[Nfbmo] Vendor is no longer a no-ware man

DanFlasar at aol.com DanFlasar at aol.com
Mon Oct 14 19:00:43 UTC 2013

Very well-written story about a real Mensch (if  you don't know the term, 
it's a Yiddish term meaning  "a real, warm human  being).  Thanks for sharing.
In a message dated 10/14/2013 9:41:02 A.M. Central Daylight Time,  
freespirit at accessibleworld.org writes:

COLUMN ONE.  Vendor is no longer a no-ware man. Rick Lopez ran the 
cafeteria and snack bar  at the Long Beach courthouse for 20 years. Forced out, he's 
set up shop  elsewhere. By Christine Mai-Duc.. 

When Rick Lopez packed up the sodas,  chips, gum and candy on his final 
day, he knew he was leaving a lot behind.  There was the security guard who 
helped him set up shop in the morning and  would give him a ride home in the 
evening, the judicial commissioner who raved  that his egg salad sandwich was 
the best in town, the attorneys who arrived  early for the freshly brewed 
coffee -- and even the old, dilapidated Long  Beach courthouse itself. For two 
decades, Lopez was a fixture there, running  the cafeteria and snack bar 
through a state program that gives blind vendors  priority in government 
buildings. But when all the judges, bailiffs and clerks  moved down the street to 
a gleaming new courthouse this fall, Lopez didn't  make the trip. State 
officials told Lopez there was nothing they could do to  keep him in Long 
Beach, but they could transfer him to another location.  

The new courthouse was built by a public-private partnership and  
developers were given the right to lease out the food stalls as they pleased.  Taking 
his place would be a food court with chains such as Subway and Coffee  Bean 
& Tea Leaf. Lopez was crushed. A courthouse is often a place where  some of 
life's sad and dire dramas play out. But for Lopez, it was also a  place 
where he and a regular cast of characters found ways to bond. As he  walked 
away from the old courthouse for the last time, he cried. :: Lopez, 59,  has 
never married and lives alone in a one-bedroom condo in Long Beach. Every  
night he phones his 92-year-old mother to catch up. Blind at birth, he  
regained some sight in his left eye as he got older. He credits his mother,  who 
prayed over him every day. She would wave her palm over his head, and one  
day his eyes began tracking it. She could never take no for an answer," he  
said. In high school in upstate New York, he ran track, always careful to keep 
 his competitors to his left so that he could see them with his good eye. 
When  he was 23, he left New York to study at a small theology school near  
Disneyland. He stayed in California, taking odd jobs to make ends meet. 
During  one stretch, he worked as a night-shift manager at a tortilla factory. 
When a  friend told him about the state's blind vendor program, he applied and 
landed  at a tiny snack bar at a juvenile hall in San Diego, selling chips 
and sodas.  It wasn't until he was transferred to Long Beach several years 
later that he  finally felt at home. Family members of defendants and 
victims, along with  prosecutors and defense attorneys, came to know him by name. 
The court  interpreters, whose offices were next to Lopez, would come in to 
get their  weekly fix of French fries. He was there long enough that some of 
those who  were called to jury duty for a second or third time became 
regulars. I eat up  the years like I eat popcorn," Lopez said of his decades at 
the Long Beach  courthouse. His hair has gone gray, and his constant laughter 
has carved deep  lines in his face. But, he said, "I don't feel old. He has 
a knack for  remembering names and faces, even of people just passing 
through. When someone  says a kind word, he replies simply: "You're nice. Lydell 
Ball, a security  guard, looked for him first thing in the morning at the old 
courthouse and  sometimes helped him set out the pastries and get the 
coffee going. Ball would  take Lopez on Costco runs, and Lopez always made sure 
to stock up on Whoppers  -- the guard's favorite candy. Ball misses the 
vendor. Lopez went by the new  building a couple weeks ago after hearing Ball had 
been out sick. I want to  make sure you're doing what the doctors tell 
you," Ball recalled Lopez telling  him. By that time, the old Long Beach 
courthouse had been shuttered -- its  escalators still, and a sign advertising 
Lopez's sixth-floor cafeteria papered  over with a misspelled notice: "Serado" 
-- closed. --. After leaving Long  Beach, Lopez set up shop at the Downey 
courthouse, a two-hour train and bus  ride from home. He wakes up at 3 a.m., 
dedicating an hour to prayer before  heading out the door. He sees well enough 
to get around on his own, but has  little peripheral vision and no sight in 
his right eye. Lopez was able to take  two of his employees to Downey with 
him, but the snack bar doesn't have a  kitchen, and he had to let his 
longtime cook go. His shop is tucked into a  windowless corner on the first floor 
where he can hear the constant beep of  the security screeners. He is still 
getting the hang of the register, and the  ice machine and freezer are in 
need of repair. Business is slower, but he's  convinced his store will thrive. 
Shelves that were practically bare when he  first arrived are stacked with 
neat rows of packaged bear claws and doughnuts,  the fridge stocked with 
sandwiches. Near the register, a hot dog warmer  clinked as it rotated. 
Quarter-pounder, all beef," he said, beaming. Lopez  took apples and plums and 
rearranged them into neat rows. We buy with our  eyes," he said, looking up. He 
is getting to know a young security guard who's  about to become a father. 
It's going to change your life," Lopez advised him,  patting him on the back. 
The guard, a foot taller than Lopez and half his age,  grinned sheepishly. 
During his first couple of weeks, Lopez said, his sales  weren't enough to 
cover his employees' wages; he drew from his savings to pay  the bills. He 
has big plans: a popcorn machine, ice cream, and, eventually,  made-to-order 
breakfast and BLTs for lunch. Remember 'Casablanca'? We just  have to get a 
little piano now," said Lopez, his eyes squinting with laughter  behind thick 
glasses. Still, he said, he had been praying for change -- for  sales to 
improve or another courthouse to serve. Two weeks ago, the state  granted 
Lopez a temporary contract to run the cafeteria at the Compton  courthouse, too, 
a far busier facility that's closer to home. He called his  cook to tell 
him he could have his job back. Lopez will spend time at both  spots. --. One 
morning, he was walking through the hallway in Downey when he  noticed a 
somber-looking man in line for small claims court. He stopped to  talk to him. 
David Lugo had recently lost his son, killed when the driver of a  parked 
car he was sitting on sped off and ran him over. Lopez listened to his  story 
and suddenly hugged Lugo, a bear of a man, and invited him to the snack  
bar. The two talked about faith and purpose and grieving. Before he left,  
Lopez shook the man's hand and discreetly slipped a $100 bill into his palm to  
help with funeral costs. Just after noon, one of the security guards walked 
in  with a nod and retrieved his sack lunch from a refrigerator, leaving a 
dollar  at the register for a 'cup' of coffee. A few minutes later, a 
gruff-looking  man with a mustache and tattoos on both arms showed up. So you took 
over, huh?  he said, looking around. Yeah, I did," Lopez said. Do you work 
here? Just  passing through," the man replied as he paid for his water and 
stepped out  into the hall to wait. Lopez has begun to cultivate a new group 
of regulars.  He's introduced himself to court employees and traded laughs 
with the building  manager. Between customers, he recited one name after 
another, committing them  to memory. You grow where you're planted," Lopez said 
with a shrug, and then  turned to his register to ring up the next sale. --.  
christine.maiduc at latimes.com. 

Los Angeles Times Metro 2013 10  14

Nfbmo mailing  list
Nfbmo at nfbnet.org
To  unsubscribe, change your list options or get your account info for  

More information about the NFBMO mailing list