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PALM LATITUDES

Goings-on

February 16, 1992|Judith Sims | Edited by Mary McNamara

The sellers--100 or so--start arriving as early as 10 p.m. the day before, unloading their wares from giant trucks, small pickups, station wagons, plain old cars. Predominantly Asian-American men, they are the tenants of the Southern California Flower Market and American Florist's Exchange in downtown Los Angeles, which, combined, make up the second-largest floral mall in the country. As the growers set up their stalls, flowers are everywhere--exotic-looking verbascum from Oxnard, lilies from Carpinteria, roses from the Bay Area, tall yellow chrysanthemums, short shocking-pink azaleas in pots, dusty-blue dried flowers and purple orchids. Some are lovingly arranged, others piled like factory parts. Then the sellers stand around smoking, talking and waiting. Buyers, florists and tradespeople start trickling in about 4 a.m.; on Fridays, the busiest day, about 1,500 will converge. On weekdays, the public is permitted to buy only from 8 a.m. to noon, and only from stalls licensed to sell retail; on Saturdays anyone can buy at any time. This morning, two women examine gerbera daisies propped in a bucket; after some debate, they buy two stems. A few aisles away, two men bend over several buckets of alstroemerias, tossing their selections in a heap on the floor--close to 50 bundles, and they are still tossing. By 2 p.m., when the market closes, the place is nearly empty. There is no carnage, no trampled stems, no mutilated blossoms; just quiet, with a faint odor of cold cement and dust. In about eight hours, the acrid smoke and sweet floral perfume will mix it up again.

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