Slice of Life: Characters at the Farmers’ Market

This morning I settled into a comfy chair out on the deck with a cup of coffee enjoying the quiet of morning ready to check in on what was happening at Teachers Write Summer Writing Camp.

I read through the prompt for today from author Phil Bildner. The prompt today was to find a fresh place to write and people watch. Use these observation to develop characters. Hmmm… there I was all set up to write on the deck but I was all alone. Sure I could have written about the birds and other critters around me or thought about a place where I had seen some different people and write about that. But, I wanted my writing to be authentic. I did a mental review of my schedule for the day, remembered it was market day and decided to go on a writing field trip to the Farmers’ Market.


The Farmers Market in our town is on the town green and creates quite a traffic tangle. I found a parking spot and made my way to the market. My routine is to make a lap through to see what each vendor is selling, check out prices and see what jumps out at me. I try to support different farmers and purchase from multiple stands. Once my canvas bag was full of fresh greens I sought out a spot to settle down with my notebook and start writing.


Prior to my arrival at the market I predicted the patterns of people I would see:

Summer Residents: Obviously well to do in their fine crisp clothes, collars turned up on their oxford shirts or golf shirts, pressed jeans and bare feet in loafers or deck shoes.

Earth Mommas: Pushing young children around in strollers wearing earth toned baggy clothes in search of organic produce.

Locals: Regular people just looking to get their fresh produce for the week.

When I sat down and looked closely there were more interesting people who didn’t fit in with the usual groups.

First, I zoomed in on Can Man. I have seen him riding up and down a mile stretch of Maine Street on his bright yellow tricycle with large plastic bins stacked high on the back. He has a simple yellow sign that says bottles and cans. This is the first time I have seen him so close.

Can Man sits on the park bench near hot dog stand eating a hot dog. I think he has strategically placed himself near the hot dog stand to get the cans and bottles from the lunch time crowd. He doesn’t smile. He has a scowl on his face as he smokes a cigarette. When someone leaves a can in the bin he barely acknowledges them. I can see his lips moving silently as if he is totaling up his profits for the day.

A man in a plaid shirt approaches and asks, “Have you got room for one more in there Dave?”

Now I know his name is Dave and he barely nods as the man drops the can into the bin.

I shift my attention across the way to a man playing the accordion. He is wearing a plaid shirt, dark pants, a baseball cap and dark sunglasses. At first, I wonder is he blind… but realize he isn’t when he nods at a young boy slipping a couple of ones into his case.


One song rolls into the next… Billy Joel’s “She’s always a woman to me”… “Edelweiss”… “Do-Re-Mi”… “Roll out the Barrel”…

At one point he interrupts his song to greet a woman passing by and then picks right back up where he left off as she left.

Another couple approaches and leave a few dollars in his case. He picks up a tattered cardboard with his playlist written on it in black sharpie and hands it to her to choose a tune. People walk by quickly. Others pause and spend a few moments listening.

Pausing to write in this fresh new place helped me to see what I miss when I am plowing through my regular routine. So many people and so many stories. It was hard to leave but I needed to move on with my day.



  1. Two unique characters! People can be endlessly fascinating. Can Man reminds me of the shopping cart people I see on downtown sidewalks when i drive to school. The accordion guy reminds me of a character in our city a friend calls Dance Man. He stands on a corner and holds a big boombox on his shoulder, dancing to the tunes. Sometimes you can see him without the boombox, still dancing to the tunes.

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