Off Island Report: Life in the Big Apple

Speaking as a long time expat, who really does love being on St. John, every now and then it’s nice to “get off the rock” and experience something different. So it is that I find myself in Astoria, Queens, New York City staying with my oldest kid, Sean.

I often hear complaints about the way things work on St. John and in the Virgin Islands, especially when it comes to government agencies. I usually retort that it’s no better stateside –  the same old t’ing, maybe worse.

Astoria, Queens, NYC
Typical Street - Astoria, Queens, NYC

Astoria is a nice little working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood, which has escaped much of the gentrification that has so changed the nature of similar NYC neighborhoods. The streets are mostly residential, with scattered small businesses, delis, shoemakers, bakeries, pizza joints, stuff like that.

On the corner of my son’s block is a Greek Deli, owned by Italians and staffed by Mexicans and Egyptians. Last week a tall, rugged-looking,  brown hair streaked with gray, who it turns out had been shopping at almost all the delis and min marts and groceries in the neighborhood that day, walks into the deli and asked the young Mexican manning the checkout counter for a pack of cigarettes. He pays for his cigarettes, picks up the pack and begins to walk toward the door, when two gentlemen in suits enter the store. They walk over to the counterman, and produce badges from their lapel pockets identifying themselves as agents for the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.

The man who had just purchased the cigarettes turns out to be working for the two consumer affairs cops and despite his appearance is only seventeen years old.

The upshot is that the store is fined and prohibited from selling cigarettes for six months, and the poor Mexican, who works his fingers to the bone making sandwiches 14 hours a day seven days a week and with God knows how many relatives that he’s supporting on both sides of the border,  is  personally fined $6,000.

I’m sure there are purists out there who will assert that the end justifies the means, but to me, if this really was about stores selling cigarettes to minors, the person sent in to make the buy would be obviously underage, not disguised and chosen especially because he looks way older than eighteen. I feel sorry for that struggling small business owner as well as others in the neighborhood, who were tricked into breaking the law by the sting and especially for the poor counterman for whom the hardship will be enormous.

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