I MET MY PEDICAB driver, Bobby from the Manhattan Rickshaw Company, in Washington Square Park. I was there for the Dumpster Tour, and I was excited, having long ago heard about this mythic map of all the good places in the city to find thrown-out food, and the best time to hit them. I arrived to find a bunch of cyclists edged by cops, some of them looking sharp on their nice new scooters. Bill, from the Tour, was looking around for their legal observer, which they need on each dumpster ride.
Bobby had picked out a hot-pink pedicab for me, even though we'd never met. People now use pedicabs in everything from weddings to shopping trips to the farmer's market. Sure enough, it came in handy during the dumpster tour: Lots of recycled food got piled next to me on my seat, headed for Food Not Bombs at ABC No Rio.
The first spot we hit was the Gristedes on Mercer St., where the tour group quickly found bananas, yogurt, orange juice and Nellie-brand cage-free eggs. They don't really have room for dumpsters in Manhattan, so things are left out in plastic bags, which we rummaged through before neatly tying them back up. Cleaning up onsite is important, explained Bobby: "The purpose is not to piss people off; it's to reduce waste."
I had a half a banana, which wasn't bad. Then a woman said that the cherry Dannon yogurt contains ground-up Peruvian bugs, which get their red coloring from eating certain blossoms. I didn't know what to believe while hanging out with these health radicals, but I liked saying "ground-up Peruvian bugs," and it sounded kind of good. I took some Parmalat half-and-half for myself, because most plain deli milk goes bad almost immediately.
Biking to the next spot, Gracefully on Ave. A and 3rd St., Bobby spotted the guy cycling next to him. "Hey, I saw you in court! I was there for an open container!" he said chummily. The other guy mumbled something about urination. I had almost forgotten about quality-of- life laws, even though I once had two cops bang on my door because of a flyering run I'd gone on the night before. "Police! Open up!" They yelled dramatically, helping me make even more of a good impression on my neighbors.
I was peeking in the trash-I mean the food-outside of Gracefully, when Justin Bond of Kiki & Herb spotted me. "Has she really come to this?" he must have wondered. I can never afford Gracefully-it's one of those gourmet delis where $20 buys you very little, so I was pleased to see the crafty trash-diggers net a couple of expensive sandwiches, upscale lettuce, cereal, raspberries and old flowers. The raspberries tasted bitter, and I tucked a nasty old flower into my skirt. Somebody gave an old lady a liberated baguette to feed the pigeons.
One smallish guy was especially quick untying bags and pawing through them, like a handsome little rat. Thadeaus, our tour leader, said he lives on 100 percent found food, but doesn't eat anything cooked, unless it comes from LifeThyme on 6th Ave., which he gave a pretty good review. The cakes are dairy-free, he says, as is the chocolate mousse cake, the coconut and lemon pies and everything else.
We next hit a slightly less vegan dessert place, Black Hound on 2nd Ave. Here the health-food buffs looked suspiciously excited as they opened a plastic bag full of creamy desserts mashed together. I sampled half a lemon tart, which was pleasing, and a piece of poppy-seed cake. I found it a little dry and a bit too heavy.
"Damn you, Thadeaus!" a kid boomed theatrically, finding us already digging in, just sort of sticking our fingers in and scooped out the goods, including a slab of unusually tasty coffee cake. In the window was the beautifully displayed Black Hound specialty: a bumble-bee cake valued at $22.
We swung back to Old Fashioned Donuts on 1st Ave. at about 10:30. It had just closed, and the very first bag was filled with doughnuts, slightly stale, but refreshingly not as sweet as the nearby Dunkin' Donuts. A woman nibbled on one compulsively, angry at herself, complaining that she would have to fast the next day. Apparently these vegans are not as tough as you'd think.
Outside of Commodities Natural Market, on 1st Ave., I had a yellow cherry tomato. I associate yellow tomatoes with luxury, and this one was flavorful, unlike the new Star Trek tomatoes in the grocery stores that look great and taste like nothing. (I'm thinking specifically of the Star Trek episode in which the crew lands on that pleasure planet where the natives can replicate the look of human food but don't understand about taste.)
All told, I had a pretty good night. Onlookers smiled indulgently at us studying the garbage. I finally scored the secret list, "Dumpster Diving Spots of NYC." And my friends were wowed when a hot-pink pedicab dropped me off, with Bobby elegantly offering me a hand as I stepped out. o