You wouldn't be off the mark if you called Otto Gallotto the mayor of Haymarket. After all, the 26-year- veteran merchant is the president of the decades-old Haymarket Pushcart Association, so he officially takes the reins in any matters of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, from trash-pickup issues to encroaching developers on Parcel 9. Like any good leader, he is as charismatic as he is focused on taking care of business.
On the Friday morning I stopped by, workers were unloading the goods from piles of boxes — 12 or 14 high — and arranging them on empty boxes and flat crates on bridge tables covered with Astroturf.
"There's a system to it," he tells me. They place the fruits and vegetables in tidy piles — oranges in a pyramid, boxes of strawberries stacked like Legos, slim eggplants lying sideways like wine bottles. Gallotto shouts instructions to his workers: "Set up another sign. We wanna sell rabe two for $3." He replies to their questions: "Five for $2 on oranges." He scribbles prices on pieces of cardboard, sets them out on the appropriate fruit stack, and yells to Pat, who works at the neighboring stand. They shoot the shit. (On favorite actors, Gallotto says, "Andy Griffith can do no wrong.") They talk shop, declaring, "Cherries are done for the season."
Like any good leader, Gallotto knows his constituents. One burly man stops by early on Fridays, and they launch into a discussion about football, seemingly picking up where they left off the week before. Another regular, a British ex-pat named Avril, often stops by on Fridays too. She supplies quarters so they have change, a custom started over a decade ago when she gathered about $200 worth of the coins in her home. Gallotto greets some people as "buddy" and others as "cousin," or even "cuz." He speaks Italian when necessary. The dawn-time congeniality might strike any 9-to-5er as astonishing.
"If you're in a bad mood here, you won't last," he says.
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