If you hear classical music broadcasting on a sidewalk, you can bet that when you turn the corner, Glenn Walker will be standing there selling his Real Change papers.
“One day on accident, I turned on classical music — and I knew Beethoven — but I saw a kid jumping around and some ladies told me, ‘That music that you play, you will go a long way with that. You’ll sell all your papers,’” Walker said.
“The music attracts people,” he said.
Six years ago, Walker didn’t believe he could make money selling Real Change. A vendor talked him into trying it.
“He told me to try to sell a newspaper at Whole Foods, and I told him, ‘No, I’m not doing that. It ain’t me.’
“‘Come on, please, hold one paper up.’
“I say, ‘I’ll hold one up five minutes and [then] I’m out of here.’ A car came up beside me and handed $20 out of the window.
“You must pay the man to do that!” Walker’s friend said, baffled.
“I don’t know that man!” Walker replied.
Soon after, “I came down here and signed up.” That was October six years ago, and he’s stood by Real Change ever since.
Walker grew up on Chicago’s South Side. He said the place isn’t as bad as its reputation. “Everybody was real friendly. Never had no trouble. Maybe it don’t see me!” Walker has always been an understated person.
Growing up, he had three brothers and two sisters. Two of his brothers have passed away, sadly, but he’s still in contact with his remaining siblings, even though they are spread out all across the country. “They come and visit me all the time,” Walker said.
In the ’90s, Walker lived in Denver and then in New York with his mother and sister. But when his mother died in 2003, his brother invited him to come to Seattle. Walker worked at QFC and Laborworks and did odd jobs. He still earns part of his living that way.
“I’ve been here a long time. I got here in 1979, then moved around a lot and ended up back in Seattle in 2003. My brother lived in Bellevue so I came to stay with him.”
Walker’s family knew at the time that he was homeless. They were as supportive as they could be. Growing up, they were never homeless. “I didn’t know anyone lived in the street and I had never heard of it before,” Walker said. Walker wasn’t homeless in any of the other places he lived, either. When his brother left Bellevue, Walker realized he didn’t have enough money to pay rent and had to get a second job. “I was working at QFC in Bellevue, but I quit there. I wanted to do something active and sell my papers, too.”
Walker has come to love the Pacific Northwest. “Seattle is something to look at, all this water, mountains with snow on top, everything green. Used to be rain, rain, rain. You keep your rain gear with you 24 hours a day.”
Fortuitously, the area’s Main Streets have led him where he is. “I used to live on Main Street in Bellevue. We had to leave that place. It was too expensive — the rent went up from $1,300; now it’s $3,000.” He had a woman friend who lived on Main Street in Seattle. When he was living outside, he and his buddy slept under I-5 near Main Street. And the Real Change office is on Main Street: “A main Main Street that I found to be the best of all!”
Walker sells in Bellevue, Bainbridge Island, Mercer Island, the Central District, Columbia City and Kirkland, and used to sell at stadiums during ball games before covid. He remembers fondly when Real Change ran an article about an exhibit at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art and the chief curator came out and bought 20 papers from him.
Walker recognizes that selling Real Change is a vocation. “I try to get the news out to people who understand. I take my newspapers with me all the time. When I get off Laborworks, I sell papers on the side. I’ve sold newspapers at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
These days, Walker is inside and usually sells the paper for just a couple of hours every Tuesday and Thursday. “I haven’t sold the paper for 8 hours before, but that’s my goal,” Walker said. “One time last year on my birthday, I worked 6 hours selling papers and I made $202 on Bainbridge Island.”
The best advice Walker has for other vendors is just not to stress out. Walker doesn’t get upset when things don’t go his way. As for his customers, he really appreciates them and all their support. They showed him how great classical music can be and how to support their neighbors.
So, when you hear it, just follow the music.
Read more of the Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2021 issue.