Cresting the long, uphill east side of the 59th Street Bridge a few days ago, I came across a man rolling along very slowly atop his electric wheelchair. In his lap were hundreds of small American and Puerto Rican flags piled high; the kind you wave at a parade or plant beside a gravestone. I asked him if he was okay and as he tapped his low battery gauge he said in Spanish, “No tengo electricidad.” I asked him if he would like me to push him while I run to the Manhattan side of the bridge.
“Por cierto!” He smiled while nodding his head with gratitude.
I soon regretted my offer. Those electric chairs weigh a ton and my legs soon tired. Along with choking car, truck and bus fumes, the heat and humidity made the task more difficult. With another 14 miles to run, I spent most of my energy pushing this guy over the bridge.
When we arrived at the end of the bridge I said, “¡Viva Puerto Rico! Referring to one of his flags draping his chair’s steering bars.
“One dollar, por favor.”
“One dollar, por uno bandera.”
He had to be kidding and I asked him so.
“No es broma.”
He wasn’t joking and I grunted, “No thanks. Buene día.”
“Okay, okay. Dos para una.”
You got to hand to this guy. He's a died-in-the-wool salesman and he never forgot what he set out to do: try and sell his banderas. As I ran up towards Second Avenue I shook my head and said, “Only in New York.””