Snow Job, Part 3: The Hassles

In 1985, the City of Toronto didn’t set a limit on the number of street vendor’s licenses they granted. The sidewalks were crowded with all of us — the shaved icers, the Dickie Dees (ice cream), hot doggers, chip trucks, the t-shirt, sunglasses and fake Rolex people. In spite of the crowding, there was generally goodwill and camaraderie between us; we’d often trade with them, exchanging things like shaved ice for french fries, or watch each other’s carts while we ran to the bank or bathroom.

The people with whom we didn’t get along were the shopkeepers and storee owners. They saw as freeloading competition, taking away their business (even when they were unrelated businesses like book and clothing stores), blocking the line of sight to their storefronts and not having to pay any rent. They harassed us and tried to have us arrested on the flimsiest of charges. One particularly angry souvlaki shop owner managed to convince a cop to charge me with “fouling the sidewalk”, a real charge that carried with it a fifty-dollar fine.

“You’ve got to be kidding, sir,” I protested to the shop owner, “I spilled some water.”

“You poured stuff on the sidewalk that wouldn’t naturally be there if you weren’t here. I know the law.”

Yeah, I thought, but you gave up a promising career as a lawyer to run a greasy spoon, right?

“Sir,” I said, trying to keep civil, “it’s the same stuff as rain. Who do you press charges against when it rains, God?”

“Don’t talk about God that way, sonny-boy-smartass.”

Souvlaki Guy wasn’t going to listen to reason, so I tried the cop next. Until that summer, my experience with the police was limited to when they’d visit my class in grade school and give us presentations on how to cross the street and why we should stay far away from the guy offering free candy in the park.

“Officer,” I said, pouring myself a cup of the substance and drinking it, “it’s water. Nothing but.”

The cop kept writing me a ticket. “Keep it complaining and I’ll throw in obstructiuon fo justice,” he said. He tore the ticket from the pad and gave it to me. “You see that man?” he said, pointing to the triumphant-looking souvlaki guy, “He pays his rent and feeds his kids with his business, and he pays my wages with his taxes. You’re just some kid making money so you can buy beer for your under-age ass.”

That may have been true, but dammit, I was entitled to make a wage too!

As the days went on, it seemed as though the all shopkeepers had learned about the legal issues of street vending and used the confusing and often contradictory set of laws against us. Back then, Toronto was a city made up of different boroughs and sub-cities (Etobicoke, York, North York, East York, Scarborough and the City of Toronto proper), each with their own mayor. Each city or borough had its own bylaws and the amalgam of all the cities and boroughs, Metro Toronto, often had laws that contradicted them. The shopkeepers knew this; on some streets the laws of “Metro Toronto” applied, while on others, the laws of the “City of Toronto” did. If you were at the corner of a “metro” street and a “toronto” street, a few feet made the difference between being charged or not.

We Hawaiian Snow folks had it worse. The generator that powered our ice shavers and microwave ovens was noisy. Whenever we could, we tried tucking them into back alleys or behind garbage cans so that the noise was considerably less than that made by the traffic. However, if a shopkeeper wanted to get rid of us, all they had to do was file a noise complaint and we’d get a ticket and be ordered to leave.

One day, we were set up outside a store called Alan Cherry, an upscale men’s store where my Dad shopped often. I had tucked the generator far away, but the store had decided that we were unwelcome competition and sicced the cops on us. A cute policewoman and a short, unkempt little putz with a cloth measuring tape slung around his neck.

“Look at the cute cop,” I said to Sam.

“What is it with you boys and girls in uniform?” she asked.

“I dunno. They just look good.”

I walked from behind the cart to meet them. After a couple of weeks street vending, I’d learned that approaching shopkeepers and cops directly worked better than waiting for them to come over.

“Arrest that boy!” exclaimed the putz. “He’s interfering in my honest business. The noise from his machine is making me cra-zay!

In a fit of teenage braggadocio, possibly inspired by bad teen movies, I thought I’d try to impress the cute cop by taking the putz down a notch or two.

“Officer, if Mr. Alan Cherry himself [the store was named after its owner] has a complaint, I’d be glad to see what I can do. But I’m not going to do it for one of his errand boys.” A little assertiveness always impresses the ladies.

The cop stifled a laugh. I couldn’t figure out why.

“I am Alan Cherry, you schmuck!

Oh, crap.

“Uh…I thought you’d be taller,” I said.

Oh, crap. At least the cop was laughing out loud.

Sam saw all of this and assured the cop and the now apoplectic-with-fury Alan Cherry that we’d be gone in twenty minutes. That was the fastest we’d ever packed up.

A few weeks later, Dad and I were buying new suits for a wedding we were going to attend. He decided that he wanted to see the suits at Alan Cherry’s. As luck would have it, Mr. Cherry himself was minding the store that day. I avoided direct eye contact with him whenever possible, and he didn’t seem to recognize me.

Next: bringing a biker to Jesus and dating the boss’ girlfriend’s sister. (Promise.)

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