If you live in New York City or have spent some time there in November or December, then this must be a familiar sight to you: the Christmas tree sellers and their stands on street corners all throughout the City. Twenty-something guys with lumberjack blouses and sturdy boots hold up large Christmas trees for dads and moms with their children, as they pick and choose their perfect size. I spent some time with Tristan and Laurent, who sell trees on a street corner in Crown Heights near prospect Park, to document their work and the lifestyle that comes with the job.
Tristan and Laurent are both from Montreal. The company they work for is Canadian, and brings over many workers from Quebec to sell trees in NYC as a seasonal job. They get to keep 50% of the total profit they make during the seven weeks that they are out on this same spot selling trees. From friends who had done the work before, Laurent heard that the pay is pretty good: ‘we have sold over 200 trees already, so with tips included we may each walk away with 3000 dollars, which in Canadian dollars is a lot more even!'
Tristan and Laurent have to be at the tree stand day and night, 24/7 for seven weeks. Right next to them is a McDonalds where they can go to use the bathroom. Around the corner is a large Gym where they have a monthly pass that they share in order to go inside and take a shower. They take turns to sleep in a car on the McDonalds parking lot: Tristan wakes up at 3.30 AM and works until 9.30 PM. With six hours of sleep in between, he is ready for a full day of work again. When he wakes up, Laurent goes to sleep from 4 AM to 10 AM, so that they get to spend most of the day time together. Laurent explains: ‘It is nice to always be so near each other, even if one of us is sleeping in the car. People know that we have a lot of cash with us because a tree easily costs 60 or even 80 dollars for a big one. We’ve had a couple of guys that were intimidating us, standing very near to our stand for a long time while drinking beer. If necessary, I can quickly call Tristan to back me up’.
In terms of food, Laurent and Tristan try to cook as often as possible. Since it is cold outside and they don’t get much sleep, Tristan explains that eating healthy and warm food is very important: ‘We have a stove that we use to cook on, just like when you go camping. Yesterday we made a kind of curry with eggplant and rice, and today I made a dish with apple and corn, cooked up with some oil and alcohol – and some kind of fruit that I found growing in a tree a few blocks down. I guess we get really creative when it comes to cooking’.
The days can be long, especially when they are rainy. By now, they have started to get somewhat bored with this small area of New York. In order to pass time during quiet hours with little to do, Tristan and Laurent drink beers and smoke cigarettes. They stay inside their small stand to stay warm, around their electric heater. Tristan always carries his mouth harp with him around his neck, a small musical instrument that he blows into in order to make sounds with the vibrations it creates. They also make craft-like objects out of branches and left-over wood from the trees that they sell as Christmas decorations to make some extra money.
‘It’s great to do this work with Laurent, my best friend. We always manage to have fun: we play games like chess and we have become really good at juggling balls together. After our job is finished here, we move on to other seasonal jobs like cherry-picking and fishing. This way, we get to travel all around the world, which is the best part of our lifestyle. But admittedly, I do look forward to sleeping in a real bed again soon!’
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