Chicago and the Mafia

Wherever I travel, when people hear I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, I’m invariably asked questions about the Mafia. Al Capone has been dead a long time, but his legacy lives on. I will share a few stories with you, and you may draw your own conclusions.

Shortly after we bought our house (described in my recent post) we met some of our neighbors, but didn’t socialize with them. The father of the family living next door to us was a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department. A tall, beefy Irish cop, he wasn’t the friendliest person I ever met. He gave my parents an appraising look, told them as long as we kept our grass cut and yard clean, we’d get along just fine. His wife had her hands full taking care of their five children, and appreciated the cookies my grandmother would bake and occasionally share with them.  Across the street from us was a faculty member from the University of Chicago, and the other homes belonged to various business people and an accountant. At the end of the street was a large fenced house owned by a gentleman, Mr. B., who ran an Italian restaurant downtown. He and my father exchanged occasional pleasantries, and sometimes we would eat dinner at his restaurant which served excellent veal piccata, one of my mother’s favorites.

As the head electrical engineer on a particular project, my father ran into major difficulties with the electricians’ union assigned to the project. The union insisted that the project required many more electricians to be assigned to be the job, which, according to my dad, was a straightforward deal that didn’t require more than 3-4 people to complete. The union boss arranged for a lunch meeting with my dad at Mr. B’s restaurant. He told my dad that unless the job description was expanded to double the number of workers assigned to it, the union would strike the project, and shut it down. At this point, Mr. B. came by the table, greeted my dad warmly, thanked him for coming back, and sent complimentary desserts to the table. The union boss, taken aback, looked at my dad, and asked incredulously, “Do you know Mr. B.?” “Of course,” my dad replied. We’re old friends and neighbors.” At this point the union man became profusely apologetic for any misunderstandings that may have taken place, and greenlighted the project without any further demands. My dad wasn’t sure what just happened, until he learned that Mr. B. was one of the higher ups in the Chicago Mafia.

In my job as an apprentice electrician, as well as when I worked at the steel mills, I was required to join the union, even as a part time worker. Union dues didn’t come cheap, but you paid them, otherwise you didn’t get hired. You always had to wear your union pin on your shirt or uniform while on the job. Once, I changed shirts, and forgot to put the pin on the new shirt. The union steward on the job came by, saw me, and took me aside. “Look, kid,” he said in his smoked out gravelly voice, “I know you’re new here, but if I ever catch you on this job without your pin, these guys will break your legs,” he said, pointing at the two thugs behind him. I don’t know if every union in the city was Mafia run, but at least in the 60’s, it seemed that way.

When I was in college, I met a pretty young girl in one of my classes. We had an assignment that involved a trip to the main Public Library downtown. She had a car, and offered to drive us there. I was excited at the opportunity, as I had noticed her in class, and was working up the courage to ask her out. She drove a shiny red Cadillac convertible, all fins and chrome. It was a sunny day in late spring, the radio was playing, and I felt on top of the world tooling down South Lake Shore Drive next to this beautiful brunette. All of a sudden, the car in front of us jammed on its brakes, and we did the same, fortunately without a collision. I was thrown forward, and caught myself with both hands hitting the dashboard. As I did this, a lower panel flipped open, and I found myself holding a sawed-off shotgun in my lap. She looked over, smiled at me and said, “Oh, don’t worry. Daddy always has those things around. Just put it back and close the panel.” Not every girl in Chicago with an Italian last name had mob connections, but I suddenly found myself revising my plans for asking her out. I made sure to remain polite and friendly with her, but offered a lame excuse when next time she invited me over to their house for a family party. She never asked again.

More to follow…

This entry was posted in America, Chicago, Family, Humor, Mafia, Organizations, School, Thoughts & Musings, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Chicago and the Mafia

  1. timfergudon says:

    Scary…like something out of The Godfather! I don’t recall ever having a mafia encounter…some second hand East LA gang experiences at or near LAC Hospital during the 1st tear of me residency. Thanks for sharing those! Tim 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

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