Thursday, August 05, 2010

Coffee Bad Break

There is a seemingly heart rending story in today's NY Daily News about an aggrieved food vendor who, because he was moved from his prime location in front of a Queens hospital, has seen his income plummet: "Dramatic pictures caught the frightening moment Wednesday that a big-hearted street vendor - who's fighting to keep his coffee cart outside a Queens hospital - collapsed to the ground. Waleed Ramadan's emotions were running over as he described his wrangling with Queens Hospital Center, which he says wants to put him out of business. The 37-year-old Egyptian immigrant has been selling morning joe and doughnuts outside the Flushing facility for six years - until hospital security suddenly started shooing him down the block and threatening to lock him up in May. "The hospital wants to make me homeless," Ramadan said, his voice growing ever louder. "They want to put me in the street."

The only thing missing from this story, is Bob Dylan singing, "Pity the Poor Immigrant." But what struck us the most about this tale of woe, was the vendor's explanation of the real reason why he was moved: "The hospital has said in an internal memo in May that vendors would be displaced because of congestion and "a number of fire alarm activations." Ramadan's suit says the real reason is more nefarious: "The new executive director is friends with the owner of the coffee shop located inside the hospital," he alleges in a court affidavit.

More nefarious? Let's suppose that the reasons are a complex mixture of both explanations. If the alleged nefarious reason is true, however, than the hospital director is a remarkable unique NYC official-he's actually standing up for the poor coffee shop owner paying rent, taxes and utilities across the street while the low overhead Ramadan siphons off all of the man's customers. Nefarious indeed!

The hospital boss may be doing what no one in the rest of city government dares to do: stand up for the tax paying small businesses that are losing their incomes to all of these Freddy-the-Freeloader vendors. And one thing you can bet your last cup of coffee on. The coffee shop will be visited by the Grade Police soon, and if his shop runs afoul of the myriad labyrinth of DOH rules, he will be publicly rebuked.

Ramadan? Not so much. Yet nowhere in the Daily News story is there any indication that the reporter stopped to think about how unfair this all is to the small businessman-and no one thought to even seek a comment from him. Only the plight of Ramadan deserves mention: "Ramadan was recovering at the hospital last night, his wife said. He may have succumbed to the growing stress, said Souad Tihli, 38. "He barely sleeps," she said. "He's always thinking about this problem."

You know, come to think of it, perhaps the coffee shop owner is also an immigrant-now wouldn't that change the politically correct narrative?