Our vendors: Emmanuel Salter (Real Change, Seattle, USA)

By Mike Wold, Real Change

Emmanuel Salter tells me that his life is one long adventure.

“Leaving New York, everything was just strange and new to me,” he says. “Anywhere I go is another adventure. I’ve gone from the Marine Corps to electronics, from electrician to union, from Labor Ready to being homeless.”

Emmanuel decided to live with his uncle in Anchorage in his last year of high school because “there was a ticket up for grabs. [Of] all my brothers and my sisters, nobody wanted it.” He met his wife, Marilyn, riding the school bus there. They decided to get married, but were underage, so he altered the birth dates on their drivers’ licenses and “borrowed” her father’s car to drive to North Pole, a little town east of Fairbanks. “Dropped out of high school three weeks before graduation,” Emmanuel remembers. “My daughter has three sons; my son has no sons, but they’re about 30, 40 years old now.”

Emmanuel and his brother Curtis joined the Marines just as impulsively. “I told Curtis, ‘I’m going in the Air Force.’ We went through the door, but I didn’t realize the other branches were there, and, boom, look at this uniform, mmm! That uniform was so sharp. It was the Marines.” They were sent to Camp Pendleton in Southern California. “We call it ‘Hollywood Marine,’” Emmanuel chuckles.

Marilyn and Emmanuel set up housekeeping in California, but went back to Anchorage a few years later to finish their high school diplomas.

Emmanuel’s drive for adventure then took him to Phoenix because, after experiencing the coldest state, he wanted to experience the hottest. “I found this dirt bike — ‘I’m going to do a workout’ – and rode around the whole city in the summertime, in probably 127 degrees. ‘Okay, that was fun,’ I thought afterwards. It was something to do, like some people climb the highest mountain.”

“What brought me to Seattle was I’ve never been.” It took Emmanuel a while to decide to sell Real Change. “I’d be out there with my spray bottle: ‘Can I wash your window?’ I was the shy type, trying not to ask for money, even though I needed it and wanted it and I’d seen people asking for it.” Then he saw Real Change vendors making money. “Before just asking for it, do something for it. And that’s what Real Change helps me out with.”

“I don’t consider myself homeless, I just call myself home-free. Homeless sounds too sad. If I had a car right now, I’d be sleeping in my car or driving to where I never been before.

But now, if I’m not on a bus, if I’m not in an all-night anything, if I’m not outside with my spray bottle, then I’ll sit in a movie theater that I paid $2 for, go to any college, take a shower in the locker room, go to the library, read. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry. I want to help if there’s any way I can help, and you can help me with a smile or by saying ‘hi’. Remember my name, Emmanuel – that’s good for me.”