Street Fairs and Crowd Scenes

It’s street fair season in New York! For me, that means bargain hunting for cute reading glasses and a peculiar laboratory for the study of crowd scenes.

I’ll start with the glasses. I lose things. Expensive pens, sunglasses, umbrellas and — most of all — reading glasses have a way or walking away from me so I have multiple pairs and buy ‘em cheap. I keep reading glasses all over my apartment, in every possible jacket pocket, purse, bag etc. When I travel I carry multiple pairs. This caused some consternation on one of my trips through airport security. The French woman, undoubtedly someone who managed to hang onto one elegant pair of glasses, scoffed at the two pairs in my purse and three pairs in my backpack — good thing she didn’t notice I had a pair in my jacket, too. Having lost them on airplanes more than once, I go for quantity.

This brings me to my favorite place to find fun, funny and, occasionally charming, cheap reading glasses while wandering through an open-air laboratory for the study of crowds. New York does not lack crowds, but there is something special about street fairs. They bring out a wild mix of personalities and people slow down. It’s a great venue for people watching/character studies and sometimes a street fair is a good place to set a scene in a story.

This time, one of the best characters was the man hawking some kind of reinvented mop. He had all the sleazy charm of a classic carnival barker on the first day of Spring, but the crowd was much more interested in glittery cell phone accessories and grilled corn on the cob. The charred ears of corn brought out the animal in many patrons. They gnawed on it as they walked by summer dresses,

Pashmina scarves and “hotel quality” linens.

One man strolled by me and I jumped, just a little inside my head. He was definitely a good prototype for a werewolf. He wore a green suede jacket right out of a Bavarian beer hall in a movie with little round glasses and a big knowing smile. Yes, street fairs are fertile territory. I must remember to blog about the feast of San Gennaro or one of the big, wild annual events. Those are ripe for chase scenes and it’s been years since I tired to write one.

The city as living laboratory…



  1. My mind immediately went to pick pockets and chase scenes from snatch and grab purse thieves when I started reading this. Something about large crowds with strange and interesting sites that brings out some of the darker elements of life.

    Story wise it can be a fun play (though also trite) when the two are tied together in some way. Of course it is all trite and cliche because it so perfectly fits together anyway.

    • Candy Korman

      Your mention of pickpockets sent me directly to a scenario in which the street thief is the “innocent” and the victim in the truly scary character. Imagine a thief helping himself to the contents of a wallet or briefcase only to find… something (drum roll) evil!

      This was a very mellow, early-in-the-season street fair covering a few city blocks on a beautiful spring day. I’d place your thieves after sunset at the famous San Gennaro Feast in Little Italy in September or the smaller Feast of Saint Anthony in June. There are other Italian street festival/fairs/feasts in Manhattan but I’m very familiar with these two (I lived across the street from the St. Anthony’s Ferris Wheel for two years). The combination of food aromas, carnival games, religious traditions and all the usual silly street fair fare, plus the density of people (tourists & locals) raises this to another level of potential scariness. Back in the pre-mobile phone era, losing a friend in the crowd was the norm. I know. Been there… done that and at the right time of night, it could be scary. Trite? Yes, but… sometimes cliches are based on reality.

  2. A crowd situation I would love to explore in writing someday would be that of the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. Istanbul is by far the most crowded place I’ve ever been in, but the bazaar was beyond full. The spice market was almost just as bad. Seeing how I get pretty antsy in large crowds, it made for an interesting couple of days. Oh, and then there was the Topkaki Palace. I remember filing past the Spoonmaker’s diamond in a dark display room without any A/C and a hundred other bodies pressing by. Ugh. Might explain why I write lots of two people stories 😉

    • Candy Korman

      It’s been entirely too long since I went to Istanbul!
      I remember going there with my mother (a Greece & Turkey tour/cruise) for my college graduation. We walked through the Grand Bazaar and they called out “Hey Miss American” to get the attention of tourists. I could not look LESS like a real Miss America, but that did not stop them from fawning, and pawing, even as my mother watched. But I remember Topkaki with great fondness and a bit of proletarian rage as I wondered how many beggar children the giant emerald could feed.

      Still great places for chase scenes (the recent 007 film) and great places to find all sorts of outrageous characters.

      There is nothing more bizarre than a bazaar!

  3. I used to love street markets with all the different hawkers selling their wares. The crowds never used to bother me. My favorite was held in a square surrounding a glass enclosed market hall and was itself surrounded by small shops and cafes. It was at the top of a hill by an old church and early graveyard.
    I’d often find myself nose pressed against the window of the pet shop looking at the puppies and listening to all the budgies and canaries.
    Walking round eating a pork pie ( yes, still Titterton’s)buying bags of mis-shapes chocolates or broken biscuits and looking for the latest style shirts.
    Now I hate crowds and it’s too far to visit but the memories are still fresh in my mind from 50 years ago.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Candy Korman

      I too suffer a bit of the “I’m getting swallowed up in a crowd” feeling. One of the good things about a street fair in NYC is that you can always duck out onto a side street and up or down another avenue as the fairs confined to one long avenue at most. Even the HUGE San Gennaro festival is easy to escape.

      Now, markets and neighborhood fairs can take over a parking lot or a park and become a Istanbul like warren of stalls. There’s an annual Christmas Market in Union Square that can be claustrophobic on weekends. I check it out at an off hour on an weekday if I want to shop.

      Last year I went to an Asian Food Festival held under a covered pathway in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge) a currently chic section of the city. When my friend and I arrived and got a spot at the front of the line, we knew it was going to be crowded. At first it was fun but as the crowd swelled, I found myself navigating by finding a tall person to follow to a stall with interesting Kimchi or a specially advertised soup or rice dish. I had to simply give up and go to the far end of the tunnel and locate my friend via mobile phone I wanted OUT! Too many people and too much noise echoing in the tunnel. That they had a band playing was just a mystifying addition.

  4. When the Daughter was little, and money was tight, the ex and I would often go to a huge ‘trash and treasure’ market not far from where we lived. We never bought much, but the atmosphere was great. Sadly I was too busy watching the Daughter to see much of the crowds, but your post has reminded me how much fun it used to be. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      Street fair crowds really are a cross section of people and it’s wonderful fiction-fodder. Trash & Treasure sounds like a fun concept — I think the closest we have are Flea Markets or the massive Garage Sales that are held in the suburbs.