Our vendors: Gail Marcotte (Street Roots, Portland, USA)

By Helen Hill, Street Roots

Gail Marcotte is an energetic, diminutive woman with a pronounced and charming Brooklyn accent.

“I’m shrewd, intense and very complex,” Gail said. “From day to day, you won’t figure me out.”

Gail was born in New York to an Irish Catholic mother and a Russian father. She remembers summertime family trips to Coney Island throughout the 1950s, swirling around in the teacup chairs and eating hot dogs and cotton candy with her five brothers and sisters.

At age 15, her guidance counselor said she was too restless and needed a job, so Gail was hired as a junior quartermaster at the Hauppauge police precinct in Suffolk County, Long Island. It was her task to issue uniforms and supplies to the people in the police force. That was just the start of a lifetime of interesting jobs. Since then, Gail’s worked for a boat company in Florida, a perfume factory in New Jersey, a landscaper in Connecticut, and a steak house as a prep cook. She’s also been a caregiver, a motel laundry room supervisor and a Pizza Hut hot-and-cold bar manager.

“I’m a hard worker. I’m honest,” she said. “I work my ass off.”

Gail had four children, three daughters and a son. Her son died of a heroin overdose, and she’s since suffered anxiety and bipolar disorder.

“How do you ever get over a thing like that? I been hurt a lot in my life,” she said.

Her daughter, Elaine, moved to Portland about 15 years ago, and she invited Gail to come join her. At first, Gail was reluctant; she thought Oregon was still the wild West.

“I didn’t want to live in Timbuktu,” she said.

Her daughter assured her there were indeed buildings and streets, so she boarded a train and arrived in Portland in 2006.

“When I got off the train, I saw all the homeless by the train station lying around, and I asked my daughter, is this a refugee camp?” Gail said. “We don’t see that back in New York. I’ve heard about homeless people in the tunnels, but I never saw it.”

Gail’s been working on and off for Street Roots for two years.

“If you live in Portland, your best bet is to buy a Street Roots paper and find out about what’s going on in your backyard,” she said. “You best read up.”

Gail said she sells Street Roots “to get out of the house, to not think about loneliness and emptiness. When I’m selling Street Roots I feel like I fit into society. I do good. I like to say good morning to my customers. And I wash my laundry with the money I make.”

In addition to selling Street Roots, Gail has been a volunteer with Loaves and Fishes for several years.

“I enjoy cutting up fruits and vegetables – I love to prep – then I go out and help the handicapped with a tray of food,” she said. “You need to be compassionate; you need to show you care.”

So if you want to brighten your day, plan to visit this unusual, sparkling lady who has lived an interesting and courageous life. You can find her selling Street Roots outside Great Harvest Bread Co. at Yamhill Street and Second Avenue in downtown Portland.