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The DR's Mobile Supermarket
Frank isn't shy about where he gets his merchandise, but surprisingly enough his bootlegging suppliers aren't residents of the barrios he lives and sells in. On the contrary, Frank explains that his suppliers are what he calls members of the country's elite, who have enough power and resources to make sure a bootlegging business can run strong. As he explains it, bootleggers, or as he calls them "the tigres in the Benzes and Beamers," contract out the services of code breakers and computer hackers who either just download the movies online or go through the extra step of breaking codes to get movies that have entered the movie theaters that very same week. He explains that these kingpin bootleggers also have high-powered computers capable of producing hundreds of DVDs every hour. And what about efforts to stop illegal bootlegging? Frank says the answer to that one is easy. As he explains it, his suppliers are from the country's elite and have special connections and use these to keep the cops and authorities from interfering with their business. He says that kids in the barrios don't have the skills or the abilities to pull off a bootlegging ring that produces thousands in revenue daily.

Sometimes Frank gets hassled by cops, but says he just pays them off with a few DVDs or a few pesos and continues on his way.

Javi's life is a bit different from Frank's and Gilbert's, but at the same time it's much the same. Javi, who's 17, has been cleaning windshields on street corners ever since he can remember. At the tender age of 17 he's seems hardened by the life he leads and the many scars on his face and arms are just stories he doesn't want to recall. He says that once he was able to fend for himself his mom sent him out on the streets to make money any way he could. For him it meant that stealing wasn't an issue, and for some time he would steal and then sell those items back to the people he stole them from. He said he specialized in stealing hubcaps, car accessories and a variety of other items. He said that he would go to the mechanics, car shops, and car accessory stores at La Veinte in the Villa Juana area of Santo Domingo and sell them his recently stolen goods or he would just wander around the city offering drivers the goods he had in his possession. Either way Javi said he got real good at what he did, to the point where store owners would ask him to go out and steal certain parts that customers were inquiring about. He said he used to make a lot of money as a car parts thief, but eventually decided to stop stealing car parts because he never became good enough at avoiding the police. He said he was continually getting caught and beaten by officers and decided he needed a new line of employment and that's when he went ahead and started washing windshields.

As a windshield washer, Javi says he makes relatively good money, though it's never enough, and he still thinks back to the time when he was a petty thief. As a windshield washer he has no real wage stability. There is no set price for the cost of a wash. When a washer starts washing your window at a stoplight they never negotiate a price ahead of time. They only have about two minutes to wash as many windshields as possible, and are dependent on the drivers' generosity. He says that sometimes drivers give him RD$5.00 or maybe RD$10.00 and sometimes they give him nothing and just drive off.

But Javi's work ethic is what gets him enough money to survive. He says that on a normal day of pounding the streets and putting up with the hot sun, and rude and sometimes cheap drivers, he can make up to RD$700, meaning he has washed windshields for around 60 to 70 cars. And on a spectacular day Javi says he's made up to RD$2,000. Part of his success on certain days is the fact that he has his client group who always give him business. He says the fact that he works on streets that see a lot of traffic makes it easier for him to make the amount he does. The unfortunate aspect of Javi's life, and a reality of the dark side of some street vendors' lives, is that the money he makes won't go towards much more than drugs and alcohol. Javi doesn't hide the fact that he smokes large amounts of marijuana and inhales glue and dangerous fumes to get high. He says that he doesn't have a real bad habit, at least not as bad as the habits of the shoe shine boys, who he says are the ones with the worst drug problems. He says that he's young enough to stop and makes enough money washing windows to support his habit, so for him there is no problem at all.

Marcelino is an ice cream vendor who has been driving his ice cream cart around the streets of Santo Domingo for twenty years now, and it seems that he's willing to go for twenty more. On a regular day, Marcelino picks up his ice cream cart, which he rents for a daily fee, and starts pedaling it through traffic, stopping at certain corners or when he sees a potential client. He starts at the Plaza de la Bandera, where the Central Electoral Board building is located, and in one day makes his way through every neighborhood he can along the way, before finishing up at La Duarte, on the other side of the city. He tries to hit key areas where he knows he'll have clients and if there are events at the parks or schools he makes sure he shows up. He pays about RD$20.00 for the use of his cart which he picks up on Pedro Livio street, near La Veinte in the Villa Juana section of Santo Domingo. Marcelino explains that RD$20.00 isn't as much a fee as it is the cost of the repairs for the cart. He says that when he hands in his cart each day it is inspected to see what repairs are needed and any repairs are charged to the vendor. A payment plan is then set up. Marcelino says that he owes RD$5,000 on his cart and says that he'll probably never pay off the debt. Marcelino says that on a good day he can make about RD$300 in profits. But Marcelino is a good businessman and says that on a great day, when he admittedly overcharges his richer customers, he can make RD$600 in profits. He says that for every RD$1,000 he makes he will make RD$300 in profits.

