Metro Diaries: 6 Stops with Daniel the Candy Man

“Two for a dollar…” Daniel poses with his Skittles just before he sold them to his colleague and went off to buy more chocolate to sell. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“I GOT ARRESTED once,” Daniel said, cheerfully.

The charge was “disturbing the peace” and carried a fine of nearly $400.

“For selling candy??” I asked.

“For selling candy,” he said, shaking his head and gesturing toward his box of Skittles.

He agreed to 11 hours of community service, but still ended up paying a $175 fine.

“For selling CANDY,” he repeated.

The other riders packed into the Blue Line shook their heads in disbelief.

“I’m not disturbing the peace…I walk through fast saying, ‘Fifty cents. Two for a dollar. Fifty cents. Two for a dollar.’ I keep going…” he demonstrated, walking up and down the aisle. “If people want something, they stop me. Otherwise, I don’t bother them.”

Passengers behind him nodded. To many regular riders, he and other vendors are part of the landscape — and not necessarily an unwelcome one. Within two stops’ time, he had managed to sell the half a box worth of Snickers bars he had been holding when I first spotted him at the Washington-Grand stop. By the time he reached my end of the train, all he had left were a few citrus Skittles, and people continued to approach him for candy while we chatted.

Only once in three years has anyone taken issue with his chosen profession, he said. An unhappy passenger yelled at him to get a real job. When he responded that he was working, the guy got in his face and started getting nasty, even throwing around the N-word.

“But people on the trains, they know me,” he gestured down the aisle. His “customers” had rallied around him, he said, forcing the belligerent passenger to step back and cool off. Not wanting any trouble, he just wished the guy well, told him to have a good day, and got off the train.

When he is not logging hours working parking lots and the trains — something that nets him between $50-$60 a day — he sells T-shirts and other goods on the side. Asked why he was vending and not doing something else, given that he seemed to be a natural entrepreneur, he shook his head, “Things are tough. Finding a job is tough.”

He glanced down at his candy box suddenly, assessed the Skittles situation, and decided he wasn’t satisfied.

Looking up as we pulled to a stop, he pointed out the window at a vendor on the platform, a skinny guy sporting a pair of jeans with the Watts Towers and “Watts Up!” airbrushed on one leg.

“That’s my partner…I’m going to sell him the rest of my Skittles!” he winked at me. He was quick to sense trends and free himself of things that people weren’t responding to so that he could stock up on products he knew would sell. “The problem with these particular Skittles is they were discontinued…” he held up the box for my inspection and launched into a discussion of the finer points of the fickle Blue Line market, concluding, finally: “People want chocolate.”

“Thanks for doing your part to promote diabetes in South L.A.,” I joked.

He shook his head and laughed. He is a man who knows his market: “Everybody needs a piece of chocolate in their day.”

Do you have a story about how transit is linked to your livelihood? I’d love to hear about it: sahra@streetsblog.org