Thursday, May 18, 2006

Batman: The Door-to-Door Huckster

It seems that many here in South Philly like to relive the memories of their youth, remembering especially the characters who frequented the neighborhood around here.

My cousin and I were talking about these characters this past Monday, and he reminded me of one guy who I had just about forgotten about. That guy is Batman. No, not the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight of comic book/movie/TV fame. Nope. Our Batman was a huckster, and if he were to consider that old truck a Batmobile, he would have had to have had one vivid imagination.

I have no idea where the name came from for this guy. I don't remember anything that would really make us want to call him Batman. Yet mention the name when recalling those around here, and someone will say, "Yeah, the tomato guy!"

Most folks will remember the hucksters in the trucks with the loudspeaker who yelled out all kinds of weird stuff. I remember one of them yelling out stuff like "gowsie, and freshkie", whatever the heck that was supposed to mean. Batman was different. He didn't use a loudspeaker. He didn't need it. He'd just grab a basket off the truck and strut down the street yelling out what he was carrying for the day. "Squash!" "Peppers!" "Tomatoes!" He covered a lot of ground, and had a lot of regular customers. So many, in fact, that he would regularly run up and down the steps of the rowhomes, knowing which housewives were going to buy from him. The guys with the loudspeakers probably had to work harder, Batman had a lot of steadies.

As likeable as the guy was, he sometimes rubbed some of the ladies the wrong way. Sometimes people just don't like to hear guys yelling. It can be a minor crime with some when you have the windows open in the summertime, the soap operas on the TV, and some nut outside screaming about his romaine lettuce while you're trying to keep up with your "stories". Or when you're shouting in someone's face, they don't take too kindly to it. One of the fond stories of Batman was when he bounced up the steps to a lady's house, pounding on the door with his basket of Jersey Tomatoes. Just as the lady answered, Batman let out his customary roar of "Tomatoes!", probably loud enough and close enough to rupture her eardrum. Batman himself got an earful that day, of the lady letting him have it for yelling in her face. Well, I did say he was a likeable guy. Enough so that he kept his customers, even with all that yelling.

The day of the roaming huckster seems to be gone now. You can buy your produce on the street still, but you'll need to go down to places like 10th & Oregon or other corners where guys set up to sell. They don't hit the streets pounding the doorsteps anymore. Maybe it's because more women work today and they're not found at home as much. Maybe it's the noise statutes - I'd rather hear Batman than the crappy music we hear booming from cars of young white guy, wannabe gangsta types. Or maybe it's just that Bose's noise-cancelling technology allows the ladies to watch and listen to their "stories" and tune out the world at the same time. Who knows. Probably the only yelling from these guys we'll hear now is what we remember in our minds.

1 comment:

wootsiewoo said...

I remember the umbrella man who would fix umbrellas and anything else. The fruit huckster who sold fruit and waffles/ice cream from a horse drawn buggy up and down the street yelling those words we did not understand. i think it was a mix between english and italian. It seems there was a endless stream of buggies up and down the street on certain days and of course the milk man would come drive around delivering the milk, eggs etc. Thenof course the pretzel kids (like me) who would get a cart and sell hot pretzels from Federal St at the crack of dawn. good memories