If you've been downtown near Third and Columbia, or driven past the car wash at Denny and Aurora, you've probably seen him. He's the guy who throws his papers in the air.
Willie Jones is one of Real Change's top-selling vendors. And it's no surprise; he starts his day at 6:30 in the morning, and ends at 6 at night. Day in and day out, rain or shine, he's out there selling. He rarely misses a day of work.
"It keeps me clean and sober," Willie says with pride. After all, he has plenty to be proud of. He's stayed clean and sober for 14 months, has his own apartment, and has made a lot of new friends.
"This is my social outlet," he tells me. "I have a lot of great people who I talk to."
Back in the '80s, Willie had his own taxicab business -- Custom Taxi, and drove a yellow and gray-top. The days were long, but business was pretty good. Then, one fateful evening, Willie was stabbed four times in an attempted robbery. The hunting knife punctured his lungs and pancreas. It's a miracle he survived. "I couldn't work for three months," Willie says, pausing for a moment to reflect. "But that's history, you know, you can't live in the past."
Two years ago, after a stretch of addiction and homelessness, Willie found Real Change. "The first time I sold papers I wasn't really good at it," Willie says. But he's a quick learner. Since he's been clean and sober, Willie has sold over a thousand papers each month.
What does he do when he's not selling Real Change? Watch movies, of course. Action, martial arts, suspense, thrillers, you name it: he's got 'em all. In fact, Willie has thousands of VHS and DVD videos; collecting them is his hobby. "I watch one movie a night before going to sleep, and that's another day I didn't relapse."
To his customers and friends, he says, "Thank you for talking to me and caring. I really appreciate your support."