It's morning, dark and cold. But the used cars and vans are already lining up along K Street as Asians, Ethiopians, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians, Vietnamese, Chinese and plain old white folk are busy setting up vending stands and hot dog carts and getting ready to make money.
Now I don't want to offend anybody, but I would like to know where are my people, you know, the black folk who make up a majority of the city population, not to mention the city's welfare rolls?
There is money to be made out here, and you don't even have to speak a lick of English to get it, but you do have to wake up -- and frankly there are too many local folk who sleep too late.
Maybe these new immigrants have brought with them a new brand of coffee that they aren't telling anybody about. But rain, shine, sleet or snow, they are up at the crack of dawn, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. And they are getting over, parlaying curbside coat racks into vending stands then expanding into wholesale outlets.
When they start buying buildings and purchasing corner stores in black neighborhoods, black folk criticize them for "taking over," and claim that they had unfair advantage because they came over with a boatload of cash.
Not true. What they came over here with was the right attitude about the work ethic, something that nearly all black folk used to have but that many of them seem to have traded in for Nytol.
Some people say that the legacy of slavery has made it too difficult for some blacks to get up just to work for "the man," that racism on the job is the reason for that mass of discouraged workers, whose numbers are not even counted in the job statistics.
If that's true, then these people should go get themselves a vendor's license as soon as possible and work for themselves. As for racism, well, who likes anybody anymore. Those Iranians who rake in the bucks selling throw rugs and incense at curbside don't care if you like them. They just want you to spend your money.
The catch is that this is a "first-come, first-served" operation. That choice vending stretch along K Street, where virtually no black vendors are to be found, is not reserved for any special ethnic group. Whoever gets there first gets the spot.
Bill Rhee, for example, came here from Korea several years ago with not more than a couple of bucks in his pocket. He worked a few odd jobs until he saved up $500 to get a vendor's license and a refundable tax bond. And now, after only a month on the street, he sells pocketbooks, sunglasses and oils and "declares" a weekly profit of $250 with the D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue.
A foot away, a Chinese man who can't even say he can't speak English holds a fistful of dollars in one hand and points at earrings and bracelets with the other. Touch an item and he will show you a certain number of fingers, each finger representing a dollar. He's getting his message across.
For those black folk out there who are working themselves crazy -- especially the women on that Metro bus from Shipley Terrace in Southeast headed out to baby-sitting and housecleaning jobs in the suburbs -- I am not talking about you. But you mamas and papas whose grown sons and daughters live at home, sleep till noon and watch soaps all day, at least mention this to them.
By the end of the year, the D.C. Mayor's Vending Advisory Board is expected to present its final recommendations on vending in the city. Mayor Marion Barry is a strong advocate of street vending, figuring that it is one way for people without a lot of money to start their own businesses.
He will probably expand the opportunities for vendors, allow them to sell a wider variety of merchandise and do so in areas currently off-limits to vendors.
New immigrants to Washington are already lining up friends and family to take advantage of the anticipated opportunities. It would be unfortunate if local residents missed out on programs that were set up essentially for them, because they failed to understand the old adage that the early bird gets the worm.