In most American cities since the dawning of the age of the automobile, if you see a horse
pulling something it will most likely be a carriage
, giving quaint, old-fashioned rides to tourist
s or men trying to impress their dates. Not so in Baltimore
, where an ancient brotherhood of produce
vendors known as A-rabs (or sometimes A-rabbers) haul their wares in horse-drawn carts.
They're not Arabs, either. Most are old to middle-aged black men, carrying on a dwindling, centuries-old tradition. These equestrian produce salesman once plied every street in the city. Now largely relegated to poorer neighborhoods, the A-rabs announce their coming and going with singsong chants and sleigh bells. Sort of a cross between Santa Claus and the Good Humor ice cream man, these idiosyncratic peddlers offer fresher fruits and vegetables than can be purchased at a supermarket, often in areas that don't have supermarkets anyway.
Legitimate, independent businesspeople in an area where the quickest way to get ahead is to sell heroin to addicted neighbors, A-rabbers can nonetheless earn excellent incomes. The work is long and hard, though, and few young people seem interested in taking up the trade. Hounded by animal rights activists who believe urban stables and traffic-clogged city streets to be dangerous to the horses, the current generation of A-rabs may well be the last.