Loretta Carr


The street vendor

Posted on April 8, 2024 by Loretta Carr

Beep, Boop! Beep, Boop! The street vendor is here!

Jumping up like a dog trained to respond to the sound of a bicycle horn, I grabbed a few dollars from my purse and headed out the front door.

“Hola. ¿Cómo está?” I had seen this young man’s small white cart with a brightly colored umbrella set up on Highway 12 selling snacks and beverages to kids and parents – sometimes near Flowery School, sometimes near Boyes Boulevard, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him walking down my street at least three miles away.

One of my favorite purchases is “elote,” sweet corn on the cob topped with mayonnaise, lime juice, cotija cheese, and tajin flavoring. Delicious! My husband’s friend from Ohio was visiting when the vendor arrived one afternoon. He had never tasted or even seen corn prepared this way, so he was impressed that he had learned something new about Mexican food on his trip to Sonoma.

Another one of my favorites is “copa de fruta,” chunks of assorted fruit, watermelon, papaya, coconut topped with chile, lime juice, and tajín­ a salt and ground chile powderper taste. It’s yummy and healthy too.

The young vendor recognizes me now and is always friendly and patient with my less than perfect Spanish. We engage in language negotiation – my favorite way to learn and teach: some Spanish words, some English words, some questions – “¿Cómo se dice?” How do you say? “¿Cuál es la palabra para –––?” What is the word for ___?

One day I asked him where he was from. He hesitated but then, after I told him that my grandparents were from Guanajuato, named his home state in Mexico. I wondered if my questions frightened him or aroused suspicion. Who is this “vieja” – old woman–  and why is she asking me personal questions? I’m grateful that he trusted my awkward attempts at conversation as positive and not anything to worry about. I think he knows that I’m a regular customer now.

I’ve also met female vendors selling bags of oranges or boxes of strawberries in season. The most recent lady vendor I met in the Target parking lot in Napa was from Guatemala. She shared that she was here with her husband and son who were in the Walmart parking lot a couple of miles away also selling.

When she mentioned Guatemala, I thought of the book Solito, Javier Zamora’s memoir about leaving his homeland of El Salvador as a child, crossing Guatemala and Mexico, so he could join his parents in the United States. Like so many other readers, I was touched by the uncertainty and hardship faced by countless people, documented or not, traveling north to the United States in search of a better life. I wondered what her story was.

I thanked the lady selling the oranges and went on my way, doubting that I would have the endurance to work as she does. I appreciated our interaction, and when I got home, I found out that those oranges were way tastier than the ones I had previously bought at the grocery store.

One afternoon during the continuous rain we’ve had, I was driving to the library when I saw the young food vendor on 5th Street West still working in less than comfortable weather. I turned my car around, so I could make a purchase. I figured he had been willing to make the journey to my neighborhood in the past, so I should make the effort to patronize his storefront – if you want to call it that.

He was surprised to see me, but there we were, standing in the rain doing business. I feel respect and admiration for his work ethic to push the umbrella-topped cart full of snacks for miles and miles and hours upon hours. I will continue to include him in my efforts to “Shop Local.”

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA