Finding fun in extreme conditions, Quebecois man sold Christmas trees on cold, snowy NYC street corner
For four years each December, Québecois Marc-Antoine Goyette headed across the Canadian border, destined for a New York City street corner. Once there, Goyette built a small shelter to live in for the month, and sold fresh Christmas trees to residents from Manhattan and the Bronx.
Goyette is the subject of Trick or Trees. The short documentary from Canadian filmmaker Simon Larochelle is the final movie in Vermont Public’s “Made Here” series, now in its 18th season.
Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch spoke to Goyette about his tree-selling job. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Williams Engisch: Throughout this film, viewers get to follow you on that yearly trek in New York City. Can you sort of bring us along on what that journey was like?
Marc Antoine Goyette: So it's kind of an adventure, which, which is a little bit why we do it. So the first thing to do is get a job and get a corner, which is not that easy.
Because, well, let's face it — the Christmas tree business, it's a little bit like the mafia, OK? You cannot just go there and do whatever you want. So first thing there is to get a contact that will give you a corner.
And then you need to cross the border, which is also a little bit like a gray zone. Because technically, while we can't work in United States, because we don't have like a working visa. But technically we're not working. We're like volunteering, selling Christmas trees.
Once you have your street corner, tell us how you then sort of set up camp.
In the movie, you can see the camp that I built in two nights. I went to Home Depot and I found like insulation and wood, a little bit everywhere. And I built like a pretty cozy shack because the last year I went, I went by train and I had no car at all!
In the film itself, you do mention finding pleasure in extreme conditions, which this sort of sounds like. What drew you to this sort of work, being outdoors in the bitter cold?
Yeah, well, I feel like it's a little bit like people doing Ironman [Triathlon] or stuff like that. I don't understand them. I'm like, "Why? Why would you run like 200 kilometers?" This sounds so dumb to me. But at the same time for us, it's a little bit the same thing.
There's some kind of — you kind of feel alive, doing such a weird and extreme job where you need to be self sufficient on food, on the heat, on well, actually your rooftop.
It's cold, but it makes you really alive. And I feel it's the same feeling as I don't know, adventures. Like I feel like people doing some crazy stuff. They share that feeling of feeling really alive, doing those stuff.
But the worst is actually managing people for 40 days on the side of the street. This is pretty intense. This is where it gets really tricky.
You said managing people on the on the on the sidewalk is the intense part?
Yeah, it is. It's usually in a day you'll meet a few dozen people and half of the time you choose them, like you choose to meet with them.
But when you live on the side of the street in New York City, you basically meet thousands of people a day. And you never asked for it. So you're kind of seeing everything going on, which depending on where your corner is it can get really hard.
What are some of the best parts of that job when you were doing it?
As I said in the movie, there's a privilege of bringing happiness to homes. It's just joy. There's few jobs where you actually bring happiness to people.
And I worked in the Bronx and I worked in Manhattan, which are two different experiences. But most of the time, the answer is the same. Like people are happy you come with the Christmas trees.
You're kind of mythical, folkloric creatures, like Christmas elf bringing them like holidays, which is super fun, super fun.
The viewer sort of gets to see you having that front seat interacting, as you said, with sometimes a thousand people walking along the street corner. What do you think that that perspective granted you?
I would say it gave me a lot of empathy. And it never happened that you can meet so much different people in their intimacy. I don't know any other jobs, you can do that. So yeah, I would say it gave me a lot of empathy and sensitivity.
We got to see a glimpse into your work life selling Christmas trees. What does the future hold for you now though? What what are you up to?
I just do what I love now, which is working in arts and then yeah, working for festivals. But I do miss selling Christmas trees a lot.
Can you come back if you if you ever wanted to? Could you just cross the border again? And maybe do it for one season or something?
Oh, yeah, actually, I thought about it. I thought about it this year. But the thing is, doing Christmas trees kind of take a chunk of three months in your life, which is like, very difficult after that to get into like a normal schedule or something like that. I'll come back, I promise! And then again, I would say to all of you fellow neighbors, don't try it. It's too hard! Leave it to the professionals.
Watch Trick or Trees Thursday, Nov. 29th at 8 p.m., on our main TV channel. It’s also available to stream anytime.