Marion Whitley: A front seat story in praise of working men


Marion Whitley



My trip across town in a delivery van with a Chinese cabinet and a bamboo chair began with Saturday's trip to the Salvation Army. The table I'd passed up last week was gone, but an odd chair caught my eye. The tight woven seat and back offered zero cushioning, but, reduced from $99 to $79? Sold!  


The cashier introduced me to Christian who makes deliveries for Salvation Army. That I'd be going to the Eastside, (he was headed there anyway), to a first floor apartment, (no stairs), were details in my favor. What's more, I could ride too, "in front seat, save you pay for taxi." Deal! I sat in my chair to watch as he swathed a tall Chinese cabinet in plastic for its trip across town. (It's a handsome piece, he knows it, and is insuring that the brass work, doors and drawers are secure before tilting it onto the wheeled pallet.) 


A mammoth elevator lowered us to the street where I waited with the furniture till Christian, now wearing a shoulder harness-back brace, brought 'round his van and aligned the pallet with the van's open hatch. Over layers of cardboard cushioning, he slid-lifted the cabinet inside with no help from SA personnel. His practiced eye positioned my chair just so, latched the hatch, slid off his back brace and motioned me 'round to the front seat. Inside he tested the stability of the cabinet, and turned us into 10th Avenue with, for me, a sense of adventure! (I get to ride 'front seat' three times a year if that!) 


He seemed pleased when I mentioned the ease with which he'd loaded the cabinet by himself. "Ha, is best work alone. Take assistant is big chance. He not show up, I lose customer. So I learn, in school, do what I can do myself. From 7-years-old, little boy in Chile, I learn to work alone." 


From 7!? His story began to unfold. (Riding 'front seat', better for a good story!) "In farm country in Chile, no school for little boys, see. My family put me in big city school for learn to work. Five days, learn read, write, build little table, stool for sit, shelf for put the books. Weekend come, go in streets, learn how earn money to pay for school. Lucky me, in place for trash, I find broken thing, you say 'skateboard' but not skateboard. Wood is burn but four beautiful wheels, not burn. I save. What I can make? School teach me build box, put my wheels tight on box. Market Day come, I take box on wheels and rope for pull where people buying many things. I see senora, arms full corn, broom, green things. I touch her arm, very nice, 'Scusa, Senora, I take for you su casa?' She look down at little boy me. How she say 'no'?"  


(Cynical me, I visualize the Market, vendors with their produce, and harried senoras annoyed by little boys tapping their heavy-laden arms.) But Hey! Here I sit, front seat, with Christian who's transporting me and my chair to mi casa through a snarl of Broadway traffic, 'in box on wheels and rope for pull'. 


He goes on, "So I take big stuff her casa and she gives me money. I look 'round. House have nice wood floors, but not shiny. Idea come! I say her, very nice, she want me shine floors? She say me, 'You know how shine?' Quick, quick I say 'I learn for next week'. Ha! So I run back to market, help next lady. Then! Back in school, I learn how shine this kind wood, that kind wood, all kinds wood. See? Keep eyes open, work reach out to you so you have money for pay for school." 


As we're crossing Central Park I keep seeing a child of seven pulling a box on wheels over Chile's rocky coastline while brimming with questions of Where? ... When? ... How the box became a van? ... how the boy became a man with driver's license, passport, and passage to North America? 


Grinning he leaned toward me ... "l tell you secret, I not stay little boy, but I steal his picture for keep in phone. And little boy and me, we keep growing and working and going North. All time, English keep coming. License to drive, all documents we need, there, glove compartment. NYPD stop me, I show many documents. He say, 'Umm, very good. Thank you very much. Have a nice day'. Ha! Every day I keep working and going North is nice day. I deliver many North places, New Jersey, Boston, and Ha! Canada! Si! From Chile, North to Niagara Falls! But now comes big question ... after Canada, where is North?" 


"But I know my limits. I think about my body. One day will come, Chinese cabinet too heavy for lift, but ideas keep come. Make 'Plan B'. See, people this city, they like old stuff in Salvation Army, but don't like scratch! In delivery van, furniture get scratch, break, so one day, future come, I take small shop for put the glue, fix the scratch. Make wood strong and shine like new." 


As you shined Senora's floors? 


"Ha! Si, same like shine Senora's floor. In Home Depot, I find many stuff for make wood strong, shine like new, but I know my limits. God give me just one body for this life. Now, SO years I have this body; it getting little bit scratch! Ha! No more little boy 7 years, but I keep him with me. He sit there where you sit. We come your house, take in chair, I show you picture of seven years me." 


He double parks before my building, unloads my chair to the sidewalk, and takes out his phone. The doorman comes out to help but Christian, one eye on the traffic, is scrolling, scrolling, scrollin, "Ha! Long time reach down to South America ... AH!" He grins with pride displaying for the doorman and me the black and white image of himself, age 7, (I'd say eight), captured to his phone from a family photo. The smile, the tousled black curls over his forehead, little wonder the Market Day Senora couldn't say 'no'. 


But he's blocking traffic, (and knows his limits.) He pockets the phone and slips me a business card from the glove compartment. We shake hands, and he eases into the traffic flow to deliver the Chinese cabinet to another Eastside address, without a scratch! 


Marion Whitley, who grew up in Caledonia and Columbus, lives in Manhattan where she reads, writes and remembers. Her email address is



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