Kale Alfageh keeps The Coffee Place food truck open to serve some of his regulars as they brave Winter Storm Juno and grab a late lunch. Photo Credit: Raz Robinson
Monday afternoon, when most have been urged to stay indoors, some of Lower Manhattan’s food truck operators are braving Winter Storm Juno and going to work anyway.
Kale Alfageh cupped his hands together, pressed them firmly against his lips, breathed deeply and muttered, “I hate this, I hate the snow.”
Alfageh, 48, has been operating The Coffee Place breakfast food truck on the corner of Mercer and Washington Street for six months now. He noted his distrust of weather reporting as his primary reason for setting up shop.
“Cause you know sometimes they say it’s going to be something and it ends up being something else,” said Alfageh. “ Last year they said there was going to be too much snow to go out and I didn’t work. The weather was actually really nice that day and I lost a lot of money. This happened three or four times so now I always go.”
Mia Alumghed, 50, who works out of the Halal food truck on the corner of Astor Place and Broadway, expressed a tone similar to Alfageh’s.
“Business on days like this is always terrible,” says Alumghed. “But it’s not really worth not going.”
“I’ve seen it all,” said Alumghed, who has worked out of his truck for five years now. “The weather has been worse, but the regulars still come.”
Despite the steady flow of steam rolling out the window of his truck the storm had Alfageh pining for the warmth of his home country. “I’m from Egypt and it never, never, never snows in Egypt,” he said. “Egypt has the best weather in all the world”.
Although Alfageh was thinking of Egypt, some of his regulars were thrilled to see him coming out to open up shop despite the bad weather.
“I really am thankful,” says Jessica Thomas of Queens. “The guys are always so nice and friendly no matter what the weather is. Whether it’s raining, or snowing, or a hundred degrees outside”.
Thomas, who works as an administrator in New York University’s psychology department, was happy that as everyone was heading inside there was still somewhere to grab a snack.
“They’re so close to the office,” she said as she pointed to the building she works in. “and I almost never see them packing it up.”
As the wind picked up, the snow began to stick to the ground. Alfageh looked out the window of his truck and said, “I plan to leave at 5, but we’ll have to see how the weather looks before I go anywhere.”
Thousands of Giants’ fans traveled from all over the New York metro region to attend today’s Super Bowl victory parade in Lower Manhattan, but one boisterous group of supporters on Cortlandt Street only had to walk a few blocks to catch the action.
“We do whatever we want, we’re stock brokers!” said Dave Cutolo, 44, oozing with bravado.
Cutolo, of Murray Hill, was standing with a group of work associates who all worked “down the street,” he said, without identifying the company they worked for. Wearing a black coat over his brown suit and patterned yellow tie, he held a plastic red horn that he bought from a street vendor in one hand, a coffee cup half-filled with beer in the other.
Cutolo and pals all wore suits and overcoats, standing out in a sea of people clad in Giants’ blue. But their attire didn’t prevent them from mixing in with the crowd: they hooted, hollered, laughed and screamed at passerby, passing the horn around and joining in the various “Let’s Go Giants!” chants that arose out of the massive crowd bordering Broadway.
Ron McClintock, 32, a member of this stock-broking entourage, brushed off the idea that they were sacrificing time at work for a day of partying, saying that they could easily enjoy themselves while being productive.
“We’ll go back and forth,” he said, confidence dripping out of his pores. “We’ll go back (to the office), make some calls, make some money, and then come back.”
And the celebration would last all night, he said.
“See all these women?” he said, motioning to the enormous crowd. “I’m going to be like a fish net, scooping up everything.”
McClintock and Elvin Lopez, 31, were eager to express their love of this season’s Giants’ team, and Lopez said the way the team fought through the playoffs was representative of the city’s attitude.
“It’s such a New York story,” he said. “Everyone’s walking a little taller today, a little prouder.”
“It’s the greatest thing,” McClintock said. “No one stops (the Patriots) but New York.”
But Cutolo, despite being a Giants fan, wasn’t totally thrilled with the game’s outcome.
“I had money on the game,” he said, explaining that he needed the final score to end with the numbers five and three in order to take home the cash.
He wasn’t letting his lost wager depress him too much, though: while he and his friends attempted to whip the surrounding crowd into a frenzy, he cast an optimistic lens on the rest of his afternoon.
“I’ve got to go inside and make $2,000,” he said with a smile. “Then we can go back (here) and have fun.”
Shawn “Hero” Vincent is an important man these days within Zuccotti Park, the block-long rectangular plaza in Lower Manhattan that, boxed in by skyscrapers and dark uniformed police, feels like the bottom of an urban canyon. A tall 21-year-old with wild and frizzy black hair, Vincent could barely move a few steps yesterday without someone shouting out “Hero!” or being the recipient of a ferocious high-five.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said a beaming Vincent of his sudden rock-star status inside ‘Liberty Square,’ as his fellow protesters have dubbed the park. Vincent has emerged as a leader among “Occupy Wall Street” activists, a ragtag civilian army that seized control of this territory September 13 to protest U.S. financial system inequality, among other progressive causes. Several hundred protesters camp out here every night.
Vincent described his job title here as “public relations facilitator.” But outside the confines of Liberty Square, things have been difficult for Vincent. Unemployed for two months now, he recently returned to his family’s North Carolina home, where he had to deal with “family tensions.” His sister is struggling to pay for college. His father has been out of work for two years, a reality Vincent called “ridiculous” and “outrageous.”
“It’s a hard point of life to be there, but it’s something we have to deal with,” said Vincent, sounding determined. “That’s why I’m here fighting.”
