HAMLET — Lately, Hamlet’s Collard Man has been feeling a little rejected: New owners forced him to forsake the spot he’d had for nearly three decades to move across N.C. 177 to the Hardee’s parking lot.
And he’s been a tiny bit dejected: Someone took down all but one of his signs last weekend. He likes to think it was someone being overly zealous at removing campaign signs, but it could be more nefarious.
But neglected? Never — especially by repeat customers, the people he tells they can pay him “the next time.” There are a lot of those, after nearly 30 years.
As the hours passed on Monday, Collard Man — Greg Shelley in civilian life — could barely take the cash from one smiling fellow cradling a bouquet of collards before the next customers would drive up.
One woman complained she’d “done been here twice already” before Shelley arrived for the day. (He’s not always there by breakfast, though he is a lot of the time.) He stuffed the woman’s minivan with four bunches of collards, and she drove off happy.
“I was in the BP parking lot for 29 years, and the high-falutin’ BP people said I couldn’t come back,” Shelley complained, a tad insincerely. He had been a mechanic in the garage that predated both recent BP stations.
“(But) I’ve got ‘em comin’ from all over” despite the move. And “I have shipped collards all over the country.” Just ask a guy named Justin Brown who lives in Seattle.
Shelley had a little hitch in his routine Monday: He ran out of turnips before the demand had dried up, although the collards and sweet potatoes were holding steady.
He called a friend: “You on your way, turnip man?” he asked.
Then he turned to Judy Bannister of Bennettsville, South Carolina, who had bought some collards but decided she could wait if the turnips were only a few minutes away.
“I had no idea I would sell all my turnips and mustard,” Shelley told her. “Sit still right here. We’ll tell lies and jokes.”
He took a breath and turned to face Bannister.
“Can you dance?” he asked.
But there was no time to tango because Shelley’s friend Mark Sanford — definitely not the former governor of South Carolina who took up with the “artesian” woman (that’s Shelley’s version of Argentinian) — arrived with a pickup bed full of turnips.
“You better throw in some extra turnips since I waited,” Bannister quipped.
“Fresh out of the ground!” Shelley proclaimed, selling what already had been sold.
Shelley also owns and runs the Train Room in Hamlet, a place visitors can watch him run his vast collection of model trains — for free. But he probably won’t be there much the next couple of weeks.
Instead, he’ll be on the corner near Hardee’s, from noon to dark, except on the days he’s there from breakfast time till dark. There’s a pretty big appetite for collards in these parts.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.