Duane Jackson went from selling baseball merchandise in Times Square to meeting the Mets.
Jackson and Lance L. Orton Jr., the street vendors whose tip led police to discover a car bomb in Times Square last weekend, were given a standing ovation at Citi Field on Friday night before the New York Mets played San Francisco.
Frank Formato and Paul Casquarelli, two of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers who helped arrest suspect Faisal Shahzad, stood alongside the vendors behind home plate before the first pitch and were applauded by the half-full crowd. The vendors posed for photos with manager Jerry Manuel.
"Unfortunately, I didn't see anybody get out of the car," Jackson recalled telling detectives. "I wish I had. I wish we would have seen the guy and he would have started running. And maybe Lance and I could have beat the guy down, gave him a good old New York beatdown or something."
Orton, a vendor for more than 20 years, was the first to notice a little bit of smoke, and he alerted a mounted officer and two foot patrolmen. Authorities discovered a bomb in the SUV.
"If it had blown, 9-11 would have paled in comparison," Orton said. "That thing was so close to me, I'm scared to death. But I didn't respond to fear."
He said the highlight of his week was when he was riding in the limousine of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday and received a telephone call from President Barack Obama.
"I said, 'Is this a prank call?'" Orton recalled. "The secretary, whoever she was, she said, 'No, this is the president. You're going to be speaking to him directly.' My heart almost popped out of my chest."
Orton has been a vendor for 20 years and sells "I Love New York" merchandise, including hoodies. Jackson has been a vendor for 13 years and sells women's handbags, scarves, wallets — and golf clubs.
"That's one of things I mentioned to the president the other day," Jackson said, "because I know he's a big golfer."
Jackson also plays golf, and he said he was on vacation at Martha's Vineyard last summer about two weeks before Obama went to the island off Massachusetts on holiday.
"I'm hoping if he goes back there this summer I'll get an invitation to come up and play with him," Jackson said.
The two vendors don't know each other very well, even though they work across the street from each other. Both said they are U.S. Navy veterans from Vietnam — Orton said he served on USS Alamo and Jackson said he was aboard the USS Ranger.
Orton was reluctant to give too many details.
"Actually I really don't want to get into that because I plan on writing a book," he said. "And I just wanted something big to happen because I wrote it, so I want certain things to be a surprise."
Jackson is a member of a New Jersey cigar bar with Carl Banks, the former New York Giants linebacker. Jackson is from San Francisco originally and grew up a fan of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Ray Sadecki. He remembered selling baseball merchandise during the 2000 Subway Series, when the Yankees beat the Mets in five games.
He said Yankees' gear didn't sell the best.
"There would have been more money in my pocket with the Mets winning that Series than the Yankees winning that Series," he said. "Absolutely."