The Homeless Life and Times of Cadillac Man

Photo: RJ Mickelson/The New York Times/Redux

Northern Queens’s most famous homeless person was making his thrice-weekly commute between his two homes—one inside, one out. The journey takes about 25 minutes, from the apartment Cadillac now shares with his girlfriend, Carol, to the last stop on the N in Astoria, where he lived under the 33rd Street viaduct of the Hell Gate Bridge until recently. It was under the viaduct that the Cadillac Man, who got his unbeatable street name after being hit by three different Cadillacs in the mid-nineties, wrote his book, Land of the Lost Souls, which will be published this month by Bloomsbury.

“It isn’t easy out here, and our story has to be told right,” says Cadillac, 59, who is beating the wind chill of minus five with his roomy Pendleton “polar-bear coat.” Roominess is a must when street-fighting, something Caddy, who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, has been known to do. Not that he looks for trouble. Mostly he fights “to protect the little guys.” That’s how he became a beloved neo–tourist attraction in Astoria, saying hello to everyone, never asking for money, standing to salute firefighters after 9/11.

Exiting the elevated Ditmars Boulevard station, Cadillac Man is greeted by locals as a conquering hero. He’s had other “spots” since he first went homeless (thanks to a spate of undefined bad luck) in 1994. For years, he slept in mausoleums in St. Michael’s Cemetery on Astoria Boulevard. But the viaduct has been the best. And it was here that he met Carol about three years ago. “She takes care of me,” he says of the recently laid-off 33-year-old computer programmer who has been trying to expand his diet beyond coffee and cigarettes. “We’re like a fairy tale, except it is going to last,” says the twice-married Cadillac. Still, he can only take so much of the luxuries of life “inside.” Hence the commute. “I’ve got to come over here, check up on what’s going on, who got beat up, who died. Last week, there was this guy, his liver exploded. Only 28. That stuff rips you up. We get together and pass the bottle, send him off the right way.”

If his book makes him rich, the plan is to get a nice “two- or three-bedroom apartment in Astoria. Whatever.” Cadillac’s final resting place, though, will be under the viaduct, where he’s cemented the rear wheels of his shopping cart into the sidewalk so everyone knows that spot belongs to him. “You’ll come here and see my ashes in a coffee can,” he says.

The Homeless Life and Times of Cadillac Man