$2 buys you a hard-glazed blueberry doughnut and a cup of forty weight, served en vogue in wax paper and styrofoam. Of course, what you’re really buying with your cup of burnt joe is access. Rochester’s historic Public Market, a Flower City staple since 1905, churns with vendors and those looking to take advantage of their cut-rate produce on the weekends. Now, at the beginning of the week with the sun just barely managing to peak over the sloping metal roofs of the market’s many buildings, it’s only freight drivers, the sudden hiss of hydraulic breaks, and the cuss-laden conversation of middle-aged men, hardened by years of early mornings in a starving city — all of this paid access only.
To take a seat outside Union Street Bakery and breathe deep the cloud of sauteing onion and garlic wafting from Juan and Maria’s nearby empanada shop, you’d better be ready to buy that mud and you’d better pretend to like it. The bakery’s owners are kind but proud people, unaccustomed to giving away the prime seats outside their glass-faced bakery that resembles an old New England wharf shop for free.
In the time it takes to down my caffeinated passport, stacks of pallets bearing potatoes and onions as big as fists form mountains reaching over my head. The gentlemen directing the operation, a genial if hardened looking man with tobacco-tanned skin and a faded slate mustache and a muscular, cocoa fellow and a face that belongs in the movies, grow increasingly wary of their soft-palmed observer pecking occasionally at his surprisingly delicious dollar doughnut.
Like the pair of preening pigeons nearby that only give a damn what you’re doing when it involves staring directly at them, the men’s suspicion finally surpasses their tolerance. Only, unlike the avian bystanders, breaking their limit doesn’t cause the gents to fly away.
“Bet you gotta camera on that thing,” the movie star starts, motioning with his head to the phone laying next to my premium café.
I’m completely flummoxed by this. My face doubtlessly reads “stupid.” So, making things worse, I just stare back at the men, my mouth slightly agape as I try to translate.
“How about we pose? You stop staring then?”
Ah, right. “Sorry,” I mutter meekly.
I jot down a few more messy notes, pop a crumb of the economy pastry onto my tongue, and decide I’ve probably worn out my welcome. Turns out that $2 dollar entry fee is limited access only.