Surrounded by the throngs of pedestrians, the horn-tooting traffic and the flashing jumbo screens of Times Square, Chris quietly goes about his work. He’s claimed his territory on the corner of 43rd Street, marking it with the smell of pretzels as much as the trolley he sells them from.
The streets of New York are filled with street food. On almost every corner you can buy nuts, kebabs, hot dogs and plenty more. Many of the vendors are young (and most are immigrants) but Chris is a bit of a pretzel veteran and has been at his trolley for more than a decade.
We get chatting when I stop to buy a bottle of water from him. 20 years ago, he tells me, he moved from Greece to New York. “I also wanted to go to Canada or Australia but I got a visa for America first so I came here”, he says with his accent still strong with his Greco origins.
It’s not the kind of job you can do in the winter (“too cold for everyone”) so Chris needs to make the most of the warmer months. He sells an average of fifty pretzels every day, at $2.50 each. He doesn’t have to make them – they come like that from a factory. The drinks also get delivered but he does have to cook the hot dogs, which you can also buy at his stall.
It’s interesting to stop and chat because New York is such a stark example of the inequity in the American economy. The tale of five boroughs is really the tale of two cities. As Chris and I chat, limousines drive by, men in suits negotiate business deals on the phone as they walk past and huge neon advertising signs taunt with products many people will never be able to afford.
That’s not to say Chris isn’t happy. He actually seems quite content with the life he’s made for himself in the United States. He now lives in Queens and talks quite proudly about the small villa-style house he now lives in. Even his work at the pretzel stand is enjoyable and he loves the location in the middle of Times Square with the wide-eyed tourists and the wide-load locals. “You get to see all these people who come here from around the world”, he says. “They stare at the buildings. It’s fun.”
During the warmer months, when the pretzel business still brings in the dough, Chris works from eleven in the morning until eight thirty at night. In the colder months, he’s done a bunch of different jobs over the years from driving taxis to construction work.
We didn’t chat for too long, but long enough for the conversation to turn briefly towards current affairs. I asked him about the economy and whether it’s hard for people to get work in New York. He smiled for a second – perhaps the smile of an eternal optimist, perhaps of someone who was trying to convince himself things weren’t too bad, or perhaps just the smile of someone who was happy for a conversation on a quiet day – and said “nothing’s impossible”.
Here are some related posts:
- Is the sun setting on America?
- JFK – before he was an airport
- It’s time to grow up, America
- Occupy Wall St
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