It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon and any trace of the prior days’ flashes of rain is gone. The sky is cloud-free, and the sun beams down on the concrete in front of Bronx Community College, raising the temperature well above the registered 71 degrees. Foot traffic here is slow today, partly because school is not in session, and those who are here stroll along leisurely. Across from the school is a concrete path; nestled between the major intersections of University Ave. and W. 181st St. It’s a sliver of a park, with wooden benches that are painted black and trees that offer just enough shade.Today, this area is full of canopy tents that shield fresh produce and the people who sell them.
Under two of the tents are grey, plastic, foldout tables with piles of produce: whole corn, crisp cabbage, soft melons, large, ripe tomatoes and red and yellow-colored apples. A green banner hanging from another canopy to the side states: “Fresh Connect Farmers’ Market.”
Manning the tables is a middle-aged couple. The two sit on white, plastic foldout chairs as they watch for potential customers, sitting up when one gets near. The man is short and stout, with dark hair that’s hidden beneath a straw cowboy hat. His sideburns, reaching just below his ears, are peppered with grey. The woman beside him wears a forest green apron that’s sized just right for her petite frame.
When a customer nears the tables to check out the produce, the man stands, adjusting his brown leather belt and khaki trousers.
It’s a young man with black-rimmed glasses. He takes the white headphone plugs out of his ears and picks up a cabbage. In one swift move, the woman with the green apron grabs a plastic shopping bag and gives it a quick shake. She holds up the bag for the man. He drops the cabbage and mumbles something, but his voice is drowned out by the sound of drums and singing.
The music is coming from another blue canopy to their left. Beneath is a man donning a straw fedora. For the past few hours he’s been playing the bomba, a percussion-influenced style of music from Puerto Rico.
A dozen or so children, students from a local preschool, dance and clap along with the drummer. Back at the produce table, the man with glasses pays and walks over to the musician. He listens for a moment, nods his head along to the rhythm and walks off.
Hours pass by: the children are gone and the musician’s audience has dwindled. It’s time for him to leave.
As he kneels down, he covers two barrel-style drums with a cloth that has on it the Puerto Rican flag design. He hoists the drums up by a black strap, and carries them to his car, one at a time.
He’ll be back next week, ready to teach anyone who will listen, the lively sounds of bomba.