Dollar Vans: How The Underground Economy Thrived In Jamaica Queens New York!

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Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M

 

Everyone needs it.

Everyone wants it.

Some treat it responsibly and others disrespect how it doesn’t have to be loyal to you.

When small thinkers have a pocket full of it they feel as though they can purchase the world. But if you have the proper respect for the smallest amounts and its vast ability to change your life, large amounts will never change your character and you will be empowered to move mountains.

Many unseen individuals live by the latter credo in their dealings with money. They would never tell anyone that money is the root of all evil….they actually would say the opposite.

It was through my good fortune to have been blessed with a chapter in my life working shoulder to shoulder shared with people in the streets of Jamaica Queens such as these. They look like you and I. They had nothing about them that made them stand out from the crowd. They worked hard and sacrificed much….appearing ready for the days unexpected struggles and challenges hours before daybreak until long after the sun went down.

They put their lives at risk to build their dreams one dollar at a time and never complained when stress was their constant companion.

They didn’t have time to concern themselves with this thing called stress when they had families to feed….children to put through school and elders that depended on the earnings that this constantly scorned but honest way of making a living made possible. They were trusted by most and looked down upon by many. They filled a need in the community but for the most part were faceless foreigners from many strange lands so very far away. You may have not known their difficult to pronounce names, but their determined spirit, work ethic and sense of community always let you know who they were by their obvious character traits. The name really did not matter at this point.

Who were these individuals that I speak of? Ask anybody who has lived in the Southside Jamaica section of Queens, New York for any substantial amount of time and they will tell you who THEY look for when they can’t find a bus or yellow taxi cab to reach their destination….

They are the Dollar Van Drivers!

The WHAT?

Most people who are not from that part of the world wouldn’t understand so I must take the time to explain what they do. But when you really look into it, their phenomenon on the terrain of the competitive streets of New York City encompasses the epitome of the American Dream.

Dollar Van Drivers? ……….Yes.

They do just what it sounds like. These guys will drive a passenger van along the bus routes picking up citizens in a swift and timely manner to reach their connecting train that will take them into work. They are more agile and can maneuver the congested inner city traffic in ways a hulking clumsy bus can only dream of therefore making it preferable to many…..especially since it was also a bargain at one dollar! But many who had so called “high paying jobs” looked down on these men in scorn who plied their trade in such a humble manner.

But at the end of the week when the well paid passengers were left to scratch their heads and wonder how were they going to make ends meet with their highly taxed and dwindling funds, many van drivers had an extra thousand dollars to go to the bank with after all bills and obligations were deducted.

So who was in a better position?

I learned a valuable lesson from supplementing my income in such a way. Dollar Vans have their root in Jamaica West Indies as “Juta” Vans, but it started here in Jamaica Queens as the result of a New York City mass transit strike back in 1979 where residents of the outer boroughs were left stranded for a ride to the subway train.

Someone saw the opportunity in this and took their private vehicles on the road and filled the gap that the absent buses left unattended.

How did I get into it?

Well, I have to give credit to my long lost friend Gerald Ihekuma, a Nigerian “Ibo” who worked with me at The South Ozone Park Home Depot in Queens New York. We were both hired in early 1994 but it was in early 1995 when he revealed to me how he had so much disposable income in his possession for eating the costly lunches that he insisted he treat me to everyday.

It was so funny to me that he would reveal his mysterious source of income to me especially after he observed how a Caucasian supervisor harassed me as though I was his slave possession on a southern plantation. I was angered to the point of going righteously postal! Gerald knew that I was on the edge of madness and knew it was on him to help me make a change with the knowledge he possessed, because he knew I was only there for the little money that I earned to take care of my family.

So like two slaves working the fields together just beyond “masters” evil gaze, he whispered to me on how to legalize a van to put on the street to get my hustle on. He told me the ins and outs of extracting a fortune from the streets day in and day out without notice. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me but I knew he wouldn’t lie…..”Well why are you still working here I asked?”

….Well, I won’t repeat the answer that he gave because it would put him at odds with the powers that be but I will say this:

He is a brilliant man!

You see, he is one of those individuals that come into your life to affect and influence you in such a way as to change you for the better….to raise you up a notch or two in life. Well I was appreciative of what he gave to me and took to the streets like a madman possessed!

It was such a victory to quit that job and within a week or two have the money and time to fix up my house. Spending more money at the Home Depot from what I earned in a week in the streets of Jamaica than I could make there in that orange plantation in two months time!

The characters and unique individuals that I have had the pleasure to meet, know and love that have influenced my creativity in the art and writing that I would eventually embark upon in the form of this website. And how can I forget the other drivers: Fat boy, K-9, Nigel (Always peeking out from under a hooded sweatshirt!) Ruddy, Ralphy, Bruce-BRUCE, Birdman, Polar Bear, K.P. (R.I.P.) alias P.K. (You’ll have to ask me what those initials mean, it’s an inside joke!), Ian alias “Joyride”, Junior, Meatneck Tony, Al Capone, Tallman (Who almost got an a** whippin’ from me one night on Sutphin Blvd. after mouthing off! ) Trini….my buddy Gus (God bless his soul) who never legalized his van but would sneak out at night after the authorities went home so he could make a few extra dollars to supplement his regular job.) African Charlie who drove the brand new Mazda MPV.

I could go on and on but I must also mention Tony the Sutphin Blvd “regulator”…..Anyone who remembered Sutphin Blvd and 93rd Ave. by the fish market will remember him for screaming at the top of his lungs calling for passengers to ride the Q40 Dollar van: “Foooorty over Heeeeeere! He would get a dollar kickback from the driver for filling up his van for him…..We all knew he had a heroin habit (That he hid well) but a more charismatic street personality you would never find. The ladies of all ages loved him bringing him home cooked delicacies and slipping wads of spare change that they would get after shopping in the fish market in his pockets when no one was looking.

The unique personalities and inimitable characters that I was blessed to connect with and absorb energy from would eventually be invaluable to my psyche on a creative level as I would never ever be the same after knowing them…….

Lance Scurvin

Contact Lance Scurvin At LanceScurv@yahoo.com

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Culture Critic, Podcast Host, Blogger, Cartoonist & Social Media Activist who focuses on the issues that the Mainstream Media is deathly afraid to touch! Call/Text Direct: 407.590.0755

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