Pushcart jerry…a far from semi-famous or even very nice guy.

A couple of weeks ago, I told of the time I met Sean Astin of Goonies and, as it turns out, Lord of the Rings and Rudy fame.

While he was a nice guy, the folks I have the pleasure of dealing with on a more day to day basis are not rich, famous or outwardly fantastic, seemingly, in any way. They are normally more like the fellow who was drinking other people’s hours old backwash, much to my disgust.

One of the things I used to enjoy about being a police officer working a particular beat, where I dealt with the same people over and over again, was getting to know some of the characters in my area.

If you’re only able to deal with people occasionally, especially the homeless, when you’re called to a “situation” then you probably won’t appreciate the person that he or she is, was or could potentially be.

If you only deal with folks when they’re drunk or high or doing whatever stupid ass thing they do after a day of drinking or getting high, then it’s likely that you’ll not appreciate that the person may not be such a douchebag after all, if you catch them sober and have a conversation with them later on.

That’s what I enjoyed. It’s astounding how different some folks are when you catch them sober as opposed to when they’re drunk. And in the case of the homeless, if you catch many of them sober AND medicated properly, HOLY CRAP, you’d think that some of these people were possessed by completely different beings altogether than they normally are!

The key to appreciating some people is to be able to see them at their best as well as at their worst. Most police officers don’t have that luxury. It’s mostly people at their worst that officers have to deal with. That’s just the way policing is nowadays and I don’t agree that it’s the best approach, but that’s for another day.

Officers run from one drunk or high asshole to the next, often never getting a chance to see these same assholes again when they aren’t high or drunk and aren’t being such assholes.

The below article was written by John M. McGuire of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and appeared in that publication in January of 2000.

The article is about a man we all called Pushcart Jerry. If you ‘d only ever had met him when he was piss drunk and angry at the world, you’d think he was a real dickhead.

I got to deal with him at least once a week for quite some time. Deal with isn’t the right word, I spoke to him at least once a week, and normally many times a week.

While he wasn’t the type of man you’d pick to be a grandpa to your kids, when he was sober, he was a pretty tolerable human being.

He was one of the characters who, even if I didn’t have anything to say to him, I’d often just drive around to make sure I saw him someplace, so I knew he was ok. Part of this was because he was one of the “older” homeless guys on my beat, but it was also due in part to the fact that he wasn’t a trouble maker either.

I had always assumed that Pushcart was a name that we officers had sort of come up with for him because he always had his shopping cart with him, but apparently, it was more universal than that.

Here’s the article:

People in the neighborhood just south of Busch Stadium thought the homeless character had died. But it was only a stay in the hospital. “I had been abusing my body for 50 years, and it caught up with me, ” Pushcart Jerry said.

Was Pushcart Jerry alive or dead? The question swirled like paper pushed around by the wind at the bus stops in the gritty neighborhood south of Busch Stadium. That’s where about two dozen homeless people live. Gerald W. Shantz, 69, a homeless man with a penchant for booze and a reputation for cussedness, had been a neighborhood fixture — often seen pushing his shopping cart down the sidewalk to White Castle or Eat-Rite Diner. At Christmas, it sported a red bow. The Post-Dispatch ran a picture of Shantz and his decorated cart this month.

But for much of the month, he was nowhere to be seen, and the rumor spread among the homeless, workers at the restaurants and the staffs of the homeless shelters that he was dead. Another homeless man, Daniel Christopher Dunsworth, said he saw an ambulance carry Shantz away the night of Saturday, Jan. 5. Somebody else said Shantz had frozen to death on one of the winter’s only truly cold nights.

Since they thought he was dead, some of the other homeless people took his things from his nest under Interstate 55. They got a sleeping bag, the cart and some coloring pencils. Shantz likes to draw.

Jackie Conn, a waitress at Eat-Rite on Chouteau, thought he had died. “I was so sad, ” she said. She won’t go so far as to describe Shantz as a nice man. His drinking sometimes made him too confrontational.

