The Christmas Tree Salesman
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day and a little holiday cheer from Brooklyn. New Yorker Vincent van Rhyn has been selling Christmas trees since he was 16 years old. He's been on the same Brooklyn street corner every holiday season for three decades. Producer Lizzy Cooper Davis stopped by recently.
Mr. VINCENT VAN RHYN (Christmas Tree Vendor): We sell things on the street. We sold cutlery sets at one time. We sold fruit, and the next step was trees.
(Soundbite of song "Zat you Santa Claus?")
Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Is that you, Santa Claus?
Mr. VAN RHYN: My name is Vincent van Rhyn. I'm selling trees here on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street in Brooklyn. And I started this place about 30 years ago, and I'm still here, same spot. We get them from farmers in Nova Scotia, North Carolina, Vermont. We come about December 1st, and then we leave December 24th, and we sell about 2,000 trees.
People are very nice. Everybody's happy when they come to buy a tree. Sometimes, they're not nice to each other. The husbands and wives get into fights, get nasty with each other because she wants a big big tree, and he doesn't want to spend the money. He wants a little, tiny tree. She calls him a cheap ass.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. VAN RHYN: It's a very interesting thing with Christmas trees is there was a city ordinance passed in the 1920s right after the Depression. The people who set up Christmas tree stands can sell Christmas trees, and you don't need any license. You're not responsible to the Department of Consumer Affairs, and it's basically unreported income. But in those days, you can imagine there was mom and pop stores selling trees to make a dollar or two, maybe 10 or 15 trees. And now, you have people bringing in thousand of trees. We don't have to declare it to anyone.
Well, I do a lot of traveling. I travel around the world a lot. I'm an adventure traveler, seeking high adventure in different countries. I've lived in India, Egypt, Morocco, Ecuador, Peru, the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal and Tibet, and now, I'm leaving for Guatemala right after this. There's two volcanoes that are really exploding a lot of lava, so I want to photograph them.
No, we don't get cold. Down of wool, L.L. Bean underwear, and stuff and stuff like that. The Buddhists in the Himalayas, they actually can sleep out in the snow and create so much heat that their blankets actually start steaming.
LIZZY COOPER DAVIS: Do you have a Christmas tree?
Mr. VAN RHYN: No, I'm a Buddhist.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) And I could see old Santa in the keyhole.
BRAND: And that story came to us from the NPR series "Hearing Voices."