‘Apple Pushers’ and the American Dream


Week after week I work with life coaching clients to figure out how they can “do what they love.” The assumption in most cases is that they are not doing what they love because they chose an alternate path and that now it’s time to choose a more fitting one. It boils down to choice – that’s what I say over and over.

And then I watched a recently-released documentary called Apple Pushers and I realized I take a lot for granted.

Yes, technically it’s true. We can decide to make a move, pursue a course, or not be disgruntled. We can design our lives to fit our needs and wants. For the most part. In many cases. Yes.

But sometimes it is not, it cannot be, about pursuing passion. Sometimes it is primarily about survival.

In this fascinating and engaging film, writer/director Mary Mazzio takes the viewer into the worlds of pushcarts in New York, immigration, the American dream, nutrition (or lack thereof) in certain neighborhoods and laborious administrative process and shows how those things all converge in the stories of five individuals. There is something so endearing and humbling about watching immigrants become productive citizens of this country the way my grandparents did – work that is hard but is setting a precedent for future generations to thrive.

I will never look at a street vendor the same way again. As the workers in Apple Pushers get up in the wee hours, stock their carts with fresh produce and wheel themselves to their locations in various New York neighborhoods regardless of weather conditions, they are thinking about making their living in a country they chose for its opportunities. This is one option and they are making the best of it.

Oscilloscope has just acquired the North American rights to the film – which was released in late 2011 – and Public Television’s WORLD channel is airing it on May 6 and again in June.

“A cool aspect of the film … is the number of pop-up screenings that are happening via word of mouth,” Mazzio told me. “From the USDA at the [Motion Picture Association of America] in D.C. -- very high level policy, gorgeous surroundings -- to the hanging of a white bed sheet to screen the film in L.A. with what appeared to be hundreds of Hispanic vendors there, with vegetable tacos being served up … so wild.”

The movie highlights the fact that often those living in low-income neighborhoods aren’t necessarily suffering from too little food but from too much unhealthy food. Mindful of that, it is so heartening to see vendors stock white and green asparagus and two kinds of cilantro because they know it will sell. Hearing a vendor say people stop to buy produce on their way out of fast food establishments is so hopeful.

As it turns out, as the film progresses, I started to feel like maybe I’ve made another assumption – that this kind of work can’t be purposeful and/or satisfying. I saw a shift in the workers, saw what their strengths are in the profession, how they developed relationships that brought them more business, how they got street savvy, learned to stand up for themselves, and strived to give their children better lives than they had.

One of my favorite moments was seeing a bus driver, money at the ready, stopping and opening his bus doors at the corner so the produce vendor can hand off some fruit. He’s a regular, the vendor explained, as are some taxi drivers. Again, relationship-building, trust-building, spirit-building.

It brought to mind a video that’s gone viral called Caine’s Arcade about a little boy who made an arcade out of cardboard. The passion and joy in this child, you can feel how he’s made his little pocket of the world better. Sometimes this is where the good stuff of life resides – not only making due with what you have but enjoying the heck out of it.

Last Fourth of July I recall being struck by the luminosity in a few of my friends’ Facebook posts about this extraordinary American holiday; these were people who chose to come here. Their pride in America – even their joy in the simplicity of fireworks – made me so happy our country had embraced them and given them this place to create a beautiful life. And it heightened my enthusiasm for our traditions and the reasons behind them.

In Apple Pushers, when Jake – whose parents emigrated from Russia – serves in the United States Army, and his father questions why we’re at war, he gently says, “I served my country. I served my President.”

What a nice touchstone, to see what we have reflected back at us this way, through this fresh lens. And to see what we have been taking for granted.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.