If one thing is certain, it’s that you won’t have to ask Mark Southworth if he’s “working hard or hardly working.” “I started working when I was 7 years old on a 154 acre dairy farm back in upstate New York. In the summertime it was hot. Winter time? Forget it! You freeze more or less. But I did what I had to up until my dad passed away back in ’65. And then we sold the farm, because that was one of his wishes. He said ‘if anything happens to me the farm goes.’” Mark hadn’t stopped “working hard” until he absolutely had to. Traveling to find work across the country from his home state of New York, down to Florida, eventually making it out West: Colorado, California and, finally, Washington. Mark has lived in Seattle for almost 20 years. “I did security on and off for about 17 years when I first got up here and then back in 2003 I went to work for Charlie’s Produce and also for CenturyLink Field for the Sounders and Seahawks. I did that for almost 12 years there. Almost eight years at Charlie’s [Produce] before I had to go out for my last knee replacement. And I’ve been on disability since.”
For Mark, this was not a welcome change. When working, Mark explained, “everybody was really proud of the way I did things. I kept everything on the up and up and got everything cleaned up and if I had something extra to do, I did it. I more or less set my own standards for doing stuff.” And those standards were high. “When my dad passed away at 47 I was 13. I mean I’ve had a rough life, but I turned around and tried to put it to my advantage, to learn everything as much as I could.” It’s evident that Mark’s work ethic is not lacking, but his body simply couldn’t keep up with his bullheaded mentality. “My right knee was driving me crazy, because I’m climbing on and off a fork lift all day long. … It just got to the point where it was hurtin’ too damn much and I just couldn’t bear the pain anymore. Even taking over-the-counter medications didn’t help.” After a lifetime of putting his nose to the grindstone, Mark now relies on monthly checks to pay for rent, bills — including medical bills, life insurance for him and his wife, and, notably, his own funeral. “I can’t live on that,” says Mark.
Mark currently pays $775 for rent. And he can’t afford it. Something painfully frustrating? “Trying to get into housing right now. They put me on a waiting list; they wanted to put me all the way out in South Park. Seattle housing did, in the senior set-up. I turned around and told them no because there’s no stores around. And there’s only one bus in that area at a time.” It’s an easy argument to make; that is a less than appropriate option for someone who had a hand in supporting the local community for, again, almost 20 years. And Mark is supporting our local community still, by selling Real Change.
Except this job is a lot less stressful, according to Mark. Spending the morning and early afternoon at Starbucks on First and Yesler three days a week, Mark enjoys “meetin’ different people and talking to ‘em when [he] can.” Mark continued, “every once in a while they’ll turn around and ask me if I want anything from the Starbucks and I’ll say, ‘sure I’ll have a cup of coffee and nine times out of 10 they’ll end up buying it for me, which is real nice.” Mark very much appreciates each conversation, each cup of coffee and each person who offers such gifts. That being said, if you’re ever walking past Mark one morning, feel free to say hello; grab a paper and be ready to receive a friendly “have a nice day and I’ll see you in the mornin’.”
Wait, there's more. Check out the full January 24th issue.