Earlier this month, I posted a story about Kevin O’Brien. He’s the former Westporter who — at 17 years old, in 1970 — spent many homeless nights in what was then called Needle Park.
He’s gone on to lead a very successful life. But he retains fond memories of those tough teenage years. At the end of the piece, he noted that he’d be driving through New England soon, and hoped to stop in Westport.
Last night, he wrote:
I’ll be in Westport on Saturday, October 17th [today] around 4 p.m. I plan to have a slice of pizza for old time’s sake at the Westport Pizzeria, and maybe a drink at the old post office [now Post 154]. If you see a red Can Am Spyder, that’s me. Sunday I’m off to visit the 9/11 memorial in NYC, and points south. 🙂
Kevin would love to see as many old friends — and current Westporters — as possible. If you meet him, please give him a hearty “06880” hello!
Kevin O’Brien celebrating Christmas in Westport, 1970.
I’m often surprised how far this “06880” blog reaches. Approximately 1/3 of our readers are former Westporters, living all around the globe. Most have fond memories of growing up here. Otherwise, they would not be interested in what happens here today.
Of course, everyone has a story. It’s important to remember that not all of them are wonderful and rosy.
The other day, I got an astonishing email. I don’t know Kevin O’Brien. Yet his tale — which he allowed me to share — is like nothing I’ve heard before.
But — at least as much as everyone else’s — it needs to be told.
I lived in Westport 45 years ago. After dropping out of Staples High School, my sister kicked me out of her house.
I was a hippie type. I slept in Needle Park [the former hangout — now a concrete plaza — on the northwest corner of Main Street and the Post Road, across from the old YMCA Bedford Building], on a bench in the snow.
A kind young policeman sometimes checked on me to make sure I hadn’t frozen to death. I had just turned 17.
“Needle Park,” circa 1970.
Across from Needle Park was a diner. Early in the morning, rolls were delivered. If I hadn’t eaten in a while, I’d pilfer one.
I sometimes panhandled for change at Needle Park. If I got 25 cents I’d get a huge slice at Westport Pizzeria. When I wasn’t lucky I used kitchen packets and hot water to make “tomato soup.”
I was 6-1, 140 pounds. I often went days without eating.
I volunteered at the telephone hotline crisis intervention center in the Y basement. Seasonally, I worked directing parking at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Kevin O’Brien (center) celebrates Christmas in Westport, 1970.
We had a group of mainly homeless friends we called The Family. I miss friends like Susan Burke and her sister Sarah, and Helen “Cricket” Wooten, none of whom I’ve seen since then.
Two other friends were Dee Dee and Marie. They occasionally used heroin, which was everywhere in Westport. I would like to find either of them.
For a while we rented the upstairs and attic at 35 Post Road West, across the foot of Wright Street.
We sometimes hung out at Devil’s Den, and imagined the dragon/troll that lived under the bridge.
There were seemingly a lot of aimless, homeless kids back then. Celebs like Paul Newman and many more never stopped or tried to help any of them. I never understood that. They were all very charitable, just not in their own hometown where kids really needed help.
As tough as life could be, especially in winter, I loved Westport and have many fond memories. I guess it’s the difference between experiencing all that at age 17 and 18, rather than age 62.
I’m brokenhearted to see what happened to Needle Park (on Google Maps street view). I’m glad the pizzeria is still there, even at a different spot. On a visit in the ’80s I left notes written on paper plates for lost friends on the wall behind the counter, but never heard from anyone.
Kevin O’Brien, in the Navy.
Eventually I left Westport and returned to Florida. A few years later I enlisted in the Navy. After 10 years of senior enlisted service I was given a meritorious commission as an officer.
I retired from the Navy in 1998, was elected to city council, and became vice president/director of operations for an international corporation in Georgia. I later retired for good, and moved to North Carolina.
I’m planning a visit to Westport in a couple of weeks, on the way back from a road trip through New England. Having developed some serious health issues, this is a bucket list trip for me. Westport is a chief stop. God bless Westport.
I guess I’m living proof that a homeless, aimless kid living on the street in Westport can turn out okay.
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