In the relentless dialectic of New York vs. Everywhere Else, the humble bodega — a corner store that typically offers snacks, cigarettes, beverages, lottery scratchers and assorted sundries — is a surprising site of contention. New Yorkers romanticize these shops as anchors of each neighborhood, where you can buy a roll of toilet paper at 3 a.m. or witness a spirited exchange of ideas between customers. Beyond the five boroughs, however, many regard bodegas as grimy and depressing ratholes that cater to the unhealthiest of appetites. Or they wish New Yorkers would shut up about how great they are. What’s with this veneration, anyway?
Six years after leaving New York, I do find it a trifle odd how locals invest in bodegas as somehow unique or special. But I no longer have any standing to make fun of them for it. That’s because, in quintessentially New York fashion, the dude who made the 911 call that led to the arrest of the suspect in this week’s Brooklyn subway shooting was… a nice bodega guy named Zack.
Shit, that’s a great bodega guy. Doing what the NYPD, with its thousands of officers and astronomical budget, evidently couldn’t: spot the subject of their citywide manhunt as he ambled around the East Village like he hadn’t a care in the world. You can never underestimate the situational awareness of a man who sells 40-ounce malt liquor and Juul pods for a living. Bravo. (He also apparently installs security cameras on the side.)
The cops offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the alleged shooter, and many are clamoring for Zack to get it. I say give him the key to the city while we’re at it. He just proved, once and for all, that bodegas deserve the hype. Not necessarily because they constitute idealized public squares, or because it’s a magical experience to browse their shelves of dusty Cup Noodles, but because they are run by noble citizens who protect and care for the places where they work and live. I feel like even my own irritable bodega guy back in Morningside Heights — who used to throw entire sandwiches in the garbage after getting in arguments with the people who’d ordered them — would have acted for the greater good as Zack did today.
Enjoy this victory lap, New York. The bodega rules. Grab me a Snapple while you’re there?