Reno News & Review
Thursday July 09, 2009
Cherries of Wrath
By Clarissa León
It’s been seven hours since Guadalupe Hernandez started working. At 7 a.m., she woke up, put on her pink stretch pants and strained her short hair into a tight ponytail. Her two children, barely 4 years old, sat in the backseat of her SUV as she picked up her friend Carmen who is now seven months pregnant.
From Hernandez’s home near the Atlantis Casino, the women drive to a vacant corner lot on Arrowcreek Parkway and Thomas Creek. They sell fruit.
Two nights earlier, Hernandez’s husband drove eight hours to directly buy strawberries and cherries that are now a crushed-velvet purple. Her strawberries, as with many strawberries sold around the area, come from the “Strawberry Capital of the United States”: Watsonville, Calif. Her cherries are grown in Stockton, Calif. By the time Hernandez sells her strawberries and cherries, they will have traveled more than 600 miles in the back of her Bronco.
Her cherries are “fresh” she says, and it’s true. Hernandez’s fruit is fresher than most, and she pays for the fruit as any buyer would. Each box of strawberries costs $10, and the trip costs nearly $100 in gas. In total, her family spends almost $200 for meager rationings of strawberries and cherries, not including the required business license to sell the fruit each week.
According to the city of Reno, to sell fruit the vendors are required to have a temporary business license, which costs $153 for four to seven days or $83 for three days. Although she and her husband are looking for other jobs, she still works this job to help pay the bills.
Carmen and Hernandez idle, sitting with the back door of the SUV open using the bumper as a seat. Hernandez scans the cars that stop at the intersection, and it’s clear, as she explains, that her business is not doing well.
“No hay nadie,” she says, squinting her eyes. Her son tugs at her hands as he kicks up gravel dust clouds. No one has come by her stand all day. This is Hernandez’s third summer as a fruit vendor, having lived in Reno the entire time. But this year is far from ideal.
Minutes later, two customers drive over the curb and walk to her makeshift canopy and fruit setup. “Cherries?” she asks them. “Five dollars.”
It is the busiest she’s been in seven hours.
On the corner of Plumb Lane and Kirman Avenue, Cosme Vega organizes his fruit stand, which seems to flood out from the back of his GMC Suburban. This Saturday morning, he is making more in a single hour than Hernandez made all day, but business is still too slow.
Vega says he is a Christian. He grew up in Michoacán, Mexico, which translates to “place of fishermen,” and he has painted a Christian fish symbol on his “From Watsonville” sign.
He has stacked his Watsonville Colleen strawberries so that they face the road. He has bags of oranges and mangoes from Santa Cruz. He also has watermelons, cantaloupe and cherries.
Strawberries are $5 for a half box, and cherries are a bargain at $5 a basket. Next to his space, another vendor sells garden fountains. He sits in a lawn chair, baking in the 90-degree sun.
Vega typically buys his fruit from Bonanza Produce or from his friend Martin Aguilar at the El Rancho Flea Market. Although Vega’s English is slow, he understands more than he lets on. On more than one occasion, people have shouted “Go home!” from their cars, but Vega says he doesn’t mind.
Marcel Durant, the owner of the lot and a former Reno City Council member, walks over and comes to his defense. Durant’s French accent matches his broad sun hat. “He is a hard-working guy,” he says. “Muy bien vendedor.”
Durant is the first to set any racist prejudices to rest. Once, someone called him personally, defaming him for supporting “wetbacks” and undocumented workers. This trend is prevalent with all the vendors in this story—they’re told to go back home, back to Mexico. But the vendors just laugh. It’s part of the business, and the majority of their customers are more than kind.
In 1986, Vega moved to California to find a job. Four years ago, he moved to Reno from Long Beach, Calif. He wanted to escape a city of drugs, gangs and crime. He sells fruit because his other jobs, construction and landscaping, pay about $7 an hour. He argues that although some may think he’s doing something wrong, he says he’s doing the exact opposite—choosing a good life absent of drugs or theft.
“I like the business,” he says in Spanish. “I like to live here because here, it’s the American dream, to live a little better, and it’s better for the family.”
Ivan Torres works for his uncle, whom he calls his dad. “I didn’t have a dad, you know. So, my uncle is like my dad,” he says.
His uncle left at 8 in the morning and a few hours later, Torres rests under a tree near Winco Foods on McCarran Boulevard and Northtowne Lane. This week, he tried selling every day to see if he could make more money. Yesterday, he ran out of strawberries, but it’s no consolation. Last year, he would’ve run out of everything. He mentions this point repeatedly.
“Last year was a lot better,” he says. “Last year was good.” This year, he has stacks of mangoes and bags of oranges lined up for customers. Business may be bad, but at least for Torres, there is still business.
Moments later, a car pulls up next to Torres’ white van. He ambles over, and a man gets out and opens his trunk. The man has bags of oranges, and he pulls them out and shows them to Torres. After a while the man leaves, and Torres walks back.
The man was another fruit vendor, trying to sell off the oranges to Torres. But, of course, Torres doesn’t take them. Why would he?
“Oh no, I have already some,” he says, chuckling. He resorts to fixing up his mangoes. Water has stained the tablecloth he has laid out for his Rainier cherries, and the strawberries have stained the empty van with deep red spots.
Just by the van’s door is a red-covered book: The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. As the day has only just begun, Torres hopes that he can sell like he used to.