New York is a hyper-competitive land. Whether you’re a money-hungry Goldman Sachs exec battling for financial domination or a struggling actor fending off Tisch graduates for a bit part for some show in some dude’s loft, in this city, you have to fight to survive. But fighting isn’t enough here; it also requires adaptation, refining your strategy, sculpting your focus with pinpoint accuracy, so that you can emerge triumphant from the slush pile. This competitive phenomenon pervades all careers in this fair city, even if that career happens to be the absence of a career.
I am, of course, referring to the city’s panhandling population (a.k.a. beggars, vagrants, street people, bums, tramps, and my personal favorite, mendicants). I refer to them without stigma or criticism. This author believes it takes a profound inner strength to survive while jobless, especially in a city this expensive, and especially for those without a home during the frigid nights of winter and dirty dog days of summer. For that, I believe the panhandlers of NYC garner a fair bit of my respect.
But Dan Foley’s respect isn’t enough to make it on the mean streets of New York (not yet, at least). You need to procure some sort of income via the employed and, in this city, jobless denizens have upped their game substantially. Holding up a cup and rattling around change is no longer enough. You have to discriminate yourself amongst others, adapt, and grow. These guys are taking their game to some next level panhandling shit.
One day, I was riding the subway. We were just passing over the Brooklyn Bridge and, save for the constant rhythm of the subway car passing over the tracks, my world was quiet. Then a young, smiling, unkempt dreadlocked individual emerged from the adjacent subway car into ours. He stood there, momentarily aloof, then spotted a mousey-faced girl with a shawl sitting next to me.
“Heeeeyyyyyyyyyy,” he said, walking over.
She smiled, looked to her left and right, and realized this slightly disheveled man was speaking to her.
“Long time, no see,” he said, reaching his hand out to shake hers.
She hesitated, ultimately shaking it.
“You don’t remember?”
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m very forgetful.”
“No, it’s fine,” he said, still smiling. “We took that intro class together.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You still don’t remember? Dayyymn.” He shook his head and she giggled a bit.
“Maybe…” she said. “At NYU?”
“Where else? It was that one of…one of the freshmen classes. One of the pre-recs.”
“Oh…” she said, scanning her memory. “I think I might remember. Was it…that Spanish history class with crazy bald professor?”
“Now you remember. Yo, it’s been so long,” he said, shaking her hand again. “What was that guy’s name…Peterson?”
“Garcia, I think.”
“Oh man, old man Garcia. How wacky was that dude?”
She laughed. He laughed. There was a pause.
“And how are you…?” he said, holding the final syllable.
“Of course, Roberta. Sean.”
“Good to see you again, Sean.” A third handshake.
“Likewise. So where are you headed?”
“Just home,” she said. “I am exhausted after finals. What about you?”
“I hear that. I’m actually headed to Port Authority. Gonna catch a bus back home. But, bonehead me, I totally blanked and forgot my wallet.”
“Oh no, that’s too bad.”
“Right? Yeah…such a shame.”
He stood there, momentarily swaying with the subway car, before asking: “Hey listen, any way you could hook an old classmate up with a five spot to get back home?”
He was running the same con in the subsequent subway car before we had even reached the next stop.
Dudes on the subway, just taking panhandling to the next level.
Of course, you could just do what this guy does:
Week 20: The Cinnamon Snail
For those of you who know me outside of this blog, I am not a macho man (using the term “macho man” is probably some indication of that). I would much rather play video games than enter a drunken shirtless wood chopping competition, which I hear is all the rage in Colorado. Despite my lack of bear-wrestling trophies, though, I still subscribe to some hardened, perhaps archaic definitions of what it means to be a man: I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my meat bloody. The last one is perhaps my most carnal desire, the shameless, gluttonous flavor of dead animal on my tongue.
In the past, I found it easy to scoff at those who denied themselves the joys of meat, wondering how one’s taste buds could endure a meatless existence. Vegans baffled me further. No eggs? No thank you.
But what if I told you I had been mistaken all along? What I told you that sandwiches could be delicious, without featuring the slaughtered carcass of one of our animal friends? What if I told you that you don’t even need the eggs or milk from one of our four legged amigos to produce a fulfilling sub sangwich? What if I told you such a sandwich could be hearty, manly even, resonating with the soul of the most devout carnivore?
Cinnamon Snail is a food truck that surprises. With a twitter name of @veganlunchtruck, their identity is lucid. A traveling cart, operating from the hours of 11 to 3, slanging only kosher, non-dairy, non-egg, non-came-from-animal products. Oh yeah, and they have an extensive line of sandwiches, which they produce without the need of pork, cheese, chicken, fish, or even a fried egg.
You’re probably thinking: “So…they suck, right?”
Not by a long shot. Fueled by an ethos of ethics and flavor, Cinnamon Snail proves it can taste good to do the right thing. Twice I’ve eaten as this establishment, and one of those was in the rain. I preferred that time, as a matter of fact, as in the sunny days the line took me nearly forty minutes (no joke).
The biggest draw to the Cinnamon Snail is that they don’t let the vegan angle limit them – they take it as a challenge to explore previously uncharted regions of the culinary landscape. Rather than using meat, their base protein is seitan, a wheat gluten made from extracting the flour from the wheat. Doesn’t sound that hearty, but when cultivated among the proper foods and spices and cooked to perfection, it can produce some jaw-dropping results.
The Thanksgiving Sandoo is one of such results, composed of a Porcini mushroom simmered seitan that is freakishly similar to the taste of turkey. Tossed in with a rosemary parsnip bread pudding, marinated kale, orange cranberry relish, and roasted garlic aioli, all loaded onto a grilled baguette, it makes you reminiscent of a Thanksgiving dinner you’ve never had before but suddenly require.
I followed that with Korean barbeque seitan, which is presented open-faced on a grilled tortilla, and is saturated with chili butter, kimchi and greens. Spicy, massive, Korean, and a taste roller coaster, this could fast become a staple in this hungry author’s diet.
What is truly stunning about both of these entries is that they don’t taste “vegan” or at least the stereotypical definition of the word that lingers around in this caveman’s head. They are simply bomb-ass sandwiches of the highest order of dank.
At the Cinnamon Snail, they also come stocked with a plethora of side treats to boot. Patrons can purchase a wealth of surprisingly delicious vegan baked goods alongside their sandwiches (the raspberry cheesecake donut was a pleasant surprise indeed).
It got me to thinking, perhaps they’re onto something at this Cinnamon Snail. As much as I love my bacon and fish sticks, maybe this is the way it was meant to be, living in harmony without masticating the tender entrails of our tasty fellow creatures.
I will leave you with their motto, printed outside their psychedelically-painted truck. It reads the following:
Food to help you Transform
Into a being of pure light
Who can serve all living creatures
Simultaneously and eternally