Anthony DePalma | June 3, 2020
On the Monday morning before Thanksgiving in 1970, my father, Tony “Allatime” DePalma, pulled on his heavy, black-leather work boots, buttoned his insulated, plaid shirtjacket and walked the 7 1/2 blocks from our home straight up Third Street to the gated entrance of Pier C on the Hoboken, New Jersey, waterfront, just as he’d done nearly every working day for a quarter century.
They called him “Allatime” because it seemed he was always working, loading and unloading everything from bananas to bags of cement, from crates of fancy shoes to diesel locomotives so heavy they once snapped a steel cable that nearly tore off his leg. The waterfront was his life, as it was for thousands of broad-backed men like him in Hoboken and the other hardscrabble towns that lined the Hudson River back then. It wasn’t a glamorous job, and it didn’t pay well, but if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, the big ships and all they carried made it possible to support a family like ours.
The humble routine of my father’s countless days on the docks suddenly veered into catastrophe for our family on that morning back when Nixon was in the White House and gasoline still cost 36 cents a gallon. Dad stopped at the gate separating the waterfront from the rest of the city and stood directly beneath the large, metal sign marking the entrance to Pier C. He couldn’t get in because a big padlock held the gate shut tight. We later found out that, sometime after he’d finished working the previous Friday night, the shipping company had abruptly pulled out of Hoboken and shifted operations to the piers at Red Hook in Brooklyn, where they had been offered a better deal. From that day on, no oceangoing vessel would ever anchor at Pier C or any other Hoboken pier. The hide-brown Hudson would continue lapping against the city’s ideally situated waterfront without a single longshoreman to hear it.
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