Darryl Manassa chose to talk with Real Change near the two things important to him: the door, where he could help people come up the stairs into Real Change’s office, and his custom Schwinn Windwood. The bike, a classic cruiser with massively elevated handlebars imported from Florida, is the first one that Darryl ever built, though not the last.
“I’ve built maybe 152 bikes,” Darryl said. “And I’ve sold about 68. This bike is my No. 1 bike. It’s probably got about 279,000 miles on it. I’ve ridden it literally everywhere. I’ve ridden it out by the water, where it’s peaceful, you know. If you’re having a tough time at work, just go ride your bike out by the water. It feels like it’s just me and God. It feels like another reflection of me.”
Just three and a half years ago, Darryl was living differently. “I was going through a tough time in my life, nothing really worked for me,” Darryl said. “I tried selling weed, I tried going to school, I tried working a regular job. Nothing worked for me.” Meanwhile, Darryl’s friend and former vendor Ed McClain was selling Real Change every day.
A conversation with Ed motivated Darryl to focus on his bikes, which eventually led him to Real Change. “I was like, ‘I’m trying to get on!’” He said about the first time he came to the office, “They were like, ‘Get on?’” Darryl had come on the wrong day for orientation. He laughs at the confusion now, but everything went smoothly once he became an established vendor.
“I went to North Seattle, and my first papers sold like that, all of them,” said Darryl. “I came back and got 10 more of them, and they sold like that. I’m like, I got some type of touch somewhere! My first two months I was on the street every day, selling 40 to 50 papers a day.”
Soon, Darryl was famous for both his bikes and papers, to the point where a stranger approached him on the bus to build a bike for his son. He was able to take a short lull in the paper business to focus on building bikes again, which he says keep kids in line.
Darryl is unabashedly a fan of Schwinn cruisers. “A lot of people are like, ‘Can you build me a 10-speed?’ and I’m like, ‘that’s not a cruiser.’” His main bike, which he had to recover from a pawnshop after it was stolen, is no different. He hopes to sell this bike soon to help him afford housing.
Darryl sees building and riding bikes as a great part of his life right now. “It’s hard being homeless in Seattle. Bikes keep my cardio in shape. When I’m frustrated, they let me ride my frustration off. The time and the labor I put into bikes — no one can take that away.”