The alarm clock screeches. It’s 3:00am. For some very strange reason, people often imagine “country life” consisting of late mornings and lattes. Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m all for that kind of gracious morning, but it’s really not farm-life reality. We’re headed to Union Square market today and that means we’ll have to arrive by 7am to beat city traffic and have our tent set up by starting time. Becca grabs the coffee. She offers to drive, but since my sister is even less of a morning person than I am, I insist on taking the wheel. I can’t call it kindness on my part. More like self-preservation.
The valleys are dark and so are the roads. The only light comes from our van’s headlights, forging a path on roads that curve along the mountain contours. Eventually, we merge onto the highway, joining an ever-growing herd of vans and semis ready to feed The City. Flour trucks are ready to dump clouds of white into bakery basements; finger-lake vineyards prepare to offer their wines to upper-end parties. We join the crowd with our maple syrup.
By 6:30am Becca is able to stay awake for 30 second intervals and helps me find the new exit off of the highway. New Yorkers — despite the bad rap they get — kindly slow to let our van take a quick turn. A few more stop lights and we’re at Union Square.
New York is known as the city that never sleeps, yet at this time of the morning it feels like a reluctant child; not quite wanting to wake, but when it does, full of energy. A few other people can be seen nailing away on construction projects, or heading out clutching gym bags, bright running shoes contrasting with the cobblestones. Other farmers set up their wares, displaying heirloom tomatoes, sheep-milk cheese and cool apple cider. It will sell quickly on this muggy day.
We cheerily declare our presence by setting up our maple-leaf emblazoned tent. Cotton candy is strung along ropes and displayed out front. All of it will be gone by evening. We arrange syrup-filled glassware to catch the sun (and to attract pedestrians’ eyes).
It’s almost starting time, which means it’s no longer dark and people can actually see us. We take turns in the van fixing our hair and trying to look like we got more than four hours of sleep. Thankfully, we blend in with the other sleepy people as they catch the subway to work. They grab maple treats to add pizzazz to their day.
Part way through the morning I run off and find a GMO-filled breakfast sandwich, nobly saving the market’s natural products for customers (of course . . . ).
Becca takes a short stroll to find food, too. While she’s gone a school field trip descends on me and with it comes a feeling of slight panic. It’s not that I’m unused to young kids, but it’s a challenge to keep up with customers, explain the sugaring process, and hand out samples of cotton candy to 30 students, all while making sure they don’t triple dip. (Uh, I mean double dip.) Their teacher kindly agrees to come back once Becca returns. And, sure enough, Becca capably saves the day and becomes every child’s hero. We find out later we’re the students’ favorite tent. We’d like to think it’s due to our winning personalities, but it’s probably because everyone loves free spoonfuls of maple cream.
The afternoon is full of explaining the difference between light, medium and dark syrup, between grade A and grade B, and suggesting various uses for our products. The crowd trickles and surges. Farmers trade produce and product. Heels get taller and clothes more formal. We start feeling a little more sleepy.
Tourists also stop by. Although I usually can’t understand what’s being said, I imagine their conversations going something like this: “oh, look, real rural American people out of their natural mountain habitat. Take many, many pictures.” Um, ok friends, time to buy some syrup. I’ve been on the other side of the camera, though, so really, I can’t say anything. When I do understand what’s going on, I’m usually asked the difference between syrup and honey, since maple is a North American curiosity.
By the evening we gauge the traffic, the weather, and our sales, and decide to start packing up the van. We take things apart somewhat strategically, leaving enough maple products out until the last minute so that stragglers can grab a jug of syrup on their commute home. Becca is an expert tent-folder and car-packer, so it takes little time to have things neatly packed and ready to go.
One of the market-workers helps us back our van into traffic. We turn right at the third stop sign and head for the hills.