The Popcorn Man
Every time I made my way to my internship at ESPN Radio, I saw him, standing behind his cart, spreading cheer to the people around him. Inside the Downtown Crossing T Stop, he sold all sorts of snacks and drinks to the passengers. He sold pretzels, sodas, roasted nuts, hot dogs, and popcorn. Most of the time, I stopped by and bought something, whether it was a hot dog, pretzel, or some nuts. My favorite of all the items he had to offer was the popcorn.
Whenever I went up to order, the Popcorn Man greeted me with a smile and a “How are you today, my friend?” in his Middle Eastern accent. And every time, he shoveled more than enough popcorn into the paper bag, which he put into a bigger plastic one so he could fit more in. He only charged $1.75, but I always paid two dollars, being sure to toss the extra quarter into the tip jar. It seemed like he needed it more than I did. I never shared more than a sentence or two with him, but I was polite, and he treated me accordingly.
“Thank you very much. Have a nice day,” he would say as he handed me whatever I bought. He was always smiling and had a jolly air about him. I didn’t think very much about him as more than a street vendor until one day that he wasn’t so happy.
I walked up to the cart, and a lady was standing in line in front of me, child at hand. “Gimme a pretzel,” she said abruptly. As the popcorn man handed her the pretzel, she snatched it out of his hands.
“No. That is not how we live in this country,” he said with a look of disgust on his face. “We use manners.”
“Well I’m from
“That does not matter. If you are in this country, you should act properly. Use your manners. I don’t know about you, but I came here to learn, consider this a lesson.” He paused briefly, shifting his right hand from his hip to the counter in front of him. “You can go back to
The lady stared at the popcorn man and walked away.
“People have no respect anymore,” he said to me as I stepped up to the cart. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
I assured the popcorn man that I did not mind, and that I agreed. People are very rude. I ordered a popcorn, and as he scooped it into the bag, I wondered why such a man was relegated to being a vendor. He was friendly. He was polite. He appeared to be smart as well. He was not your typical street vendor. As he gave me the popcorn, I put the bills into his hand and waited for the quarter. He dropped the quarter into my hand, which I had positioned right above the tip jar. I let the coin slip down into the jar, and made my way for the train.
The last time that I saw the popcorn man was near the end of my internship. It was mid-December, a time when many people are in high spirits. “How are you today, my friend?” He asked me as I approached the counter. He did not have the same energy as usual. I told him that I was doing well. I ordered a popcorn, and he shoveled it into the bag. He charged me the regular $1.75, and I handed him three dollars. “You gave me an extra dollar,” he said.
“No I didn’t. Happy Holidays,” I answered.
“Thank you very much, and Merry Christmas.” I stepped away from the cart as he finished the sentence, and a smile slipped onto his face.