Ed Arthurs’ Southern drawl wraps you up in a wisp of charm. Soft-spoken and with an undeniable magnetism, Ed seems to have fallen right out of the Daniel Wallace novel and Tim Burton flick — “Big Fish”— with his whimsical tale and sly smile.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, he grew up all over the South, the product of living in a military family. He’s the oldest of the bunch, which includes four younger sisters. He points to his chest and remarks, “I had a hole the size of a half dollar here: Heart surgery at age 4. They said I turned purple. They fixed me up and told me I would have been dead by my 20s if they hadn’t have caught it. Back then, they cut you straight up and down and plug in a piece of metal.”
“The army took me at 17: The first infantry division, out of Ft. Riley, Kansas.” When asked why he joined, Ed rumbles in a gruff voice: “ ’Twas the lesser of two evils.” He thought about being an electrician, but qualified for a medic. He said his time in the army “sucked,” but at least he had the opportunity to travel. He was in Germany in 1975, for seven weeks of the NATO War Games.
Though Ed was in the penitentiary for a spell, after his Army days he worked as a PR man for Circus Vargas. An advertiser, a front man: He would venture ahead of the company to prepare for “the largest show under the big top in the world.” Somewhere different every seven weeks, Ed was with the circus for two years and in charge of ordering supplies, obtaining permits and all the jazz that comes with promotion.
His pastel blue eyes sparkle at the mention of “Thanksgiving under the big top,” a dinner with the performers that marks his favorite memory. Of course, “The elephants were always good, the lions and tigers. It was all fun.”
Next came tree work, on and off for the next 20 years. Ed climbed, trimmed, hauled away trees. He also dabbled in sales and management: The theme of his career. “While you make good money climbing,” he said, “there’s a lot more money in sales.” From trees to Kirby cleaners, Ed sold when the opportunity rose: “I vacuumed and shampooed a lot of carpets,” all in a suit and tie.
But Oahu and Maui called to him, telling him to sell timeshares and find a Hawaiian haven above the fray. He lived in a treehouse he carpeted, painted and outfitted with a jumbo mosquito net, stereo, bed, complete with swimming pool access nearby — you know, the hard-knock life.
And yet Ed continued to travel and work, ending up in the oil fields of Oklahoma and western Texas, a time he characterizes as “long hours, difficult work and good paychecks. And lots of drinking.”
Another siren call led him to Seattle, and this time, to stay. “I like Seattle. It’s where I want to settle, permanently. I have no desire to be elsewhere.”
And then one day, Ed saw another product and became the vendor we know and love. “I’ve been working for Real Change for about 10 years. I saw a guy selling on the street corner and asked him a few questions. Within a month or two, I was a 300-club member.” (That means he sells 300 papers a month.)
“Real Change is a good opportunity for people to progress. You know, have a chance at a steady income. It takes time to build a corner. It took me a couple of years. The buses changed routes, and that tore me up. I had to work two different corners to catch my same customers.”
Ed sells in the morning at Third and Seneca, with his tiny, tawny companion, Cosby. A handful of love, he’s a mix-breed that warms Ed’s lap and greets customers, dutifully accepting the occasional treat. At home, he gets a little more competition from Missy Sue, a kitty cat who swats Cosby around and scrambles for the same spot on the bed.
So that’s Ed Arthurs’ tale. He sells, chats with customers, takes care of his pets — not to mention he grows roses in a small garden plot. The usual red and pink blooms are being traded over for something different this year. Whatever color, it’s sure to be beautiful.