Richard C. has been at the Safeway on 75th and Roosevelt longer probably than most of the store's employees. For six years he has sat in front of the automatic doors selling Real Change, and it is here that he has found the community, friendship and purpose that color his life these days.
He tells me his story from the beginning. Born and raised in Seattle, Richard's face lights up when he talks about days spent watching geese fly overhead from his front porch and duck hunting with his father in the swamp where South Center now stands. Over the years he has watched the city grow and transform, and though he's considered moving, he says leaving is not an option now.
"I'd be deserting my duties and my friends," he said. "I could never go."
Richard started selling the paper in 2004 to make a few extra dollars. He continues to sell the paper because he cherishes the daily interactions with customers and the meaningful friendships with those who work inside and who walk through the doors each day.
"This is my calling," he tells me, confidently. "I know it is what God wants me to do with my life."
Briefly he mentions to me bouts of homelessness in his past, but conversations about Richard's hardships quickly give way to the counting of blessings. Living in permanent housing now and doing a job that he loves, Richard knows how lucky he is. When I ask him about the difficulty of standing in the cold for long hours -- sometimes for little pay -- he responds that people live, sleep, and sometimes die outside. It is a cycle he said he understands, and one he is grateful to have escaped.
In January, Richard took off some time from selling the paper, as a treat to himself after a long holiday season. He returned to new store management and new rules. Richard was promptly informed that he may no longer sell at the storefront where he had become something of a permanent fixture, and so he retreated to the parking lot edge where there is less foot traffic and less customer interaction. Neither Richard nor his customers understand the change. In my first few minutes of speaking with him, several people approached -- glad to see their favorite vendor, but confused and saddened to see him pushed farther from the store's entrance.
When we talk about the change, it is obvious that it's a sore spot for Richard. Where he normally sold more than 600 papers a month, things have slowed down. He sold only one paper in the hour before I arrived. But he is staying positive. He will continue to work faithfully, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, and recognizes that the change may hold a purpose he can't yet see.
"I know there's a reason for this, I just don't know what it is," he says, laughing. "It may not even be about me." It's what has gotten him through each struggle so far and will get him through this one: perseverance, gratitude, and faith.
To his customers, Richard says "Thank you. There's a lot I could say, but it all comes down to thank you. Without you, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be the person I am today."