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The New York Experience

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Roving Rube

Sept. 23, 2003

"Popcorn, Indiana" store, Times Square

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This store replaced a "Timothy's" coffeehouse -- the Rube and his coworkers used to go there because you could get your own coffee and not be stuck on the long and chaotic lines of the Starbucks across the street. And there was another coworker who could often guess the trivia question and win a free coffee, and others who knew the people behind the counter and could get free coffees that way. And of course it went out of business because it was not Starbucks. (Damn you, white whale!)

So the Rube bought some popcorn here, to share with his coworkers, as part of the "research" for this series -- "Sweet and Salty," $4.50 the bag. And everyone agreed it was unusually good -- one person noticing, as it got down to the bottom of the bag, that not a single kernel was left unpopped.

Another was moved to confess that he felt guilty because one time he had gone in and they had offered him a free sample of a new flavor, "Banana Strawberry", and he had made some cynical New Yorker comment, and then they appeared downcast, and said, "well, we like it."

And the Rube said he should feel guilty because the bag said "Popcorn: Indiana: Population 42", and probably it was a depressed area and they had pooled all their resources to try to earn some money here in the Big Apple with their one marketable resource. And he recalled how the person behind the counter -- husky and bearded, wearing a flannel shirt, and with a real Midwestern friendliness -- exactly matched his idea of what a farmer who drove a tractor around out there would be like. Maybe they took turns manning the store here, with a long, lonely Greyhound bus ride before and after...

That first coworker, by the way, the one who knew all the trivia questions, could also tell your fortune using M&M's. You would shake up the the bag, and then pour a few out into the palm of your hand -- this can only be done with M&M's, since they melt in your mouth, not in your hand -- and from the colors and their arrangement, she could tell you what the rest of the day held in store. Red might mean romance, Green opportunity ... or the opposite -- it was all in the pattern. The Rube learned how to do it a little. The trick is to let your mind go blank and not have any preconceptions.

The downside was that this led to greatly increased buying of M&M's and mid-afternoon sugar crashes.

But then one freezing cold morning this coworker was looking forward to a nice hot (and likely free) Timothy's coffee on her way to work, and when she got there, the door was closed and a box of pastries was still sitting out on the sidewalk. And she knew it was the beginning of the end of her time here with us, and soon got a new job as a wine saleswoman in upstate New York.


































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