Street Drinks


I knew it was a matter of minutes. The angle of the December sun that afternoon in front of the Metropolitan Museum, had produced magic. The enchantment was inside the soda bottles which were stacked in neat rows at the back of a vendor’s kiosk.

Quickly, I reached for my camera, focused the view finder and pressed the shutter button. But nothing happened. Although my camera had just been repaired, it was returned to me without a battery.

I experienced pangs of frustration mixed with awe. What I witnessed before me was the transformation of lemon, lime and grape sodas into a glowing treasure trove of topaz, emeralds and amethysts.

Already the light was dimming and the magician’s golden shaft played the bottles like organ pipes, extinguishing their inner light one by one. It was 2:54 p.m. EST.

Of course, I told myself, I would return the next day and pray that all elements would remain the same—no snow, no rain, the kiosk at just the same right angle, the bottles on the back shelf. Only one thing interfered: I had an appointment at 2:00. Arriving at 1:30 p.m. didn’t do it. The bottles were just “plain old.” No transformation into the magic had, as yet, taken place.

After the appointment, I raced back, but it was too late. The celestial witching hour had passed and by 3:00 p.m., the soda bottles had gone into ordinary.

Tomorrow would be the day, I decided, with no appointments and a battery in the camera. I arrived purposefully early so as not to miss the moment which, I reasoned, might differ a minute or two due to the earth’s rotation. With time to spare, I photographed the front of the kiosk, the pretzels, the people standing on line and the woman who dispense the snacks out of the small kiosk window. She had, of course, no idea of the magic at her rear.

And then, precisely at 2:32 p.m. EST, the golden shaft, like a conductor’s baton, played the bottles. And, most importantly, my camera worked.

Suddenly, the kiosk woman stood before me and angrily demanded that I had to stop photographing her. It was making her nervous. “I am not photographing you,” I explained. “I am photographing the beauty of the light passing through the soda bottles. Don’t you see?” Uncomprehending, she said she would call the police.

“You have a good business,” I said. “Go back to your customers.” But she took all the bottles off the shelves instead.

And that was that.

But suppose the police had come. Whom would they have believes? The foreign-born vendor working hard selling soda and pretzels? Or the woman who saw celestial light passing though the bottles?