RIOTS

February 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

During my years in Newark I witnessed the good and the bad. This was the ugly.

MEMOIR

RIOTS

It was a summer’s morning in 1967. The buses were running late, and I soon found out why. I think it was the lack of knowledge I had that morning that, helped in part, to make me the news junkie that I am today.
I was in college now, and had two summer jobs, I still had my job at the newsstand working my usual Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. I had also started a new job. With a strong interest in science, I was studying biochemistry in college and wanted to find a job where I could gain some kind of practical laboratory training. I wrote to all the hospitals I could think of in the Newark area and asked if there was a lab job available. To my great surprise I got a positive reply from Presbyterian Hospital and an offer to work in their hospital laboratory. I found out later that most of the summer positions went to doctor’s children, and at the last moment, someone decided that the job was not for them. I guess my letter must have shown up at just the right time.
When I reported for work at Presbyterian Hospital to begin my summer job, I was shown into one of many small rooms that made up the hospital laboratory and was giver the job of dipping urinalysis sticks into urine samples and told that someday I might be able to spin down the urine and look at it under the microscope. This was not the exciting summer job that would bring me the lab experience that I had hoped to gain. But beggars can’t be choosers so I decided to stick it out for the summer. After a few days of dipping into urine, someone came around the lab and asked for volunteers to go across the street and work in the Children’s Hospital that was affiliated with Presbyterian. I figured that the job could not get more boring than what I was doing now, so off I went.
After I had volunteered, people around me told me that I had made a major mistake and that soon I would see the error of my ways.
The next day I showed up for work at Children’s Hospital and asked for directions to the lab. When I found it, I was greeted not by a huge anonymous operation, but a rather small room with just a bench for each area such as urinalysis, hematology, along with microbiology and blood chemistry. The hospital was fairly small so I should have anticipated this but, of course, I didn’t. I did find out why I had been discouraged from coming to this lab. For there was no place to hide and you really had to work.
With a little training, I went from dipping urinalysis sticks to doing all the complete urinalysis for the hospital every day, making out the reports and initialing them. If the doctors only knew who W.T. was, would they have been surprised. After I was done with the urine, I would drift over to blood chemistries and with some training was soon reporting results from that bench. I was having a ball. And as the summer progressed and some of the technicians went on vacations, I was covering all the urinalysis and blood chemistries. This was also before the days of strict laboratory practices when dealing with human samples. I was mouth pipeting human serum and plasma with what are now old fashioned glass pipettes and of course wore no gloves, but I had a great time and felt I really contributed something because they were so short-staffed.
I began my workday at the hospital laboratory at 8 o’clock in the morning, worked till about four then went home, and on my days at the newsstand, had something to eat and worked at the newsstand from 6 to 11 P.M.
One morning when I knew I would be working both jobs, I prepared to go to work at the hospital. My main task was to have some breakfast and get to the bus stop on time. I seldom had time for the news. The buses ran fairly regularly, but for some reason today the bus was late – very late. Finally, when I did see the bus coming, my bus was part of a convoy of about four buses. So I got on, found a seat and was ready for the usual thirty to forty minute ride to work, but this ride would be different than any ride to work that I had had before.
As I rode past the intersection of Broad & Market Streets, and past the newsstand where I was to work that night, I could see flames rolling out of the storefronts of some of the nearby businesses. The streets were crowded with fire engines and police cars. The streets were unusually full of activity.
Once I made it to the hospital, I found out what was going on, riots had broken out in Newark, starting the night before in the downtown area. All that day I could look down on the street from the lab window and see convoys of state police cars and jeeps with mounted and manned machine guns, a truly eerie sight to witness in your hometown. During the workday, I called my boss at the newsstand and asked if he was going to stay open that night. At first he said he would but later changed his mind, much to my relief. I think that in all the years I worked there, this was the first time the newsstand had been closed without there being a major snowstorm.
That afternoon, instead of catching the bus home, my cousins called and asked if I would want to be picked up after work, that sounded pretty good to me. While riding home, I saw sandbag emplacements with machine guns in the middle of the downtown area. The city had changed – scarred forever. Anger that had long been buried rose into full view. I also found out the next day that a man had been shot and killed at my bus stop.
The nights in the Down Neck section were quiet for the next few days due to the curfew in effect for all of Newark. Our area of the city, being far from the riots, was like a ghost town. There was no activity on the streets at all.
I have not recently revisited the area of the riots, so I have no idea what the area looks like now. I do remember that for years after the riots, once the burned-out homes and stores were torn down, the lots remained vacant, whole city blocks where nothing existed, only the rubble of human folly, anger and injustice.
One can only imagine how lives were changed forever on that day that the buses ran late.

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