Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
NYC Bodega Workers Reveal Their Favorite Snacks!
Plus! Weird Trash!! Eighth Avenue Delivery Guy Mystery!!!
Welcome to Issue #68 of CAFÉ ANNE!
I am pleased to report that after asking readers to serve on the new CAFÉ ANNE Peeling Assessment Panel (CA-PAP) to determine which fruits and vegetables are worth peeling, I got a flood of applications from around the globe. And by flood, I mean ten! Which is plenty.
Yes, what started as a humble Brooklyn-based fact finding commission has ballooned into an international tribunal. Alongside a bevy of stateside jurists including a Greenwich Village software developer and a laid-off tech worker in Chicago, we’ve got an advertising exec in Sydney, a professor in England and a Canadian massage therapist.
The panel is now closed to new applicants and our rigorous testing has commenced. You can expect a full account of the findings in the next issue.
In other news, I was delighted when one of my favorite Substack writers, Jillian Hess, profiled two of my other favorite Substack writers, Michael Estrin and Alex Dobrenko, in the latest issue of her always fascinating newsletter, Noted, which is devoted to note taking. Check it out!
Just one new paid subscriber this past week, but a good one…huge CAFÉ ANNE shoutouts to Linda A.K. who upgraded from free, and sent me the sweetest note to go with.
I am very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got an account of a reader-prompted investigation into a mysterious gathering of delivery workers in Midtown. Plus, NYC bodega workers reveal their favorite snacks! Please enjoy.
Weird Trash Photo #24
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good weird trash photo. Happily, reader Kate in Sunnyside, Queens recently emailed a dandy—a tableau spotted curbside in front of a home on 43rd St. between 43rd Ave. and Queens Blvd.:
Yes, it’s a rowing machine and a coin-op kiddy ride.
You know how sometimes, in an effort to get fit, you buy a rowing machine, but then you never use it, so you put it in the basement to avoid triggering feelings of shame, and then you think maybe you’ll do better with a coin-op pony ride, so you buy one at the coin-op pony ride store, but that doesn’t do the job either, so in a fit of disgust you toss them both out to the curb? I hate it when that happens.
Please send your weird trash photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will include it in a future issue.
Mystery on Eighth Avenue!
I recently got an email from reader Nick in Manhattan with a delightful request. The subject line: “Mysterious (?) Gathering of Delivery Bike People on 8th Ave.”
My fiancee Janie tells me that around 6 pm every night on 8th Ave between 55th and 56th St. there is now a gathering of "at least 40" delivery bike people who park in orderly rows on both sides of the street. Janie insists that this is a new development within the last 8 weeks. Tonight she said to me "I wish Cafe Anne would investigate!" Why do the delivery bikers congregate on this one block? Does it offer some special advantage?
One evening last week, I took the train up to 8th Ave. and 55th St. to check out the scene. Sure enough, there were several dozen food delivery guys lined up along the east side of the avenue with their mopeds, e-bikes and bicycles. They were gathered in small clusters along the curb in the street drinking soda, chatting and tapping their phones.
When I asked what was happening, they were friendly enough, they didn’t speak English. And while I know a little Spanish, all I managed to glean was that most of them are recent immigrants from Africa or Central America, and they work for all the different delivery services—Uber, Grub Hub, DoorDash, etc.
I had better luck with Jose, one of the few delivery guys hanging out on the West side of the avenue. He spoke English. Unfortunately, he had just started delivering for DoorDash a few weeks ago and said he was waiting on the block for orders simply because that’s what he saw everyone else doing. “I dunno! Everyone’s looking for some place to be quiet,” he said.
Then I met Albert, a food delivery fellow from Africa who speaks French. I speak no French at all, but he offered to chat using the translator app on his phone. His explanation? The delivery guys were gathered on this block, he wrote, because it has so many restaurants.
I might have guessed this myself. In fact, Nick had suggested this simple explanation in his email. This single block of Eighth Avenue offers 18 restaurants including two Cuban joints, a Little Italy Pizza, a Wing Stop, Chai Thai Kitchen, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye’s, a Lenwich, a Wendy’s, Luigi’s Garden Grill, Deep Indian Kitchen and a McDonald’s!
On the other hand, there are blocks all over town that offer a dozen or more takeout joints, and they’re not attracting a crowd of delivery guys. What made this block special?
I next observed that the east side of Eighth Avenue, where most of the delivery guys were gathered curbside, is a bus lane. There were also ‘No Standing’ signs posted along the block, so the curb wasn’t occupied by folks parking their cars and trucks.
On the other hand, this situation holds true for the entire length of Eighth Ave., which is served by the M10 and M20 bus lines. And while it’s possible to hang out in a bus lane, chances are you’ll get hit by a bus.
