Mick the Vendor Man holding a newspaper
Jane Cave

As I start my day over a nice hot coffee – that life-giving brew which gets me through the day – I fortify myself for the task ahead. I set goals to be shattered and budget my gains to come.

I approach my corner and feel the change begin as a tingling in the back of my skull, completed as I put on my vest and slip on my badge. Mick is here no more.

In his place stands Vendor Man, champion of the homeless. In his never-ending battle against poverty, he heroically takes up arms against my empty wallet and SmarTrip in the negative.

As I lift my papers high, like a living, male Lady Liberty standing sentinel next to the Metro, I begin the chant like a sorcerer’s spell.

“Street Sense, Street Sense, get your Street Sense!”

The opening line of my pitch regularly startles those nearby.

“Help the homeless, learn more about us while you’re at it!”

My mouth starts running on autopilot as my eyes seek out my customers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, don’t miss your opportunity to pick up…”

OK, the crowds are building, mostly tourists for now my mind assesses all those around as my chant goes on.

“The only locally produced newspaper by and benefiting the homeless.”

Those around me relax, overcoming the shock of a vendor pitching like a maniac. But little things are noticed: Men check which pocket their wallets are in, women clutch their purses closer as they pass.

They don’t understand that I’m working,  not begging. But they are not the ones I seek. Those who want something else, a new voice, they’re the ones who buy, who devour.

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”

I’m an overgrown paperboy, so I go with it.

“Local newspaper helps curb panhandling in the District!”

A few people scoff, but more start to smile and chuckle.

“Hey, how do you FEEL GOOD FOR JUST A BUCK!”

This is the line that gets the stragglers, the one that turns you from curious to a buyer. It’s a line so outrageously unexpected it breaks down the walls. As my day goes on, eventually coming to an end, my once-empty left pocket now bulges. The vest and badge come off. Vendor Man goes back to sleep. Mick wakes up.

I’m off to McDonalds to get some dinner, lighting a smoke as I go. My short-term needs are met, time to rest up for tomorrow’s adventure.