The Beat Goes On

My all-time favorite skyscraper, however, is still the 77-story Chrysler Building, with its sleek, art deco aluminum-banded facades and its graceful pointed spire. The Chrysler Building was completed in 1930.

The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building remain our two most distinguished Manhattan Towers.


My mother and Agnes loved Chinese food and they loved to gamble. In Portland’s teeming Chinatown of the early ’30s, they found plenty of both.

One early evening, on their day off, they took me to a Chinese restaurant on Southwest Couch Street in the heart of the old Chinatown, a few blocks from the Union Pacific train station. Both sides of the crowded street were lined with a jumbled array of herb shops, seedy rundown hotels, open markets and restaurants.

The place they picked to eat was on the corner of an alley leading into Couch Street. It was a narrow restaurant with high-backed wooden booths and a small counter in the back. Garish Chinese lanterns and red dragon panels on the side walls made up the decor.

The three of us sat there in a booth and joyfully worked our way through fragrant platters of good, cheap Chow Mien. Nothing fancy.

What my mother and Agnes didn’t tell me was that this unobtrusive family restaurant was the front for a popular Chinese gambling joint.

I don’t think they really planned in advance to take me with them into the gaming room. One thing led to another and it just turned out that way. About the time we were opening our Chinese fortune cookies, somebody— I don’t remember who—said, “Aslong as we’re here, let’s try a little Blackjack. Okay?”

The next thing I knew, my mother had me by the hand, edging me through a curtain at the back of the restaurant and on through a door leading down a short hallway. At that point we faced a second door, with steel straps across its face and along its edges. A buzzer sounded, the heavy door opened, and there I was— standing in a live gambling joint for the first time in my young life.

I found out afterwards that a thin, little Chinese man sitting at the back counter in the dining room was the spotter. He made the decision who went in and who didn’t. And he pressed the buzzer. He knew both Agnes and my mother.

I’m still astonished they let a ten-year-old kid in the joint. However, since the entire operation was illegal anyway, perhaps they rationalized that it didn’t make any difference one way or the other.

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