The Souvlaki Lady

The smoke swells as the souvlakis sizzle. Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Elpida pushes her pushcart onto her corner. They sear swiftly, so Elpida Vasiliadis has to turn them promptly while she’s serving the people who stop at her pushcart. For the last quarter century, which is half of her life, Elpida The Souvlaki Lady has been stationed on 33rd Street at Ditmars Boulevard. Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Elpida has been The Souvlaki Lady for 25 years. When she started, her son and daughter were young, and she lived around the corner, so she could see them playing in&…

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The Newborn Doula

The call came at 10 at night. Annie LeVasseur had been eagerly expecting it, but, still, it made her nervous. Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Annie grew up in the South. It meant that a baby and Annie’s new career as a doula were about to be born. Although Annie had studied photos and videos of mothers giving birth during her training, this was the first time she was going to experience it in real life. “Babies are unpredictable,” she says, explaining her anxiety. “And I like predictability.” Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling She calls kids’ yoga pure fun. The&…

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The Cerebral Cowboy

Does it smell like cigarette smoke? Jim Ruchalski, a pack-a-day guy, has gone to a lot of trouble to clear the stale-smoke scent out of his apartment. That’s why the candles are burning and the fans are humming on high. Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Jim’s a geologist for the city. “I can open a window,” he says, looking at the hookah in the corner and the empty ashtrays in the living room. Jim, who has neon blue eyes and smile lines etched into his weathered face, has been smoking since he was 13. He’s …

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The Fairy Godmother

In between a boisterous bar and a game’s-over gambling den, the Arabesque Couture Boutique opened its single plate-glass door, elevating the end of the block from gritty to glittery. Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling Shireen owns Arabesque Couture Boutique. This Cinderella had no fairy godmother. The shop was born not of a magic wand but of a teenage need: Shireen Khan had to go all the way to Forest Hills to get a Sweet Sixteen dress for her daughter. It wasn’t a matter of indecision. Janan, a junior at Long Island City High School, is a young woman …

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