For the past week or two I've been going over to 55th Street (adjacent to the Robert Indiana "Love" sculpture partially visible in the background) in the morning to get my coffee. There's a little breakfast cart there and a large coffee is only $1.25 which is the cheapest in the neighborhood and, quite frankly, I think it tastes a lot better than Starbucks, Zibetto, Fika or any of the other fancy places in the area. There are, no joke, at least 30 different places to buy coffee in a two block radius of my house. I've tried them all. Maybe not all, but most of them. Not including the four Starbucks locations which are all the same...awful. So I've been going to this new cart to get my no-frills coffee which is great aside from the fact that the guy calls everyone "Boss" which is only slightly grating, but not enough so that I don't still go there in the morning.
Today, as I was walking back and passing in front of the unbelievably and wildly overpriced supermarket pictured above, a reasonably articulate and casually dressed black man approached me. In New York City, when a stranger approaches you it's always startling for a second. Your guard immediately goes up, more so than it already is, but that's just the way it is. After you realize that the person is semi-normal or just a tourist or not otherwise frothing at the mouth it's really not such a big deal to tell them where Carnegie Hall is located or how to get to the F train. This morning, however, was slightly different.
I'm walking back with my morning coffee (I resisted the urge to get a couple of high calorie doughnuts) and this guy approaches me on the sidewalk. I must have jumped a bit or something because he immediately apologized and said sorry to bother me, but he didn't want anything. Whew. Everyone wants something.
Ok, so I am thinking to myself, what do you want then? He begins his lengthy explanation. Somehow he dropped his car keys in the sewer on the corner and it's wet and watery down there and he couldn't get them out with a coat hanger. Dubious enough, but I'm sort of intrigued where this story might be going. He says that everything is OK, he's not going to get towed, the traffic cop has already assured him of that. At this point, I should have just walked away because traffic cops in New York don't care if you are the man in the moon because you are so getting towed whether you dropped your keys or have a crying baby locked up in the back seat. Since I was in no particular rush and I sort of enjoy these versions of street theater I decided to continue to hear him out if for no other reason than my own personal amusement. He continued. He reassured me that he didn't want anything and that because his keys were dropped down somewhere irretrievably in the sewer that he needed to go home to the Bronx or some other distant borough to get his spare set. The man told me that he would give me his license to hold and....blah blah blah. Now he lost me. I just tuned him out completely. I don't want some stranger's license. I don't want to be bothered on the way home from getting my morning coffee. I don't want anything other than to drink my hot coffee. I am more than happy to tell you where to get a great bagel or which diner serves the best breakfast, the best exhibition at MoMA or even how to get to Carnegie Hall (practice!) or really any other basic thing, but holding your license while you take the imaginary bus back to the Bronx is way too much for 9:30am in the morning. Of course he wanted money. So I just lied and told him that I had no money on me and he actually thanked me and moved on, eager I am sure to find his next more gullible morning coffee con.
What would you have done? Most people in New York City, busy and rushed on their way to work on a Friday morning, probably wouldn't have even stopped for 5 seconds. At least I gave him an opportunity to work on his pitch.
Oh and the picture above is right outside where he stopped me. The city is crazed right now with every business installing Christmas lights and decorations. I sure wish they'd wait another week to give us a break between the holidays.