Foot Traffic, a Food Cart, and a Future

Midtown food workers dream big

By Siraphob Thanthong-Knight and Robert Tokanel

Barista Ian McNally (left) and food cart worker Mohammed Rasal (right) working in New York’s Midtown West.

The summer in Midtown, Manhattan brings a lot of people outside, and whether they are on a touristy stroll atop the High Line in Chelsea or a raucous march around Trump Tower, all of them need to be fed.

This is the story of two food workers posted on routes where hungry people pass by, fuel up, and move on. Though both remain stationary in their current roles, they hope the time spent will eventually help them move up in the world.

On the High Line, A Barista’s Life and Dream

Ian McNally is making a cup of coffee for his customer at Blue Bottle Coffee on the High Line.

People ordering coffee from Ian McNally can hear music blasting from a small speaker that connects to his iPod on the stand. His playlist ranges from classical music to contemporary indie rock.

McNally is a barista at Blue Bottle Coffee on the High Line and at Chelsea Market. He has been working at these popular locations since February.

The Goldens Bridge, NY native is currently studying musical composition at Hunter College in New York City. He is also a guitarist in a band he co-founded called Cicero & the Orations.

McNally shows his Clair de Lune music bar tattoo on his right arm.

He looks up to artists like Duane Allman, Trey Anastacio, and Gustav Mahler. His favorite song is Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Although his goal is to become a professional musician or composer, the barista job gives him enough freedom to pursue his dream while earning income to support himself.

McNally’s story is not uncommon. His coworkers are artists, models and actors when they are not serving coffee. “I think everyone has their art in this company at least in some way,” he said.

“It is really hard to get by just doing your music when you are in New York.”

Watch the video of his interview below:

The song that McNally performed during the interview is his original song called Truro. He wrote it when he was trying out a microphone that he got for his birthday. The lyrics were based on his experience during his sophomore year of college.

Even though he is not the lead singer of his band, he recorded this song for his band’s 2016 album called Things that Endure. Listen to the full song preformed live on the High Line below:

Ian McNally performs his song Truro for Siraphob Thanthong-Knight on the High Line.

To catch him in action, head to Blue Bottle Coffee on the High Line and grab a cup of coffee.


At Trump Tower, Turning Protest into Profit

Mohammed Rasal, 25, serves a chicken gyro to a customer at Columbus Circle, 08/23/2017.

Donald Trump’s first visit to Trump Tower as President was met with the kind of contentious demonstration that has become increasingly common during his tenure in office– and for some local vendors, there was cash to be made amidst the chaos.

Bangladeshi immigrant Mohammad Rasal, 25, was working in a food cart stationed at the corner of Grand Army Plaza both nights of the protest. Rasal, who moved to the United States nine years ago and is working to collect enough money to buy his own cart, said he hates Trump because of his immigration policies.

“I brought my wife to this country 5 months ago, and I tried to bring her mother to this country, but Trump made it all different now, so we think maybe will have to wait a few more years,” he said. “Nobody likes Trump.”

But as long as there’s money to be made, Rasal said he will take any customer that comes his way.

Reporter Robert Tokanel followed Rasal over the two days of the protest, where the added foot traffic from thirsty demonstrators helped him get closer to achieving his entrepreneurial dreams.

Rasal’s food cart parked in front of Trump International Hotel and Tower, 08/23/2017

Following the protest, Rasal moved his cart back over to Columbus Circle, just at the Southwest corner of Central Park, and right in front of Trump International Hotel and Tower.

“Maybe one day when I have an off day I will come to protest and I will join with them and do the same, just like they were doing,” he said.

Until he has his own business, though, work comes first.

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