I (try to) walk 3-4 miles everyday. I walk because I hate to run and I want to try and stay healthy. I also walk to clear my head and be outside. I live around some fascinating neighborhoods and walking through them and noticing how different each house is and how each family chooses to landscape (or trash) their little spaces constantly reminds me of how different we are as people. The familiar sites and smells of June let me know that it is once again mango time in Miami. The trees are bursting and I see children and adults alike, with tables of mangoes in front of their yards. Some with clever handwritten signs, some with mango “barkers” declaring the prices and some with both. Some use the honor system. I do not discriminate.
This is not legal per se, but as you can imagine, police in Miami have real issues to worry about. As I pass one table I snap a picture of a lady selling the mangoes she has just picked from the tree you can see standing alone in her yard. She tells me she has great mangoes and that she hopes I am not going to report her. “With that hat…never!” I say as I walk by and tell her that I’m on a walk and will stop back by to get some mangoes. I say this to three other people that I see along the way but the truth is that on this day, like many others, I have left the house without cash. Tomorrow is another day but the mangoes will not be around forever and when I get home I put dollar bills into my walking shorts so I can grab some mangoes the next day.
I remember the first time I was introduced to mangoes. I was 12 and working at Merriam Lane Market unloading the morning trucks that came in before we opened the market. There weren’t many in that first load but we were just starting to stock mangoes for the season. Most produce coming in boxed up from City Market wasn’t ripe yet but Frank, the owner, had gotten a ripe mango from the Italian boys that run the produce docks down by the river while he was at market. The market I worked at was open from April to October each year and the calendar of each season seemed to be broken up into separate blocks of time distinguished by when a certain fruit or vegetable arrived and demanded prime real estate in the small market. There was the anticipation of the arrival, and rumors of how the crop would be. It would be decided how many bins we would need and where they should be placed. The announcement would come that a certain item of produce would be coming in that week and the countdown and buzz would begin. During it’s run, all discussion turned to that fruit or vegetable as word of mouth spread and customers would come in looking for what everyone was raging about. It was that way with California asparagus and avocados in May, O’Henry peaches in June, Rocky Ford cantaloupes in July, local watermelon and Mount Ranier cherries in August and Concord grapes in September. It was also that way for mangoes in June and the truck had just pulled up with our first mangoes. Before he cut into it to share with all of us, his mother, who also worked at the market and who we all called grandma, began to give us a lecture on the possible dangers of eating the skin. Grandma was always giving lectures but the skin of many mangoes does contain urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy and poison sumac that can cause contact dermatitis and make a person extremely uncomfortable for a while. Her lectures always included horrible stories of those she knew who had been afflicted with whatever malady she was warning us about. Frank gave me a slice of the mango and told me it grew in tropical areas. I recall how sweet and juicy it was and I was immediately hooked.
Growing up in Kansas, I was bombarded with images of all things tropical by travel advertisements my entire life. Knowing that the bread basket has little to offer in the way of exotic vacations, tourism boards from every other part of the world flood the plains with their images of mountains, thriving downtown scenes, palm trees, beaches and/or blue waters. Tropical areas became associated with a magical land of relaxation, intoxication and small bikini’s where everything was just right all the time. Over the years my mind lumped mangoes into that fantasy. When I moved to Miami 5 years ago and saw the trees bursting with mangoes and all the small bikini’s (definitely not in that order) I knew I was in that tropical locale of my mind that was unlocked when I bit into that mango for the first time.
And that time is here again….for a while