When Michael Henderson started selling Real Change, he told himself it was practice for starting a small business. He was living under a bridge and knew guys who “flew” signs (panhandled). He also knew a guy who was selling Real Change. Michael had flown signs, too, but didn’t like it. He started with just a few papers, tried different spots, sold even more when he discovered what he called “Miracle Mile, Sixth Avenue,” and eventually found his current spot, Denny and Aurora, where he got to the “coveted 600 level” and in the top 10 of vendor sales.
Selling papers was seductive — especially getting paid every day. “But mostly it’s given me the chance to be a person. I’m doing something that at first people think, ‘Oh, that’s crazy, it’s not really a job,’ then they start seeing that I keep doing it.”
After four years, disaster struck. “I had a stroke a couple blocks from here. I was in Harborview 26 days. I still have residuals from that.” Then this past June, Michael had a kidney removed because it had some cancerous cells. So far it looks like the cancer is gone. “I’m just trying to get back to a level where I can at least hold my turf.”
Denny and Aurora is a great place to make sales. Thousands of cars pass through the stoplight every day. But there’s a continual barrage of diesel engines accelerating, trucks braking, cars honking and even Duckmobiles full of singing tourists. “I probably have mid-range hearing loss from all the noise.”
Interactions with customers are necessarily brief.
“I work really hard and wish that would speak for itself. I don’t talk to that many people because by the time they decide that I’m safe and have rolled down the window and I give a paper to them, the light turns green and they speed off. I talk some, but I don’t even know if I’m understood. Probably people think I’m crazy.”
Michael grew up on Bainbridge Island and worked various jobs, including being a fisherman in Alaska.
“That’s where I get this work ethic from. My dad fished before he did other things. Everybody I knew did it.”
Just as a fisherman may not catch many fish one time and the next time catches a lot, sometimes Michael doesn’t sell many papers, “but sooner or later it’ll pay off.” He works six to eight hours a day, on a split shift to catch both rush hours.
“When I first started selling the paper I was showing that I was trying to do something. I’m not trying to save the world. I have a history of substance abuse and was just trying to get back to being a normal person. I’m just a person that sells papers. It’s only work, but it is work. You get paid. I don’t need people to ask me where the mission is and stuff like that. I sold you a paper, it’s simple as that.”