady to the historian of his old unit, The Fighting 69th. For the first time, organizers plan to live-stream the entire parade at LNDmemorialday.org. “We want the families of our marchers to be able to watch from home if they can’t make it,” Mimoni said.
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