Spending a day with a Real Change vendor

By Hanna Brooks Olsen, Real Change

The day Glenn was paired with me he was working downtown, definitely not his favorite spot.

The noise of the traffic drowns out his secret weapon: A small speaker he uses to play KING FM 98.1, the classical music station.

Unlike a lot of vendors, Glenn doesn’t hawk his wares.

“The paper sells itself,” he tells me.

On the day that I get to shadow Glenn, as part of Real Change’s Vendor Week sell-off, I decide to try a few tricks I’ve seen. I try to make conversation. I boast about the content of the paper. I ask people if they know about Real Change.

They all walk by, waving a hand or giving a sort of regretful half-smile. Glenn gives me a gentle side-eye and remains quiet.

He sells a paper before I do.

It is quickly apparent that most people, especially during the lunch hour rush, are not interested in a conversation, especially about poverty, access and opportunity. Most people do their best to pretend not to see you; some might not be pretending. I feel like a part of the urban backdrop, right up until the moment that I’m not and someone is making an uncomfortable comment about my appearance.

I can’t decide which is worse: being ignored or being mildly sexually harassed. At one point, when a man indicates that he’ll come back to get my number, Glenn scowls.

“That never happens to me,” he says.

By the end of our shift, my fingers are cold and I’m tired and we’ve only sold a handful of papers. I’m looking forward to going home; Glenn tells me he’s about to head to one of his better spots.

“I need to catch up,” he says. “I’m headed to Bellevue.”

As I retreat to my apartment, I think about the people who are still out there in the howling wind, being ignored until someone finally stops to buy a paper.

Glenn is made of stronger stuff than me, and so are most of the vendors who spend their days outside in all weather. Though I wish folks would be more cordial, there is a part of me that’s thankful to live in a city where Real Change vendors are a part of the backdrop, because at least it means they’re there, doing the work and making a difference.

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and policy consultant. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, Salon, Fast Company and Vice.