One great US institution is the coffee cart: small vans parked along the pavement selling coffee, donuts and light bites. One of my fantasies before coming here was based on a scene in a film in which George Clooney was walking along the street with a coffee in a paper cup. I’m not a particular fan of Clooney (too smug) and I can’t remember the film, but the coffee/street thing seemed to me to be quintessentially New York, and I saw myself walking purposefully along clutching a large Seattle Level Four in my hand. Now I do this most days, thanks to my coffee seller ‘di fiducia’.
On the corner of 120st street and Broadway there is a coffee cart run by two guys from Afghanistan. They work from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. and many of their regulars are people from Columbia, faculty staff or hard up students who may have travelled from South Jersey or beyond to come to work that day. So when I amble around at about 9 there is usually a very orderly queue stretching across the pavement waiting for their breakfast. The guys work quickly and amiably, making eye contact with each person who joins the queue to indicate ” I have seen you, and I will do my best to get you served as soon as possible”. They greet regulars with a friendly hello and remember whether they like their coffee milk no sugar, or black and bitter. The food is standard breakfast fare – pastries, bagels and combinations of egg, cheese, sausage and bacon on a roll – but their unique selling point is their competitive pricing and unfailingly cheerful service, often with a weather forecast thrown in for free. I grab my two eggs on a roll and medium coffee for less than three bucks and cross the road with my brown bag, living the dream.