Have you ever noticed the big, free-standing clock on First Avenue near the Real Change office? Mike Hall keeps that clock running by winding it once weekly. He’s been doing that for years, and, along with his long white beard, it’s earned him the nickname “Father Time.”
Mike started selling at the corner of First and Main Street almost 18 years ago, when Real Change was in Belltown and Mike was one of three vendors regularly working in Pioneer Square. He lives in a van in SODO. “People in Pioneer Square bought me that van 14 years ago. I had another van — had a carburetor fire. Remember Megan Mary’s flower shop? She put a little grease board out — ‘Our friend Mike lost his van due to fire.’ In five days, that woman collected over $2,200 and handed it to me.”
Mike worked in lumber mills before he sold Real Change. “I got about 25 years of forklift experience, ripsaw experience, molding machine experience. I had my very first job when I was going to Asa Mercer Junior High. I used to pump gas, wash windshields and check oil.
“My mother — I can remember her getting canned meats and all that from the Agriculture [Department]. Powdered milk. I remember her running an extension cord to the neighbor’s for electricity. She worked off of Fourth and Lander — Louie’s Pancake House. We’d sit in a booth while she worked. I got so sick of pancakes.”
The family ended up moving to Aberdeen, Washington, when Mike was old enough to work. He got a job in construction remodeling houses, but realized he could make more money driving the truck that delivered supplies to the crews and continued on that path. “When I got into the lumber mills, I learned the forklift driver runs the mill. You got to keep those saws in wood.” That started him on his career. But gradually, the mills started replacing permanent workers with temps.
“They didn’t have to pay the medical benefits and they would work them 90 days and lay them off and bring in somebody else. Labor is a dying art.
“I was born and raised in Seattle, so I came back to Seattle.” For years, he sold Real Change in front of Elliott Bay Book Company. Then Elliott Bay and nearby Megan Mary’s moved to Capitol Hill. Now, “there is nothing but architects, lawyers and CPAs,” Mike remarked.
“It’s hard to sell to anybody down here that’s got their nose in the damn smart phone. I’ve picked up a few [customers] coming here from places where there’s street papers. They come up, say, ‘This is the same thing?’
“I say, ‘Basically, with different problems.’” Mike reads the paper, although he said “sometimes I’ve got to read Tim’s articles three or four times just to understand what he’s trying to say — he’s so philoso-full.”
“People come up to me and say, ‘What’s the good news, Mike?’
“I say, ‘Well, for one thing, this is not a ‘good news’ paper. It’s not good news. It’s for social justice, homeless problems. And not just homeless problems, but everybody’s damn problems.’”
Read more of the Oct. 14-20, 2020 issue.