“Can you please watch my cart? Five… may-be 10 minutes?”
I’m standing on the corner of 53rd Street and Madison, taking in the glorious mid-day sun from a freak heat wave that has engulfed our city. Quickly flipping through the emails on my phone, I don’t at first realize this plead is directed at me.
“Miss? Please? Can you watch my fruit cart?”
“Oh… uh. Sure,” I say with a shrug. It didn’t really occur to me until after I’d accepted this request that it was, in fact, an odd one.
New York is full of street vendors, food carts, and traveling salesmen (usually of the illegal variety). But never have I been asked to participate in this culture from the selling perspective. Laughing at the situation, I plopped down onto the leather stool and began to twirl back and forth, catching my high heel on the subway grate underneath me.
Well this was fun.
I must have looked a little odd. The typical outfit for a desk job is not quite what most fruit salesmen would wear. I don a dress… they go more for the tee. These street sellers also are not usually women. Nor do they often wear heels. (Please note: While the last two irregularities would often be considered redundant, that is not the case in New York City.)
“Can I buy an apple?” a man asked.
“Oh! Uh… sure. What do they usually go for?”
“I donno. Aren’t you selling the fruit?” he says with a bit of a laugh.
“Well, kind of. You see this isn’t really my fruit cart.” I stop twirling on the leather stool and stand up. Business transactions should be conducted eye-to-eye.
“You mean, someone just left you in charge of the fruit?”
“Eh… more or less.”
“I’ll give ya a quarter.”
“That’s fine with me. I’m not really trying to turn a profit here.”
As the man walked away, I began to truly grasp the humor in my circumstance. Was I actually selling fruit on a street corner during lunch? How did this even happen? What if an old boss saw me? Now that would have been just too enjoyable...
“Uh yes, I’d like to buy some bananas,” says a voice to my right. I look over to see where the British accent is coming from as a middle-aged man stares at me quizzically.
“Are you always out here?” he said in royal-like enunciation.
“No… actually the man who sells this stuff had to step away for a few minutes.”
“So he just asked you to watch his fruit??”
“Yes, pretty much,” I respond.
“Oh my God. Alright, well I’ll take 3 bananas.”
“Okay, but I’m not sure what he sells them for…”
We look for a sign. “Ah, 3 for a dollar! That will be one dollar, please.”
The guy straight up laughed at me (I was laughing at me too) as I handed him a plastic bag. Next I took his money, just like you would at any old grocery store.
But as he turned to leave, disaster struck my fruit cart!
Somehow his coat became entangled in a small container of blueberries. The plastic box bounced to the ground and exploded onto the cement.
“Dammit to hell!” the Brit said. “I’m so sorry!” He bent down and began to place the berries back into the container (which looking back, was rather odd considering I couldn’t sell them anymore anyways - have to be honest with my costumers!).
I peered around for a moment, looking for the original owner of the cart. He wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Phew.
“Oh it's okay. It’s not really my fruit.” I say with a small smile, rolling the blueberries with my foot into the subway grate. The fruit plummeted to its death, never to be seen again.
I mean, what would you have done?
The British man stands up and chuckles. “Good point.” We then began to roll all the blueberries into the subway grate, looking a bit foolish, but satisfied with the cover-up of our fruit murder.
Overall, I sold about $4 in food. The salesman came back and let me keep 50 cents plus a banana for my efforts. I told him maybe we’d do it again sometime soon. He laughed. He didn’t understand me… but he laughed.
And that was the time I sold fruit in New York City.