Middle-of-the-night flower hunt
In the deepest, darkest velvet of the morning, Lupe Vazquez is driving to San Francisco’s wholesale Flower Mart at Sixth and Brannan. It’s a regular Wednesday ritual for the Cotati floral designer and proprietor of LV Flowers.
“I leave the house at 2 a.m.,” said Vazquez, 50. “If I start at 3 or 4, it’s too late by the time I get there; the parking lot is full, and there are 10,000 vendors crowding the stalls.”
So she loads her red Chevy Tahoe’s stereo with the likes of Elvis Presley, Marc Antony and Ana Gabriel to keep her company.
“My favorite is Nat King Cole,” she confided. “I cannot live without music. I sing along. I’m not good, but I love it.”
In Sausalito, Vazquez picks up coffee, “their biggest latte and two brown sugars. They know I’m coming.”
So does her favorite toll taker at the Golden Gate Bridge. “He’s not there all the time,” she said, “but he calls me ‘the lady with the red car,’ and I know his name is Joey.”
Next stop, San Francisco’s wholesale design district, where trains, small trucks and vans, long-haul trailers and airport shuttles stop to unload their goods at wide-mouthed loading docks.
Inside the fresh Flower Mart’s 50 stalls are rainbows of roses from Ecuador; a spectrum of leafy alstroemeria from Mexico; carnations, daisies, irises, daffodils, pansies and foxglove from Pescadero; and closed, fragrance-free stargazer lilies from San Diego, among others.
Everything is overlaid with the sticky-sweet smell of plant cuttings. The perfume of the flowers will come later when they are warm and the public can buy what remains after the wholesale frenzy.
Unless she has put in a special order that will be waiting for her, Vazquez enjoys arriving early and getting a leisurely look at the flowers.
Vazquez’s favorites are the stargazers that can intoxicate an entire home with their perfume. After that, she chooses traditional red roses for their color, heirloom “angel faces” for their scent.
“I have my favorite vendors,” said Vazquez. “I’m picky. A lot of places try to push last week’s flowers before they bring out the new ones. I don’t like that.
“The thing I hate is bargaining. I am not a negotiator. I have my people. They give me a fair price and I don’t ask for less. I cannot complain.”
By 8 a.m., Vazquez has filled her SUV with as many flowers as it will hold and has ordered more to be delivered later in the week. Before she leaves, she treats herself to a plain croissant for the ride home. Her cargo gives her all the sweet she needs.
When she finally arrives at her Cotati shop, she has already put in nearly eight hours, but she opens the shop at 9:30 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m.
Thank goodness there’s only one Wednesday a week.
“This business is very tough, especially the last three years. By driving in myself at least once a week, I get the best choice and the lowest prices.”
Fridays are Vazquez’s busiest day because of weekend weddings and other special occasions. On those days, additional flowers are delivered from San Francisco.
“This week, I have 100 arrangements to make on Friday. And I can’t start earlier because the flowers won’t be the freshest.”
Vazquez took over the tiny Cotati floral shop nine years ago, after her partner in a Marin County floral design business retired.
The two met some 30 years ago when the woman Vazquez calls “my guardian angel” spied 16-year-old Lupe weaving grasses close to the road in a field near Nicasio.
“My family came from Jalisco when I was 12,” she said. “I didn’t speak much English yet, and she didn’t speak Spanish. So we gestured to each other and agreed that the grass inventions were pretty. She came back the next day with a dictionary, and we worked together for 20 years.”
Their garage-based workshop ultimately produced natural, flowing dried-flower swags, wreaths and other arrangements for such companies as Williams-Sonoma and Smith & Hawken and Mervyn’s.
These days she works primarily with the Latino community, designing entire special events (baptisms, first communions, quinceañeras, weddings) from the flowers to religious accessories to jewelry, ordering gowns, tuxedos, headpieces and shoes.
The front window always features a girl-sized fantasy dress or boys’ formal wear.
Inside is a workshop of color, scent and texture from which only beauty emerges.
LV Flowers, 8295 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati, 794-9575.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
•Did you wear the dried-flower-and-ribbon hair garlands sold at the Black Point Renaissance Pleasure Faire in the 1970s? Vazquez designed them and still makes them for the Gilroy incarnation as well as fairs in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago.
•In the 1990s at Disneyland, did you buy a pointy pastel princess hat with silk flowers around the brim? It was another Lupe Vasquez design.
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