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When there’s no yellow cab or Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty, the cup speaks of place.Blue and white with a Greek frieze around the rim, it has a scratchy depiction of an urn and the words “We are happy to serve you” written in ochre along the sides.I started seeing the cups in gutters, flattened between subway tracks, blown up on posters taped to the sides of coffee carts.But I didn’t see one serving its intended function.The little deli cup quietly triggers a recognition of the Big Apple, separating it from the Windy City, the City of Light and other metropolises.When I moved to New York City two and a half years ago, I wanted to see taxis muscling their way up New York’s clotted thoroughfares, subways packed with commuters avoiding eye contact, coffee carts with bagels and stacks of blue-and-white cups.
Resting in the hands of fictional detectives (NYPD Blue) and on the counters of set restaurants (Seinfeld), it is one of New York’s ambassadors.
His design was common-sense business savvy: Buck presumably looked around and saw that most diners were owned by Greeks, a byproduct of political shuffling in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which brought them in droves to New York and New Jersey.
With their “Entrepreneurial dreams and little capital,” Greek immigrants invested in diners, writes Joel Denker in The World on a Plate: A Tour Through the History of America’s Ethnic Cuisine.
“Not a single one had a Greek amphora, and it scared the pants off me,” Stevens said on “The Citizens Radio Music Show” in 2005.
Stevens began saving every New York-branded cup he was given until his collection reached 150.