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Making money on the streets

Street hustlers earning enough to buy cars, houses

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 02, 2012    

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'WAYNE' gets up at 7:00 every morning, takes a shower and has breakfast before getting into his brown Nissan motor car and heading for work — a curb at Portia Simpson Miller Square in Three Miles, Kingston, where he has been selling doughnuts for the past 15 years.

The fact that his humble profession has provided him the opportunity to own a car still amazes the youngster, who has no plans — at least for now — to retire.

Wayne is among a number of street vendors in the capital who have done fairly well for themselves. His experience, however, is not the norm, as there are many others who find that it can be difficult making a living on Kingston's streets.

But here — among the plethora of vendors, windshield wipers, and 'loadermen' — Wayne has found a home.

"Not everybody can sell doughnuts out here. Sometimes for hours not even one don't sell. Is really hard work," he said, using an index finger to wipe a mixture of dust and sweat from his face. He is unaware that he is speaking with a reporter working undercover as a street vendor.

He flicks the sweat from his finger before continuing: "But after you get into it you start learn how the thing work and you get the hang of it."

From Monday to Saturday, Wayne weaves his tall, slender body through the bustling traffic, smiling with motorists as he entices them to buy his goods. The aim is not to return home with any of his wares as he does not like to sell stale doughnuts.

He stops at the bakery each morning to purchase fresh pastries, he said. Sometimes he buys 15 boxes, sometimes 20, and, when the season is good, up to 50, which he sells at $270 each. He increases the number on weekends, which tend to be more profitable than weekdays.

He knows he has to be skilful in order to "sweet mouth" pedestrians and motorists into buying all his highly perishable stock. He has to time it all perfectly, hastily approaching as many vehicles as possible as they make their short stop at the traffic lights.

At the end of the day Wayne jumps back into his vehicle and heads to his Spanish Town home; usually his day ends at 6:00 pm.

Just up the road, you will find 'Delroy', another doughnut vendor who also drives to work.

On the days this reporter was there, however, his 1991 Nissan motor car was parked at home because it needed to be insured.

"I can't take the chance and drive it," he explained.

Like 'Wayne', he, too, was oblivious that he was speaking with a reporter, and not a bag-juice seller as my disguise would have led him to believe.

"It cost $40,000 to insure, but me soon reach the target, still," he added confidently.

Delroy was cheerful as he explained that once he was mobile again, he would resume his routine of driving to work, selling 15 or more boxes of doughnuts, then around 6:00 in the evening, jumping into his car and operating it as a taxi, shuttling passengers from Three Miles to Half-Way-Tree until about 10:00 pm to supplement his income for the day.

According to the youth, he has been selling on the streets since he was 11 years old, starting out selling newspapers.

Delroy explained that his mother was a newspaper vendor and he would go with her when school was out to help her. After seeing the profit he made from his sales he soon branched out into selling other items like phone cards, before turning to doughnuts.

With no children to support, the 27-year-old, who lives with his mother rent-free, said he saved as much as he could from his daily earnings until he was able to buy his vehicle.

Like 'Wayne', he plans on staying at his current profitable location for a long time.

"Right now I don't really see myself as leaving from here because I have been here a long time," he said. "This is where I make my living."

And they are not alone. Selling at the busy intersection has proven a good source of income for many street vendors. Among them are those who clean windscreens for a living.

"The ting wid the wiper man dem is dat dem mek quick money. Is not like the doughnut seller dem who have to work hard and fi hours might not even sell one," one of the street hustlers said.

Twenty-two-year-old windscreen wiper 'Kevin' has been on the streets since he was 14.

He said he makes sure he earns enough money to ensure his 15-year-old girlfriend stays in school at Denham Town High.

He was quick to point out that she will soon turn 16 as he explained that they live together in Back-To.

Kevin said wiping windcreens is not something he intends to do for the rest of his life so he pushed until he earned himself a certificate in plumbing and electrical works, and is now pursuing one in auto mechanics.

"I don't know about the other man dem. But mi know mi not going to do this for long," he explained. As soon as mi get my certificate in mechanic, a man done have a work line up for me."

He said he makes $1,500 to $2,000 per day and on Fridays up to $4,000. From this he throws his $2,000 'partner' every Friday. The 'partner draw' is $40,000.

"This is just a quick money, still," he said in reference to wiping windsheilds.

Kevin explained that he grew up with a mother who was very strict about education and so he could not "skull" school. However, she gave him permission to do whatever he wanted after classes. Thus, he took to the streets to earn money to send himself back to school and help out his mother at the same time.

Kevin described himself as a loving yet no-nonsense person. He explained that he is the one his girlfriend's family called when she was living with them and refused to obey them. I tried not to react as he explained how he had to 'discipline' her.

"Sometimes mi 'ave to lick her, yes, 'cause how else she going to hear? Memba enuh, her mother dem talk to her and she nah hear, so when mi talk to her she nah go hear either, so mi affi beat her! Memba enuh, anytime she do anything and dem cyan't deal wid her, is mi dem call. But mi love her still and mi a mek sure she go school. Mi not going to be one a dem man deh who have dem woman and she can't even sign her name," he said, chuckling. "Mi just a mek sure mi nuh breed her!"

In a bid to find out if other street vendors were faring as well as those in Three Miles, I moved to the Trafalgar Road/Hope Road intersection. I became friendly with 'Goulbourne', a man who sold cellular phone car chargers and phone cases.

I learned that he was one of the more fortunate street hustlers who had also found a way to purchase a vehicle, a 1998 Honda motor car which he was in the process of licencing as a public passenger vehicle. He hoped it would be the ticket to ending his street-hustling days.

"Mi waan put di car on the road to run taxi, still," he said. "But mi a go run it myself, so that time I will come off the streets."

In fact, he claimed he was in the process of purchasing a house using money saved from peddling his wares at the busy intersection for years.

The vendor said that he pays $3,000 per day toward his 'partner draw'. His plan is to keep saving and turning over the money until he can fulfil his ambitions. He had been selling at the traffic lights since 2002, and after 10 years on the streets, one more dream was finally within reach.

I watched as he ran to speak with a motorist who had stopped at the lights. They had what appeared to be a serious conversation, after which he told me that the man was his lawyer and was shortly expected to sign off on some paperwork that would complete his purchase of a house in Portmore.

Another of the vendors, 'Roy', who lives in downtown Kingston, said he has been working on the streets for the last 10 years. He makes his living selling steering wheel covers, air fresheners and chamois cleaning cloths.

He confessed that his education ended at an all-age school and therefore this was the easiest way to make a living.

Roy said he owns his own home in one of the garrison areas in downtown Kingston and occasionally gets jobs on construction sites. On average, he said he earns up to $5,000 per day and with no dependents, he survives fairly well.

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