Tracie Mohnkern grew up in Reno, Nevada, where she and her friends used to “hitchhike all over.” One of her favorite places to go was Virginia City, famous for the Comstock Lode silver mines, the first important silver-mining district in the United States.
“It was a ghost town. I think it’s still a ghost town,” Mohnkern said. “My junior high history teacher told us they used to pave the streets in Virginia City with silver ore before they figured out what it was.”
When Mohnkern was a teenager, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Augusta, Montana, where they ran a small resort.
“It had a campground, a gift shop, a gas station and rooms for 13 people,” she said. There was also a restaurant.
Mohnkern ran away when she was 15, and she was soon married, with a baby girl.
“Daddy didn’t stick around, so I worked two jobs,” she said. She was a hemmer at Lamy’s Levi’s factory in Sedalia, Missouri, and worked at the local Ramada Inn as a waitress at night. Next stop was Dallas; she moved there when she was 21. She left her little girl with the father’s family, who soon took legal custody.
In Dallas, Mohnkern started learning the commercial baking trade; within six years, she was doing journey-level work. She came to Seattle in 1991, hoping to reunite with her biological father. But within a few weeks, he had moved away, and she never did meet him.
She’s been in Seattle for more than 30 years now, working various jobs. Sometimes she’s been homeless, but for the last 10 or 15 years she’s had her own apartment. She sells in front of the Whole Foods store at NE 64th Street and Roosevelt Way NE in Seattle.
“I just love my customers,” Mohnkern said. “I know a lot of people in the neighborhood, and the people at Whole Foods are good to me, too. I kinda feel like I work there.”
She counts on the people at Real Change, too. For several months during COVID-19, Real Change was a virtual publication only, and the vendors couldn’t sell. She said, “I got to be a basket case. My window looks out on the freeway — and the freeway was empty! I just felt so bad I started to cry, so I called Real Change and talked to Rebecca [a former staff member] and she helped me get through it.”
Mohnkern also works at Lumen Field as a cashier, and during the week she helps prep pizza for Pizza Hut. She says she works so much that, “When I’m at home, all I do is clean and watch movies.”
Her life hasn’t been easy: “It’s been hard sometimes, but I’m good. Resentment doesn’t hurt the other person. It hurts you.”
Tracie Mohnkern sells at Whole Foods on Roosevelt Way NE. Her badge number for Venmo payments is 13728.
Read more of the May 10-16, 2023 issue.