When Michael Wernersbach enters a room, 99 percent of the time his country favorite “Boys Round Here,” by Blake Shelton, is blasting through his ears. He’ll start singing the lyrics, bopping his head to the twangy tune, in a soulful reverie. That’s just the kind of guy he is — fun, kind and a die-hard country fan.
While Kenny Chesney is another favorite, the band Alabama trumps all. “I grew up with them; my parents had the jackets and everything. They were roadies for the band,” he explains.
“I grew up on this music mainly because of my dad. My mom was more of a rock ’n’ roll person, so I think she just put up with it,” Michael laughs. “But I wish I had picked up my dad’s musical skills. I tried the trumpet — they took that away so fast! Then a pair of drum sticks … you can just imagine.”
All of this happened many years ago, before Michael moved to Seattle. He was born in Minnesota in 1976; he’s now 38 years old. His family moved to New York when he was 1. “Growing up, we didn’t have much,” he said. Both of my parents worked. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment. My sister and I each had a room, but my parents slept in the living room.”
“School was OK, when I went. I guess if you got straight A’s, it would be cool. In New York, I did construction and cabinetry work, but when I turned 21, I left. I surfed around to different states. I went back to Minnesota as I still had family there, same with North Dakota.” Arkansas and California also made the list.
While in Minnesota, he joined a carnival troupe setting up rides. However, “The guy running it didn’t like to pay his employees much, so I left them. Funnily enough, another carnival show came into town, and the owner asked me if I knew how to set up the Tilt-A-Whirl. It’s the most difficult thing to do — to set the track correctly, to align the bull plates, put the inner pieces in. He told me if I could set it up for that night, he would hire me and give me a bonus. I knew I could do it. All he could say in the end was ‘Wow, oh my God,’ when I got it done.”
He has vivid memories of being in California on his way to Seattle when he saw the big earthquake of 2001 on the news. “I was shocked, like, ‘I’m going there?’ Now, I always say I’m leaving Seattle, and I always end up coming back. It’s my home now, and where I know the most people.”
Michael’s slew of labor-intensive jobs came to a crashing halt when he injured his back. “The doctor told me I have a small gap in my spine. After that, stuff started going downhill — no job and everything. I stayed in tent cities; I slowly got my life organized.”
He has a good relationship with his dad, but hasn’t seen him for 17 years. They stay in touch, though, and now there’s been talk of a road trip out to Seattle. “I was kind of shocked, and I don’t know when it’ll happen … [maybe] around my birthday, July 24, the same birthday as my mom’s. She had to spend her birthday giving birth to me!”
Michael has a daughter of his own, Sammantha, who was a big part of his life. Unfortunately, he hasn’t seen her since 2009 due to issues with her mother and Sammantha’s adoption. He’s quick to specify: “Her name’s spelled with two M’s, I didn’t pick it. I have so many pictures of her.”
He tried selling Real Change many years ago, when the papers were $1. He didn’t sell more than one or two times. That changed when he became friends with a longtime Real Change vendor who told him to try again. “Now I’m doing better at it, with his help sometimes. I mean, I don’t get recognized that much when I’m out there. I just don’t. Sometimes I stand there for two to three hours and can’t sell even one paper.”
“Doing Real Change though, is better than holding a sign. If it wasn’t for Real Change, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now. It’s helped me become more people-oriented.” Michael likes to sell at Sixth and Olive, sometimes moving up a block to Seventh. He’s there all the time, in the early morning until 6 p.m. He’d love to see you there.