Within moments, however, Hero re-emerged at the center of a media frenzy, smiling for a TV crew, and standing alongside Russell Simmons, the business magnate who came here to show his support. For the next half-hour or so, the two walked around together and chatted like long-time pals; every so often, Simmons could be seen slapping Vincent on the back.
“He’s really cool,” said Vincent, speaking about Simmons as though the two were collaborating on a record. “I like Russell.”
For many protesters like Vincent, the past two weeks here have been life changing. The responsibilities they’ve taken on, and the human connections they’ve made, have injected them with hope, filled life voids, and even erased boredom.
One volunteer in dire need of a morale boost was Steve Smith, 24, who has been seeking employment for the past two months.
“I was getting pretty frustrated,” admitted the Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn resident, noting that non-stop phone calls and regular interviews have yet to bring him luck. “I have so much debt and no job.”
“I said, ‘I’m not doing anything else with my life and why not come down here?’”
At Liberty Square, people rely on Smith. A trained first responder, Smith volunteers at the medical station, administering basic first aid and handing out vitamins to depleted protesters.
“It’s really important [work],” said the tall, goateed Smith, who stuck makeshift Red Cross logos all over his clothes using red tape. “I don’t have to worry about getting depressed or getting down because I have something to keep me happy. It makes me feel great.”
Some volunteers are unemployed, but others, like 24-year-old graphic and web designer Drew Hornbein, have full-time jobs. Hornbein earns approximately $60,000 a year working out of his Crown Heights, Brooklyn brownstone.
“I have a great job. I make plenty of money,” Hornbein said. “But there is a certain emptiness to it, you know?”
Since joining the cause September 17, Horbein has been involved in “facilitating to show the outside world what we’re doing.”
Every day, Hornbein rides his bike here over the Brooklyn Bridge, then tries to nab a seat at the media center, a series of granite benches on the park’s east end where tech-savvy “occupiers” stare at laptops and help beam the park’s happenings worldwide. Sometimes, Hornbein stays here until 3 or 4 a.m.
“I’ve never been dedicated to anything [like this] in my entire life,” he said, his face radiating with joy. “I haven’t even checked Facebook. It’s amazing.”
“I’ve completely dropped all my work,” he added, his enthusiasm level escalating by the word. “I come out here, I have great conversations, I work towards something. But I don’t get paid for it. I don’t want to get paid for it.”
At dusk, a festive vibe overtook the park: a saxophone and drum-led jamming circle, accompanied by sporadic yelps of joy, echoed from the park’s western edge. Chants broke out. There was a repeated whistle blowing, as if this were the inside of a dance club.
“I feel so connected,” said Hornbein. “When you come here, everyone smiles at each other. And we’re all happy.”
Amber Oestreich has been at the Occupy Wall Street protest for 11 straight days. She has no intention of leaving anytime soon.
“I’m excited for winter,” said Oestreich, 18, from Grymes Hill, Staten Island. “I know how to build snow shelters.”
Oestreich was one of hundreds of occupiers hunkered down in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan last night, and, like others who have lived at the site since the occupation began 12 days ago, she was not sure when it would end.
She sat with two friends, Dylan O’Keefe, 19, and Brian James, 23, both from Northampton, Mass. All three said they were there to express their dissatisfaction with government oversight of corporations and a lack of corporate accountability.
“We’re trying to raise awareness,” Oestreich said.
When asked what would constitute a successful end-point to their demonstration, there was no consensus.
“We’re here for as long as it takes,” said James.
Zina Goodall, 22, from Sunset Park in Brooklyn, has visited the site several times but hasn’t stayed overnight yet. She said the occupation was organized to get a reaction from the public, government and corporations, but wasn’t sure how to define a sufficient public response.
“I think there’s a lot of different opinions,” she said.
Charlie Goff, 59, flew up from Cuernavaca, Mexico on Wednesday morning after seeing that activist filmmaker Michael Moore had attended the occupation over the weekend. Goff said he was inspired by the dedication of the people occupying the site.
“People never demonstrate, they never do anything,” he said. “But this is so much more effective than a single march.”
Lying in a sleeping bag underneath a beach umbrella, Goff said the occupation had no end in sight, but he wondered aloud how long it could continue.
“It’s a big project to feed this many people,” he said, noting that much of the food was donated. “How long can that go on?”
Goff’s friend, Katherine Derby, 47, from Rochester, New Hampshire, said that she wanted to see reforms made to America’s capitalist system, but that no one person has the solution.
“A lot of people (here) are searching for answers,” she said. “Together, we can search for one.”
Togetherness and a sense of community were two things that many of the occupiers were eager to express. They explained how committees had been formed to take care of daily living concerns, such as food distribution, security and sanitation, and that the consensus-decision making model, with no hierarchical structure and open to expression of all opinions, was one of the defining features of the community.
But some wondered whether the growing number of occupiers would strain the effectiveness of the operation, and how long the success could last.
Daniel Levine, 22, from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, said that several committees have duties that overlap or are somewhat redundant with other groups.
“Maybe there are too many people making decisions,” he said. “But it’s really worked well so far.”
Colby Hopkins, 32, of West Harlem, said that general assembly meetings – held twice daily to discuss topics such as goals for the occupation and community rules – can be long and difficult because there is a wide variety of opinions among occupiers.
“There really isn’t a common message,” he said.
Despite these challenges, most occupiers were at least united in the idea that their demonstration was about more than just forcing corporate or government reforms.
“This experiment is useful,” said Alan Knox, 23, from Kensington, Brooklyn. “The example is good for people to see.”
Hopkins agreed, stressing that the occupation’s means were more important than its ends.
“Of course this will end at some point, but it’s not just about being here,” he said. “It’s not just about causing change. It’s about us living that change.”