Marcelino says that summers are the best time for him since kids always have money and they're always at home during the day and at night. He says that once he has finished his route he will go back out again, through some of the same neighborhoods, and try to sell again, so he can make more money. Marcelino says that as with any business you have competition, but he says that he doesn't like competition. He tells of his latest encounter with an ice cream man who would transit on his route selling ice creams at RD$15 less than Marcelino. He started noticing that when he would come by no one would buy from him until he found out about the ice cream man named "Remate," a Spanish word meaning to sell for the minimum or to finish off, who was selling ice cream on his route. He warned Remate about his practices and Marcelino said that was the last of Remate on his route.

Skim Ice or popsicle vendors are also part of the street vendor culture. The tasty cold treats are a welcome sight for drivers trying to battle the heat on sunny days in the DR, but for the men and women who sell them, these treats are just a way of making a living. Skim Ice vendors are part of a larger, more organized business venture. Vendors go to product wholesalers and buy the right to sell Skim Ice. With their initial purchase they receive a hat, a skim ice cooler bag, and depending on how much their initial purchase they can buy the jump suit also. Some vendors, instead of using the Skim Ice cooler bag rent out large penguin-shaped mobile coolers and travel around the city in them. Skim ice vendors buy boxes of popsicles that have either 12 or 24 units. Each unit will cost the vendor around RD$3.00 and the vendor will make around RD$1.00 on the product, which he is selling for RD$5.00.

Peanut and coconut candy salesmen have one of the hardest jobs in comparison to other street vendors. Peanut vendors sell glazed peanut brittle or coconut treats at RD$5.00 each, but only make about RD$3.00 per candy they sell. The peanut sellers go to bakery shops around the city and pick up the treats they are going to sell in a day. As with any street vendor it is tough to really determine how much they make in profits since no official books are kept. Most vendors have no real clue of how much they have sold or how much they average because they don't need to focus on such details. Some vendors interviewed said they could make between RD$500 to RD$1,000 in a day, but these are just estimates.

And what about shoe shine boys who, for tourists and Dominicans alike, are the most common and at times pesky of the street vendors? The rate for a shoe shine depends on the shiner and on the area he works in, but more and more shoe shiners are being kicked out of the areas they work in because police have labeled them a nuisance to tourists. Although most vendor jobs are open to both sexes it is important to note that shoe shiners are most often boys between the ages of 7 and 17, but you'll always find the occasional exception. As well as shining shoes it has become common practice among shiners to beg for tips from tourists, which has led to them being chased out by local authorities. Frustration has set in for some shiners who feel that police have taken away their livelihoods. Shiners in larger tourist areas like the Colonial Zone, the city's University zone, and some of the more upscale shopping centers who usually used to make RD$300 per day on shoe shines alone, are now making a fraction of that - if they are able to get customers. But the police are only a part of the problems that shiners face each day. The unfortunate reality of these shiners, especially the younger ones, is the fact that many are forced to go out at an early age and work for someone else and have to give a large part of their earnings to older guys who run child labor rings. Shiners are sometimes "pimped" and forced to go out on the streets to beg and are only left with pennies of their earnings. Even more difficult is fending of the older shoe shine boys and street children who have no problem with beating a shoe shine boy and taking his money and sometimes his supplies. As well as the violence that these children have to deal with, it has also become part of the shoe shine lifestyle to be drug dealers. Speaking to a group of youngsters at the McDonald's on Maximo Gomez it is clearly evident that drug dealing is more profitable, but more dangerous. These kids, with no fear at all, walk up to potential customers and ask if they want any type of drugs. If a customer says yes they will scatter into the night and within minutes they return with the drug of choice.

Street vendors are an interesting part of the Dominican experience. Sometimes, as drivers, you might be annoyed at the fact that street vendors hold up traffic and cause small traffic jams. At times as drivers you might be annoyed at the fact that vendors will always appear when you don't need anything from them and wonder, "why don't they get a real job?!" But the reality is that for these vendors, and the millions like them, this is a real job. A way to make ends meet and keep their families going. Vendors might not be making million dollar deals affecting the New York Stock Exchange, but remember how important they are the next time you leave home with an uncharged cell phone and you need to call to secure one of those big and important business deals.
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