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Jerry Owens
Posted on Saturday, September 20, 2008 - 3:17 pm:   

When I was in High School I worked every job at several Horn & Hardart automats in New York City. Most of my summers and holidays I worked at the 57th street automat, close to the Russian Tea Room.

The only tip I ever recived was a quarter when I was a bus boy at the 57th street automat.

I remember how the homeless would feed themselves without paying for the food that was contained in the glass and brass windows. When a cylinder was empty of food, the employee in the back work area would turn a large handle on the top of the brass cylinder showing the now six empty food slots. The food slots would be filled with the posted entrees (e.g.; bake beans in an oblong brown crock topped with a frankfuter, macaroni and cheese). The homeless or impoverished would wait until the slot cylinder was turned for filling, then they would stuff a rolled-up piece of napkin in one of the food slot hooks that were designed to lock the glass and brass food window from the outside. When the employee filled the slots, the full cylinder was turned, supposedly locking all the food slots, EXCEPT for the food slots with the small piece of rolled up napkin stuffed into the windows locking mechanism. The derelicts would soon open the unlocked window(s) and enjoy a free (or should I say stolen) meal! The manager would often catch the culprit and ask them to leave the automat. I suppose you could say that this was a percursor to today's "Meals on Wheels" except you might call it "Free Meals in Windows".

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