And that’s when I noticed what really made this block different. While most blocks on Eighth Ave. have a sign designating a city bus stop, this one had a special sign. Right over the biggest crowd of delivery workers, I spotted this:
Yes, it was a faded sign designating this stretch of curb exclusively for pick-ups and drop-offs for Gray Line bus tours, one of those double-decker bus outfits catering to tourists. Checking the company’s schedule online, I saw that the tours only run until 4 pm. After 4 pm, this length of curb was unclaimed space—perhaps the only unclaimed stretch of curb in the area!
I wasn’t comfortable assuming my conclusion was accurate. Happily, one of the delivery guys I’d tried to talk to earlier waved me over. Wilson, who is from the Dominican Republic, also offered to chat using his translation app.
He had me speak into his phone, converted my questions to Spanish, spoke his replies into his phone and translated them into English so I could read.
My first question: “What are you guys all doing here?”
“We come here because more orders fall here and in the Bronx where we live there is a lot of crime, and that’s why we come here to Manhattan to work,” he said. “We feel safer.”
“We try to take care of the citizen,” he added. “We just want them to have their food on time and that it be safe.”
I asked why they were all waiting on this particular block. Was it because of all the restaurants?
“Yes,” he replied, “that’s why—because there are so many restaurant establishments here. They’re close.”
“But is it this particular block because there’s a bus stop, but the bus doesn’t come?” I asked.
His answer made me so happy:
“Yes, that’s precisely why,” he said. “Buses don’t come here, only unloading trucks come here and when they arrive we move so they can unload and then we start again, that’s why we’re here. Yes, for that very reason,” he said.
Wow, I felt like the Sherlock Holmes of Eighth Ave! Of course, this discovery was really not so happy because it points to a bigger issue. Before all the delivery guys started working for Uber Eats, DoorDash and GrubHub, they could wait for deliveries in the shelter of the restaurants that employed them, not to mention eat and use the bathroom. Now, during their long shifts, they have to wait on the street for orders to come in. And in most parts of the city, they can’t even find a stretch of curb to hang out.
The good news: the city recently announced it will soon open rest hubs with charging stations all over town for the city’s 65,000 food delivery workers—the first program of its kind in the nation. Until then, watch out for that bus!
Got a NYC mystery for CAFÉ ANNE to investigate? Please send your query to email@example.com
NYC Bodega Workers Reveal Their Favorite Snacks
408 NY Deli, Downtown Brooklyn
Yusef: “The best snack in the whole store? The Sausalito Pepperidge Farm Milk Chocolate. It's got a lot of love put into it. It's crunchy, sweet, tasty. I eat it every day at the store. With green tea, lemon and sugar!”
“The whole bag, every day. I'll take the rest home.”
Fresh Deli & Grocery, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Clerk: “I don't want to lie to you. [I don’t eat] snacks! Talk to the big boss!”
Michael (the big boss): “My favorite snack in the store? Something light. I don't eat much. I like the Nutella with pretzels. I love pretzels. I like chips but I try to avoid fried food. So any flavor that's baked, I'm okay by.”
Chinese-Hispanic Grocery, Lower East Side
Rafael: “The peanuts and almonds are my favorite. I have them all the time.”
“In the shell, very good! With the salt—very crunchy and nice.”
Heng Xing Grocery, Chinatown
(Declined to give name): “What's the best snack in my store? The biscuit!” (Refused to explain why.)
Note: Biscuit packaging promises “Good Food” and “Four Happiness.”
Jayran Deli & Grocery Corp., Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Mustafa: “Lay's chips—bar-b-cue. They're tasty!”
I don't see any on the shelf.
“Because they're my favorite. That's why you can't find them. There's some smaller bags over there.”
How many do you eat?
“Three bags a day!”
Delancey Gourmet Deli, Lower East Side
Lou: “I don't eat many snacks. Maybe the Kinder bar. It's milk chocolate.”
“It's really good!”
Soho Olive Branch Deli, Soho
(Clerk declined to give name): “Those right there—the Nutella Biscuits. So good!"
What makes them so good?
It's a nougat feeling when you bite into it, but a gooey Nutella chocolate flavor. They're expensive. $8.99!
Gourmet Delicatessen, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Ahmed: “I like to eat the raisin bagel together with cream cheese and banana.”
Did you invent that?
“Yes! I toast the bagel, I take the dough out of the middle, I don't like too much bread.”
“At least five times a week. I like to eat them all the time. That's why the belly. Some people get the belly from beer, some from bread. Raisin bagels are never going to go out of business with me.”
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