New York Daily Photo Analytics

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Survival Guide

I intended to tell you what I knew for sure. However, after reflection, I realize it would only be what I thought I knew. So, I will tell you what I saw.

What am I talking about? I was drinking a juice on the second floor of Whole Foods Market on Union Square at 10PM. The second floor has tables and has been designated as a space for eating food purchased by customers. It is a very casual, cafe type of atmosphere.
The place was abuzz, with nearly every table occupied even at that late hour. A man who had two overfilled bags knocked into my table while stepping on my foot. His canvas bags were stuffed with all manner of goods, including what appeared to be an empty paper coffee cup.
The most noticeable thing about this man was his enormous bulk from his layers of coats. He removed his large outer coat and went off briefly, leaving his bags unattended. He returned rather quickly with a paper plate of pasta - however, it felt it too quick to have have gone through the Whole Foods line queue. So this is where I started to pay attention.

He took his plate of food to the microwave provided by Whole Foods for reheating of food. I say reheating because a sign was clearly posted that the microwave was for reheating only. After pondering this for some time, I realized that due to the volume of people and with what appears to be no one policing the floor, the space and services offered are most likely used by the homeless - warm places to sit, water fountains, and bathrooms, with some perhaps preparing meals from foods brought from outside.

The mechanics of survival of the homeless, quasi-homeless, and severely disadvantaged are seen by most of us in sight bites. I am sure that there is an undocumented survival guide known by many of the have-nots which enumerate the soup kitchens, public bathrooms, and best places to pass time, such as bookstore cafes and public spaces - libraries, bus and train stations, places to sleep, and how to get or recycle food. I am reminded of stories I have read of the old Horn & Hardart automats of New York City, where poor writers often made tomato soup from ketchup and hot water or bought tea with bread and made pickle relish sandwiches.

The man ate and left as quickly as he came. I have made an assumption about him - I could be very close or very far from the truth. I have seen him frequently in public parks. Knowing the source of that pasta would have told me much more...

Note: The 2nd floor at Whole Foods at Union Square is a superb place to have a snack, with great vistas of Union Square Park, all the activities in that area and the Empire State Building and Met Life Tower.


Anonymous said...

Dear Brian, I have been so inspired by your blog that I have decided to create one of my own country Singapore. Thank you for the great work! Can't tell you how much I miss New York. :)

diana @

naomid said...

That Whole Foods is supreme rest station. I meet up with people there. I fill up my water bottle there. I read there between work and socializing. I use the clean clean bathrooms. I sometimes pack and eat my dinner there. Hey not to different from a man who may be homeless! Guess I dress a little bit better. Except I occasionally buy food there. The focaccia is a real deal.

ChickenUnderwear said...

I wish there were more "public" spaces like that. That is what tax money should go for!

Brian Dubé said...

diana - thanks much.
naomid - be careful - you may be going down a slippery slope :)

Thérèse said...

There is a huge Wholefood over here in Chandler. Anyone with diverse background would be delighted to have such a space available especially considering Arizona's temperatures and increasing people living outside! We would though have to start building two storey

Michael George said...

Oh man... One day last year I was eating at that Whole Foods and I left my backpack (with all of my camera equipment) sitting on the back of a chair... After I was about 3 blocks away I realized I didn't have it with me and bolted full speed back to the 2nd floor. Luckily, among the hustle and bustle someone took our spot at the table and no one realized the bag was someone's who had left.

I think my heart almost stopped that day.