Empty pockets can be an obstacle to the passionate soul. Latin American folklore upholds that “billetera mata galán” (“wallet kills a hunk”). That is, unless you run into Rubén Rosas.
“Take them; you can come back and pay me tomorrow,” he told me the night I met him, in his usual spot in Mission Street’s sidewalk, near 24th Street. His pink roses smelled like perfume, but I was cash-strapped and without a debit card. I tried to leave him my business card instead, but he shooed it away. “Just take them!” he smiled.
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Rosas came to the United States in 1979, to work cutting and packing watermelons and cucumbers in Texas.
“I regretted it almost immediately,” he recalls. He wanted to work, but they only needed him three days a week.
“The patrons abused their workers, did not pay them, and when they started complaining, they just sent them to immigration, who threw them away,” he recalls.
Rosas landed in California in 1986 to work on the fields, but ended up as a dishwasher in Pacifica. He started buying and selling flowers soon after, outside restaurants and canteens in the Mission.
Thirty-two years later, he remains in the neighborhood with “the romantic people.”
“People other places just want to be drinking and smoking, but here they love their girlfriends, their wives, their friends, their grandmas, and always get something for them” he says.
Taking care of 750 flowers a week still takes hours of rehydrating, cutting thorns, cleaning and arranging the bouquets. At 56, his ambitions soothed, that is all he is willing to do.
“All I ever wanted was to work; what I asked God our Lord, he already gave me.”