Alexander ‘City’ Bryant Part 3: The Journey of an old-time pool hustler
12/4/2013, 1:39 p.m.
Making a decent, steady dollar hustling pool was an illusion. Despite the high of winning money, earning a living at hustling was tough. Every night eventually ends, and the hustler must find a place to lie down. There was no hall of fame for pool hustlers. Newspapers did not cover their achievements. Some became neighborhood legends. Mostly, they melted into the background, alone and broke.
City had been on and off the road hustling pool for decades. He had no sense of financial management; saving money or putting money aside wasn’t part of his repertoire.
His marriage to Gwendolyn Johnson in 1964 settled him down, extending his life beyond reasonable expectation. Their son, Al, was born in 1965. With another mouth to feed, she told him to get a real job. They had their second son in 1971 and a year later he went to work at Ford. For the first seven years, his family finally had steady income.
But life became unstable again. He got laid off in 1979, and got behind on the mortgage.
So City returned to what he knew best: hustling pool. He would leave for several days at a time. His son, Al, recalled his mother’s terrifying worry over how she was going to manage it all. Just when the walls seemed to closing in, City returned home with thousands of dollars to cover the several months in back rent. He managed to keep his family together and his house on E. 146th Street, which he still lives in.
Eventually he was called back to work at Ford, working there until his retirement in 2002, at age 75.
Despite the rugged existence of hustling pool for all those years, the passing of his wife in 2008 was his toughest challenge. What is never talked about in the tales of hustlers is the tougher times that wives had at home. Gwendolyn was married to City for 43 years and kept him and her family intact.
Few ever made a living at pool hustling as long as City did. Most of his peers are long gone. Since his wife passed in 2008, his physical condition has deteriorated, and he complains about memory loss.
He still likes to play cards and chess with his sons and friends. But get him talking about hustling pool, though, and he lightens up, as if he’s reliving those days of racking balls in the poolrooms of Cleveland’s once hotbed of neighborhood action that thrived for so many years.