Back in the 80’s when I was a street vendor,the “crack epidermic” began.Starting in South Central, Los Angeles it sped across, the length of the country like run away freight train.Astonished New Yorkers looked at each other in bewilderment,unable to understand how this scourge could envelop the country with the veracity of a smallpox epidemic.Invading already depressed neighborhoods it turned the streets of New York into a war zone.Few people understood why or how such an insidious disease could just spring out of nowhere. One,Gary Webb, tried to explain but paid the ultimate price.
We street vendors lost tons of merchandise from out of control petty thieves who would steal the shirt off your back.We were in a constant state of loading and unloading,setting up, and breaking down,everyday sometimes as much as 10 times a day.It was during these times when you were most vulnerable.Inventory control was an impossible goal,so we never knew how much we lost,we just knew that we did.
Paradoxically there was one market that was quite safe.It was basically kept secure from crackheads, by, of course, other crackheads.We all felt reasonably secure that they would not steal from us since they could not afford to be caught, as it would lead to banishment from the market and their only source of income.They were there in the market from early morning till the last vendor left at night, to help load and unload,to set up tarps in the driving rain,or brake ice in the freezing cold.The market would not have been the same without them,fetching us endless cups of tea and coffee in the winter and cool drinks in the summer and defending the market from outside marauders who came in droves,to steel our hard earned merchandise.At night we left them and they found their way into the underground,that they entered via a tunnel in the center mall on Houston Street, where they kept warm and slept.They became known as The Mole People.
In a strange twist, a female ex-vendor who had married the son of a wealthy Japanese industrialist and had 2 children and a store on West Broadway,left her comfortable loft in SoHo to join her lover,Paradise and the Mole People.Crack of course played an important part in this sad tale.She remained in this state for some years until she was able,with help of her sister, to gather herself together and emerge from this dungeon.I bumped into her recently at the Harlem Fairway with a child that looked like Paradise and was surely a product of her days with the Mole People.