It's almost 11 on a wet, dreary May morning. The slightly stooped man with tell-tale traces of flour on his clothes takes two large awkward paper bags from the back of his station wagon. He walks toward a Chinese restaurant and raps on the glass door.
"Hello, Mr. Cohen," a woman says as he carries the bags to the kitchen. Reuben Cohen is on his final delivery rounds.
Jewish rolls in a Chinese restaurant?
"Oh, we have to have them," says the woman. "People want them. Jewish rolls are the best."
A lot of people in and around this city on the Penobscot River agree. A weekly customer who arrives early in the morning from Stonington, 60 miles to the south, is asked if the bread is really that good.
"No," he says with a perfectly straight face. "But I got to help him out. He's got a poor son who's a senator in Washington." He pauses to let that sink in and then adds, "The bread speaks for itself."
Around these parts, Sen. William Cohen (R-Me.) is know as Ruby Cohen's son. But even the senator can't do a thing to help his father out of his present predicament.
The 70-year-old Cohen has been baking bread in the same location for 43 years, and now he's being kicked out.The small forlorn red brick building, one of only two left on that side of Hancock Street, is about to be demolished in the name of urban redevelopment. And Cohen says he will need about $20,000 to relocate.
"It used to be the roughest section in Bangor - all the bars, bootleggers and prostitutes," explains Rugby's younger son, Bob, who is shaping rolls at five in the morning. He has been baking for 18 years and inhaling flour dust. Every so often he must pause and use his asthma medicine.
"I wasn't afraid to come to work," says his father. "Everyone knew you. Most people were moved out about five or seven years ago. Now it's worse. There's no one here."
So why not retire, he is asked as he lifts another cumbersome wooden tray to fill it with hot rolls.
"What are these kids gonna do," he says, indicting Bob and his nephew "Butch." Bob picks up his father's thought. "His father gave it to him. He's gonna give it to us. We're gonna give it to our children."
"Don't give it to your children," Ruby Cohen says. "It's a bad business."
Well, not that bad: "I don't mind the baking business," Cohen says in the dimly-lit bakery made damp in the dawn by a night-long rain. "I mind the hours."
"You gotta be retarded to go into this business," Butch says. He arrives at 1:30 a.m., more than two hours after Ruby and an hour before Bob.
They do not pause to talk as they weigh the dough, shape it, put it into rise, bake it, poke it with long wooden shovels and finally take it out. No one has looked once at the clock. No one has issued instructions to anyone else. The younger men make no effort to take over the heavy tasks from the master baker. He lifts and bends, and takes as many steps as they do. The baking rhythm changes only when Ruby goes for coffee - at midnight, at 2:45, then again at 6:45.
His day doesn't end until 1 p.m., but he returns to the bakery at 4 to begin the sour starter for the next day's bread. He's in bed every night at 6:30.
Even though he's about to go into debt, Ruby Cohen isn't sure how much longer he can work. "Five years maybe, if I stay healthy. I don't think I'd ever retire. If I'm healthy they'll carry me out."
He and his father, a Russian emigre, began the New York Model Bakery in Bangor in 1929. It was the only Jewish bakery then and it still is. They peddled bread from door to door, Cohen says, going 15 miles for 15 cents.
William Cohen worked in the bakery as a kid, and his father says that even though he doesn't know where his older son got his brains, "he was smart enough not to be baker."
At about 7:30 the retail customers start to arrive, mostly men in pickup trucks on the way to work: "two loaves of bread," "a dozen rolls," "two rolls," "a rye." At that hour the bread is "displayed" in bags on the cement floor in the front of the bakery. Some of it is still on the wooden trays that have been stacked on rolling metal racks, cooling with aid of two floor fans. On Saturdays the customers line up outside the unimposing structure for the hard rolls, also known as bulkies , rye and French breads, Italian, fingers, sandwich and tea rolls.
"That's how Billy got elected," Ruby says, "working the counter."
"On a good day," Bob says, "one out of every three people in Bangor would have a roll." People come for the bread, not for the surroundings: The walls in the front of the bakery are yellow cinder block, dirty now because there's no point in painting a building which is going to be torn down.
The only "decorations" are a few thriving cactus plants, the obligatory calender and pictures of Bill Cohen: Bill Cohen and family, Bill Cohen and Ruby Cohen, Bill Cohen and George Bush, Bill Cohen and constituents. There are two old freezers, a refrigerator and two chartreuse plastic flying-saucer chairs.
The bakery runs at full capacity. No matter who you are you can't always get all the bread and rolls even if you've been trading with Ruby Cohen for 40 years.
He says he could enlarge, but his new plant will be only 200 square feet larger than the present location. Sometimes he wishes he ahd a huge, completely automated bakery because it would be so much easier. But he won't because he takes pride in what is produced mostly handwork. "It's not a question of being good. You can't get any better," he says without a trace of arrogance in his flat Maine Twang.
"More eggs, more shortening and no preservatives. Our bread only lasts a day," Bob says matter of factly. "And its all hand work."
At the annual party given by one of the region's largest bakeries, Nissan, the bread is provided by the Cohens. "They buy our bread because they say they know it's better, but they don't want to fool around with making it. They make more money in an hour than we do in a week," Ruby Cohen explains.
He seems resigned to moving. But his son is not: "Last fall the city called the old man and gave him a half hour to sign the papers or they said they'd just take the building. We should be starting now to build. They were supposed to have the papers all done, but they're just beginning. Because of inflation it's costing him money."
Because the wheels of the bureaucracy grind so slowly, Ruby Cohen has been paying $475 a month rent to the city for a buiding that he, his brother Dick and his sister Gertrude owned until January.
The city paid the owners of the Bangor Rye Bread Company $67,500. It will cost them $90,000 to relocate on a piece of land diagonally across the street. So Ruby will have to take $20,000 of his life savings, or borrow the money for a new place.
"The old man didn't want any money," Bob says. "Just build me a new building like this one," he asked the city. But the city wouldn't After 50 years the old man is going back to the same thing he had then." CAPTION: Picutres 1 through 3, Ruben Cohen, left, began the New York Model Bakery in Bangor, Maine, in 1929. The family owned and operated business was the only Jewish bakery in town then and still is, by Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post; Picture 4, no caption, photo by Douglas Chevalier