Glee ripples off Ramon Lopez like sunlight off water. One half of a dynamic duo, Ramon traverses Seattle with his stalwart sidekick, Cachae, his Alaskan husky who his mom got for him after the devastation of losing his beloved golden boxador, Savvy.
Ramon has long created a sales team with a canine sidekick, and Cachae was a much welcome gift for Ramon. Together, they sell Real Change, Ramon cracking jokes with his customary euphoric smile.
Ramon was initially unsure about having a dog. A doctor who diagnosed Ramon with anxiety helped him get Savvy, Ramon said. “At first, I was like, ‘God, I have to take her out to poop and give her baths.’ But then I realized that I’d be wrestling with her and laughing. She just built me up.” Any initial hesitation about having a new dog quickly went away for Ramon this time, too.
Ramon is from El Paso, Texas, but he was raised in Seattle. “My mom has 12 siblings, and her oldest sister came here on vacation and wound up staying. Then she started bringing the whole family over,” he chuckled.
Ramon is quick to mention that he’s an Aries, 52 years old and has a birthday on Tax Day. “I also have two siblings: a younger sister and an older brother. My mom had all three of us by the age of 17. She was stuck in [a relationship] with an abusive man, but once she freed herself, she began to live. There’s no stopping my mom. If she can fit in going to see the mountains, she’ll fit it in — to make up for lost time.” With love, Ramon emphasized, “Mom’s my backbone.”
“I attended Lowell Elementary School. I was held back twice in a row because I didn’t want to learn English,” he explained. Ramon’s native language is Spanish, and his mother is originally from Mexico. In a flurry, a memory came to him: “But there was this amazing Asian lady that spent a lot of time teaching me English. I remember she’d always buy me gifts. She would bring me building blocks. She’s an amazing person. She still stays in touch with my family.”
Ramon continued to Denny junior high and then Evergreen High School, but dropped out due to family complications. From 16 to 27, he was on the streets.
“I went to 12 years of counseling all because I walked into this room of people that were standing outside having coffee, and they invited me in. It wound up being an AA program. That’s why I made it through. I made some of the greatest friends there — very intellectual and kind, to the extent that if I was going to ever do something, they worried for me and would give me the key to their place so I could go rest.”
His newfound friends spurred a radical change in Ramon: “It was there I realized that great people exist in this world. And then I was able to see the goodness in other people that were outside of the AA program. I began my years of counseling and took advantage of all the classes they had. I started going to the library, and I would check out DVDs and I would open up my heart and my mind.”
Ramon has been a vendor with Real Change since 2008, and he couldn’t be more grateful: “It is as it’s written: Real Change. The gentleman who began this had the perfect idea. For the lives of those like myself, lost and with a lot going on. At Real Change, I was invited in for a cup of coffee, once again. I was given papers and sent out that same day and met some amazing people.
“At that point in my life, I didn’t know who to trust. I was able to speak to customers and receive reinforced love from them and volunteers. And understanding. I wouldn’t be here today, if it hadn’t been for Real Change. Every time that I felt alone, I always had Real Change. I could get out of myself.”
Ramon loves to be a part of the city, seeing the working people and selling them the paper. He posts up for Real Change at the Lake City Bartell's, and his badge number is 10519 — a marker that is more reliable in Covid, especially because vendors can receive support from afar through Venmo.
With a cup of coffee and Cachae by his side, Ramon takes on a new day.
Lee Nacozy contributed to this report.
Read more of the Jan. 13-19, 2021 issue.