Chris Conley goes by many names; "Weatherman" for his up-to-date knowledge on Seattle weather, "Merlin" for the extraordinary things that sometimes happen to him, and "Maestro" for his passion for teaching and sharing knowledge with others. Conversations easily bounce from one thing to the next, and since one of his most impressive subjects is food science, Chris takes me grocery shopping.
Walking through the aisles of the QFC store outside which he sells this newspaper, he names off a long list of allergies. By the time he was 12, Chris had noticed that something was not right. He was getting sick often, but the medical tests he needed to find out the cause were expensive and not covered by insurance. Instead he turned to years of trial and error and extensive reading on the subject. It left him with both a strict diet and an above-average knowledge of what's in our food.
A thirst for knowledge has followed Chris throughout his life, reaching back into his southern California childhood. After leaving home, he spent several years bouncing around San Diego County and getting to know every last building and street corner by heart. This was followed by a brief stint in the Navy and time spent in Aberdeen where he learned to play pool at the Book Carnival, an amusement arcade/bookstore/pool hall.
In April of last year Chris came to Seattle to be with his mother when she was diagnosed with cancer. He immediately discovered Real Change and started selling the paper. It was one more name on a long list of careers that has taken him from ice cream parlors to lumberyards to warehouses.
It took Chris some time to find a single selling location, but he eventually settled in front of the QFC at Broadway and Republican. He has been there for more than six months and consistently sells more than 300 papers each month. That income is crucial, but not what he loves most about selling the paper.
"I like to dispel the classic stereotype that all homeless people are dumb or lazy bums," he says. And he enjoys unraveling this myth one-on-one with each customer he meets. "It's easy for a person to stay stuck in the small part of the world they inhabit -- that includes me. It's good to see the other side. Besides, I like sharing everything I know with people."