Want job security? Sell fruit in Manhattan

I should have just been a fruit guy, the guy that sells fruit during business hours on many Manhattan street corners. Life would’ve been so much easier. And the career choice would’ve saved me years of going to school, looking for work and toiling away for companies that eventually downsize me out of a job. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, expenses and lost wages.

The other day I had a routine doctor’s appointment in midtown Manhattan. The plan was to workout at a branch of my gym nearby (a nice change of scenery), grab an overpriced sandwich somewhere and have my checkup. On the corner of 54th St. and Madison Ave. – a block from the subway and a block from the gym – I passed a fruit guy. He wasn’t just any fruit guy. He was the same fruit guy (on the same corner) who’s stand I frequented when I first moved to New York almost ten years ago and have seen periodically ever since. That’s what I call job security.

One of my first jobs here was at an internet start-up in Brooklyn, which (you guessed it) ended with a layoff. The commute from my apartment in Astoria, Queens was a trek, broken in half many mornings with a workout in midtown. For those of you following along on your handy MTA subway maps, that’s the N train from Ditmars Blvd. to 5th Ave. and then – after lifting – the F train from 53rd St. and Madison to York St. in Brooklyn (the F used to run along the V line and continue past the 2nd Ave. stop). After every workout the fruit guy sold me melon, sometimes grapes or an apple. He always seemed to have customers and be in a good mood. We weren’t BFFs or anything, but he always remembered what what I wanted, asked after my job or my family. He called me “boss,” as in “how’s it going, boss?”

A few temp gigs followed the internet start-up job. I still frequented the same gym, and sometimes grabbed an apple as a post-workout snack. My next full-time job, at a big Midtown company, put me very close to my gym. By then I was also in grad school and logging very long days. My travels didn’t take me by the fruit guy’s stand. I laid awake nights worrying what he’d do without my thrice-weekly $.50 purchases. It turns out he managed just fine.

In early 2004, I moved from Astoria to Jackson Heights, also in Queens. My new commute again took me by the fruit guy’s stand, allaying my fears. But having discovered the glory of the fruit smoothie as a breakfast option and that I could create said glory in my own kitchen, I no longer needed to make a purchase. Sometimes I even avoided that street corner – crossing Madison before I got there – because he still recognized me. There he stayed, day in and day out, month after month.

After my second layoff in early 2006, I quickly found employment outside of Manhattan. So Midtown – and thus the fruit guy – was never on my itinerary. That company laid me off in early 2007, bringing me back into the city and opening up my schedule. The fruit guy was in his usual spot for most every weekday gym visit. Occasionally I bought something, but he’d forgotten me by this point. My next full-time employer hired me in late 2007, putting me closer to a better branch of my gym.

I didn’t see the fruit guy again until yesterday, in the same spot he was ten years previous. He’d grown older – from what I could tell walking by – maybe reaching 40. His stand seemed to carry the same stuff, seasonality aside, of course. And he was still employed, in the same job, in the same location and apparently earning enough to make it worth his while. Or he’s independently wealthy and sells fruit because he loves the social aspects of Midtown sidewalks during business hours.

Assuming he has to make a living like the rest of us, his choice seems to have worked out. He works for himself, makes a livable wage and can eat all the fruit he wants. He even gets to spend beautiful days outside. And his business is pretty recession-proof; people need to eat and fruit is a necessity, not a luxury. On the downside, the hours are long and bathroom breaks seem to pose a logistical problem. Traffic exhaust isn’t the most pleasant thing to inhale all day. And if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

One thing’s for sure though, the fruit guy wins when it comes to job security. And ten years of job security is looking pretty attractive to me right now.

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3 Comments

  1. Dalilama wrote:

    I’ll lay off the fruit jokes here and instead say that I always saw you more as a donuts guy- or maybe a Donnettes (sp?) guy in particular.

    With the years spent training your fine palette on their products, perhaps you should contact Hostess to see if they have any taster openings at their factory. Of course, that means you’ll have serious reasons to work out then…

    Friday, January 30, 2009 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  2. nicolesauce wrote:

    Interesting insight into why starting your own business and opening up legislative barriers to starting your own business might be better than grabbing that corporate job. 6 years self employed and counting…

    Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 11:27 pm | Permalink
  3. Dave Sohn wrote:

    You write very well. Perhaps a new careers in the Education/teaching business may be in order. Best of luck…

    Friday, June 26, 2009 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

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