But she did appreciate his tips, sometimes as much as $1 when he had money. “There are people with a lot more money who don’t give you a thing, ” she added.

Shantz had been living on $720 a month from Social Security and carried a Medicare card in his pocket. Over the years, he worked in factories, as a lineman and in a machine shop. He has lived in Wisconsin, Florida and Missouri, and he has been married three times.

After Shantz disappeared, Conn started a fund at the diner to cover burial expenses. She collected about $9. Tom Burnham, director of the Peter & Paul Shelter in nearby Soulard, cruised the streets looking for Shantz. Burnham also called the coroner. Others called the hospitals. None had any record of Shantz.

Then on Jan. 13, people in the neighborhood began to report Pushcart Jerry sightings. “First ten came in and said he was dead, ” said Dee Mobley, another waitress at Eat-Rite. “Then fifteen said he wasn’t.”

On Wednesday afternoon, there sat Shantz shielded from the wind at a bus stop on Broadway, telling his story. His ruddy face was clean and relaxed. He had already bought a new shopping cart from Globe Drug for $10. Two winter coats and long underwear thickened his figure. He wore two stocking hats, one red, one blue. The top hat sported an American flag.

He said that about 10 p.m. Jan. 5, he started having terrible pains in his side. He walked to the White Castle and asked the workers to call for help. An ambulance came, and the crew wanted to take him to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in the Central West End, but he didn’t want to go there – he didn’t know how he would get back to his neighborhood. So they took him to St. Alexius on Broadway. Doctors discovered he was suffering from pneumonia, hypertension and diabetes.

“I had been abusing my body for 50 years, and it caught up with me, ” Shantz said. He will turn 70 on Tuesday.

In the hospital, he had a clean bed in a warm room, plus meals and television. But he was also told that continued drinking could kill him.

“I feel better, and it will be a while before I take another drink, ” he said.

For now, he sleeps under Interstate 55 across from St. Mary of Victories Church. He listens to KMOX on the radio as he goes to sleep and when he gets up. He says it helps orient him to the hour and day. He said he wants to find an apartment – what he calls “going inside.” He knows some people who will help him, he said.

Said Burnham of the Peter and Paul shelter: “I absolutely believe that if Jerry decides he isn’t going to drink, he isn’t going to drink.”

Shantz’s conversation about sobering up was punctuated by his memories of good times drinking. Only time will tell if Pushcart Jerry makes it “inside.”

——————————–End of Article——————————————–

Depending on his beard, Pushcart Jerry sometimes looked a lot like Uncle Jesse from the old television show Dukes of Hazzard. From the white beard to the overalls, he was a dead ringer. Shame he wasn’t ever tailed by a Daisy Duke look alike, but I digress.

As far as I could tell, he spent most of his day pushing his shopping cart around the area south of Busch Stadium. I don’t know what he did all day; I guess he collected crap to put into his cart. He was almost always filthy and quite frequently belligerent.

He once had the police called on him because he was standing in the middle of an intersection trying to wipe his ass with a paper towel and a McDonald’s bag he had found and was blocking traffic where 18 wheelers needed to get back to home base.

I was close enough that I saw him and pulled to the curb. He didn’t even notice me, he just stumbled around in his overalls, which had dropped all the way down to his ankles, as his probably drunk, wobbly ass tried desperately to clean himself from a crap he had taken who knows where.

That was good old Jerry for you, just like that, in the middle of a workday with his pants around his ankles trying to wipe his ass with a fast food bag in a fairly strong wind in front of God and all creation.

He was disgusting like that, and he frequently stank of shit and booze and vomit and cough drops, but he minded his own business and unlike many other homeless in the area, he rarely caused trouble for others.

