The Foggy Bottom Metro stop is a place most people pass through to get from one place to another. But for the past three years, it has been Willy Henderson’s office.
Henderson, 56, sells flowers outside the Metro during the evening rush. While his unconventional workplace has a few disadvantages in inclement weather, he says he likes the outdoors.
“I prefer to be outside as opposed to stationary in an office,” he said.
Observing Henderson at work, it’s easy to see why. His mix of charisma and humor delights the commuters who have become his friends and regular customers.
Winks, arm pinches and handshakes seem just as frequent as monetary transactions, but the flower business is serving him well, he said.
He works for a network of vendors called Flower Power, which is owned by a friend and has vendors throughout the District.
His most common clients are “either men that are doing some preventative maintenance or who are already in the dog house, or ladies trying to cheer themselves up,” he said.
Regulars include employees of GW Hospital and the World Bank. During the afternoon he sells outside of the World Bank to cater to the lunch crowd.
He has developed quirky relationships with frequent customers like ‘Cowboy Bob,’ a hat-wearing cowboy who devises new ways to sneak up on Henderson.
Henderson’s social circle in the workplace extends beyond those who are buying flowers, he says. The employees of other Foggy Bottom vendors all have a good relationship.
“We’re like athletic teams who play different sports,” Henderson said, adding that there is no competition between them.
As people walk past Henderson’s stand, a steady stream of music can be heard coming from his iPod. He plays his 14,000 songs, on shuffle, through a battery-operated stereo.
His music ranges from smooth jazz to hip-hop “with lyrics that will make your ears burn,” he said. “Sometimes I have to monitor it.”
Henderson, a D.C. native, works year round at the Metro, except in extreme cold or rain. His flowers, which come from Ecuador via a supplier based in Florida, don’t take well to sub-freezing temperatures.
His proximity to the hospital and his relationships with its employees keep him informed when there are high-profile patients being treated there, like former Vice President Dick Cheney or the gunman who killed a Holocaust Memorial Museum guard this past summer.
“It was real hectic that day,” Henderson said of the day of the shooting.
Even while deep in conversation with one customer, Henderson smiles and nods at the familiar faces passing by.
“I love flowers. Flowers make people happy.”