I don’t know why I carried my umbrella over to U Street with me; I didn’t use it to ward off the drizzle that fell as I dodged puddles along the uneven sidewalk. I ducked in to Cake Love’s Café on the corner of 15th and U Streets. I think its actual name is Love Café…according to the young Latina behind the counter it opened seven years ago…a year after the original bakery opened in 2002. It’s a cozy little place with a spectacular corner view perfect for people watching.
I met Gerald there. When he came in he said, “That’s where I usually sit…it’s got a great view.” Gerald tells me that he lives across the street which turns out to be the same building that Almena from Day 21 lived in.
This is one of those encounters that I don’t even know where to begin. We spoke for hours. Gerald is a character too. Some of the stories sound too sensational to be true but he swears by them; from being born in Freedmen Hospital (forerunner to Howard University Hospital) in 1943 to looting liquor stores during the riots of 1968 to inheriting a million dollars from his step-father.
Gerald grew up living on Columbia Road around 12th Street. “There was only one white person on my entire block back then,” he said.
During the riots Gerald said he was working at the Post Office. On the day the riots started he was taking a test at the Watergate building. He got home and painted “Black Power” on the side of his 1961 Dodge Polaris and headed out into the city. “I didn’t have any prior riot experience, so I didn’t exactly know what to do,” he said. He decided to go over to the People’s Drug Store and crossed the line of National Guard soldiers and stepped through the broken glass of the front door. The store had already been heavily looted but he remembers thinking about taking a watch he saw inside, but didn’t.
Armed with a .357 Magnum he went down to Central Liquors at 9th and F Streets and then headed over to another liquor store on U Street. All in all he says he took more than 22 ½ gallon bottles of top shelf liquor. “I had two years worth of liquor!”
Years later he got a job with IBM. Now to appreciate this you got to understand that he was making about $6,100 a year at the post office and then was offered a $15,000 salary plus bonus at IBM. The next couple years he made a lot of money and bought lots of material goods…namely cars.
At some point the good times ended. He divorced. He lost his job. He lost several houses that he owned and said he was even homeless at one point. Now he lives in a very modest low-income housing complex.
I wish there was some way to bottle the loquacious couple of hours we spoke and serve it up here, but you just had to be there. Before I left I asked him one last time if he knew what he would do with the $10. He decided to go next door to the picturesque Best DC Supermarket and purchase a bottle of Dogfish Head Brewery’s Miles Davis Bitches Brew. I walked over with him and even spotted him an extra buck to pay for it.
We exchanged numbers and he walked back to his apartment and I went the opposite way toward my place.
So something funny is that he put my number in his phone but never added my name. Over the next week he called me about six times thinking I was somebody else or maybe he was just hoping that I would be giving another $10 away!