On slow nights during the summer, when the Cardinals were playing, I’d sidle my police cruiser along his little “campsite” while he went about his business as though he didn’t see me. He lived in an open industrial area, just underneath the I-55 overpass right about at Chouteau. It was a short walk from the Stadium Liquor store and a White Castle, so it was prime real estate, I’m sure.

I’d pull up and, without fail, he’d have the Cardinals game playing on KMOX. Sometimes, when he realized it was me in the car, and not an officer coming to give him grief, we’d talk if he was in the mood, but most times we wouldn’t There was no need to talk while the baseball game was on anyway.

I’d always have to leave and run from one call to the next, but he stayed there with his radio and I’d often try to stop by to catch another inning or two of the game with him, if it was a slow night (which was rare). When it was a home game and the crowds left the stadium, hundreds of people walked right past him while he slept, oblivious to all of them.

That was HIS area and everyone knew it. Nobody bothered him and I guess he felt as safe as one could feel under such conditions. As I’m sure many others had as well, I’d offered to help him find places to live, but that conversation made him surly and it was obvious he wasn’t interested in my assistance with housing.

He may have been a beggar, but if he was, I never knew him to do it. I gave him beer money from time to time, and I bought batteries for his radio more than once, but never at his request. I didn’t have any kids back then, so I sometimes had extra cash in my wallet. He had his own monthly check that he cashed at an area bar and he’d let you know he didn’t need your “goddam charity”, normally as he was putting your charity into his cart or pockets.

Jerry disappeared again, not too long after the above article was written. The rumor was that some nuns read the article, took him in, and provided him with an apartment. That sounded as good as any of the other rumors, some of which had him being stabbed to death or drowning in the Mississippi or even jumping a train to the South. While each rumor was fascinating, I’m fairly certain the nun story won out in the end.

I always chuckled as I imagined him laying on the cold, hard floor of his apartment, right next to his perfectly fine, still made bed, listening to Mike Shannon talking about the Cardinals and ice cold, frosty Budweiser on KMOX.

I guess if he had electricity in his apartments, then he didn’t need any goddam charity from a young cop looking to hand out C batteries anymore. We were by no means friends, but we had an understanding that I think we both appreciated.

I never did see him much after this article in January of 2000. I know that he died in February of 2005. He lived to be 73 or 74 years old.

Considering the abuse he put his body through, that was a pretty good run for a man and his push cart.

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6 Responses to Pushcart jerry…a far from semi-famous or even very nice guy.

  1. Yvonne says:

    Very enjoyable and touching.

  2. Yvette Pabon says:

    Thank you for this article. Whenever I get a free moment, I search for more info on Gerald W Shantz so I was pleased to find a recent article about him. You see, I have been searching for him for years. Unfortunately, I found him 2 years after he had already died. No wonder, I couldn’t find him. He was homeless. Thank you to the articles in the St. Louis post newspaper about Push Cart Jerry, I finally have closer as to what became of my step dad. I consider him my step dad because even though my mom didn’t marry him (he did ask her, but she didn’t want to go through another divorce), he did raise us for about 7 years. And I was looking for him to say thank you to him for taking good care of us, as I had been a little cold to him as I was hurt about my pa leaving us. I always wonder if he ever thought about us as well. I guess it doesn’t surprise me he ended up homeless even though it saddens me that is how he ended because he always spent all of his paycheck and never saved a penny. He loved to barbecue and drink beer but never got drunk. He always cooked the turkey for Thanksgiving and made his German potatoe salad ( it is still our tradition to make German potatoe salad at Thanksgiving and my mom makes a great turkey thanks to Gerry!). Oh and he absolutely loved Christmas! He would take my sis and I to get a REAL Christmas tree. Again, thank you for your article about Gerry and giving me more insight about what happened to him.

    • He would have enjoyed hearing from you, I’m sure. He was a character and a real fixture near the area where he lived. I’m glad you found this article and it filled you in a little bit on some missing information about your step dad.

  3. Y P says:

    Oops …. Closure not closer

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