Book Review by Mike Nolan
When I was a kid we were told that at any time my Father could be murdered at work – shot dead in the streets. No he did not work in law enforcement or the military. He was a cake delivery man in the worst sections of New York City during the tumultuous civil rights years of the 1950s and 60s and the criminal drug years of the 70s and 80s.
My Father, Joe Nolan, says he wrote this book for his grandchildren and other young people, so that they could know what it was like back then, during a period of perhaps some of the worst inner city violence seen in recent history. This book, The Route Man, is a somewhat autobiographical account of my Father running a cash business in Harlem and other crime ridden sections of NYC. It is written in plain language and does contain some colorful and offensive language but as the author has noted – he wanted his story to be as accurate as possible.
This book describes how my Father realized that he could not shoot a teenage criminal that was trying to rob him – but that he needed something else – something better. It was then that he decided that his weapon and personal bodyguard would be a large, black, German Sheppard named Smokey. This book is really about my Father and his use of our family dog to keep him safe so that he could make an honest living in an environment that experienced, on average, a murder every hour.
The book explains how my Father pioneered the concept of using an attack trained dog as protection. In the years that he and Smokey worked in New York, the stories became legend. Other deliverymen started to use dogs; even the police recognized the value for crowd/riot control.
Obviously, coming from an admitted personal bias, my Father’s book is a collection of poignant but funny anecdotes about his adventures delivering Betty Jane Cake in NYC. He documents that the biggest victims of crime were the local businesses and families. Imagine a grocery store with three shotgun armed guards, or a bodega that was protected by bullet proof glass and more secure then the local bank – never mind the security at the liquor store. Stories include the development of strong personal friendships with local black and Hispanic business owners, who, like my Pop, were just trying to make a living and survive; people who were shot in the face for a six pack of beer.
The book details incidents with Smokey which ran the full gamut of comedic and downright scary. How the NYC Police required the dog to be a registered weapon (like a gun) and to have an active updated file with vaccination certificates because of rabies issues when he was called upon to serve his role protecting my Dad. The insurance company insisted that my Dad’s truck have large “Beware of Dog” signs. Funny stories included the time a cat ran under the truck and the dog jumped into the driver’s seat to see the cat and in doing so started to blow the horn. My Father, in a restaurant ordering lunch, was told the dog was blowing the horn – without a beat my Dad announced to the patrons that the dog wanted him to hurry up. When asked by junkies, winos and other unsavory characters for money or “spare change” my Dad would tell him to speak to Smokey who carried all of their money. Image their surprise to find a large growling set of nasty fangs – they almost always walked away.
In the few times they did not, the book describes how Smokey was trained to open the truck window, respond to non-verbal commands, immediately heel next to my father, snarly and just carry on in a frightful manner without any doubt that he wanted to do serious violence. Although Smokey bit and injured people, some seriously – never once did my Father order him to do so. The whole purpose of Smokey was deterrence. As my Father is alive and still telling stories – Smokey did his job and will always be remembered for that.
My Dad’s book is available now from Lulu.com and will soon be available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You really should buy a copy; my Dad intends to use the proceeds to help people remember the old days. Who knows, he will be eighty by the time you read this and maybe he will pen another collection of really good true stories about his rich adventurous life.
Until next time – have a great and safe summer – Mike Nolan