Brooklyn teenager Lance White ships water on the corner for cold cash
I first saw Lance White in the middle of 4th Avenue, Brooklyn selling water out of a cooler on a blazing-hot Saturday. Actually, I heard him long before I saw him.
“Ice cold water, one dollar, one dollar, one dollar!” His rapid-fire sales pitch was audible from our living room halfway down the block and three floors up. When I eventually stepped outside and put a face to the voice, I had to stand on the corner and scratch my head awhile – this guy was quite young, maybe even Gen Zee. According to pictures the media had painted for me, he should’ve been playing videogames, scrolling social media, or sleeping. And yet here he was, a teenage entry-level entrepreneur working his hustle hard in the sun. No man, woman or vehicle was safe from his hollering: “Ice cold water, one dollar! Honk, I’ll bring it right to you!”
It was as hot as a furnace on that street corner, and his energy in the face of it was inspiring. I went back home and grabbed my camera gear. I was glad I did because Lance White turned out to be an all-round inspiring young man.
He told me he was 19 and fresh out of high school, and that he’d lived in various neighbourhoods in Queens and Brooklyn while coming up.
“My family really had me all over the place throughout my childhood,” he said. “We started from Queens, then we wound up moving to Canarsie (Brooklyn), then to Downtown Brooklyn. We just recently moved from Bed-Stuy and we now in Park Slope.”
“Ice cold water, one dollar, one dollar, one dollar! You better beat the heat before the heat beats you! Refresh yourself!”
“I’ve just been around these boroughs and picked up a couple things from each borough, you feel me?”
Lance said he inherited his entrepreneurial spirit from his mother, a realter who sells jewellery on the side, and that he got a taste for the hustle after having success with a homemade lemonade stand in Bedford-Stuyvesant a few years ago.
“I set up on the block out front of my house and made me like a good $500 in one day,” he said. “So I just kept that entrepreneur mindset, just kept striving to make money.”
Selling cold water on hot days is a common New York hustle, but you rarely see a seller working this hard at it. You can break the business down into dollars and cents, but I don’t think you can account for the X factor that is Lance himself.
“It’s a slow hustle but you do make money, especially when you catch your packs of water on sale, like me,” he explained. “I caught my cases three for $10. That came out to $14 and some change (with tax), now I’m about to make $62 over back, so that’s a good profit coming back off of $14. It’s a slow income but, hey, you’ve just gotta strive for it. If you’re hungry for the money, you gotta do what you gotta do, you feel me?”
While making money is the prime objective, Lance can see other benefits – from setting an example for his younger brother to steering clear of the pitfalls of the drug game, which are so often rigged to catch ambitious young black men like him.
“I almost found myself getting into the drug game,” he confessed. “But I had to learn: ‘Is that what I really want to do? Or do I want to become a positive man for my brother and to make a change on this world?’
“My mother always told me: ‘Make a positive impact on the younger youth because at the end of the day that’s the future coming up. Once you make a positive impact, you’re gonna see a change in your life; you’re gonna become bigger in what you’re doing’.”
“All I’m here to do is inspire people to become better people. Make money; do it legally, though. You don’t want to get caught up in the system.”
At the end of the day, Lance White is the future coming up, and we should all feel buoyed by that. He defies the negative stereotypes attributed to the ‘i-generation’. In fact, his words and actions cast doubt over the very validity of such labels.
The line that stuck with me most was not one of Lance’s precocious philosophical raps, but one of the more juvenile phrases he used while trying to make sales. “This water is gonna make you wanna kiss yo momma three times!” I could relate to that because I felt like kissing his momma three times, and thanking her for doing such a fine job raising Lance.