Geno Hora looked carefully around to find just the right spot where, through the window of the Columbia City Starbucks, he’d be able to keep his eye on his bicycle.
The bike was a gift from Geno’s brother, who wouldn’t have given him a bike when Geno was on the street.
“I would have sold it,” Geno said.
Even now, if someone steals the bike, “that’s the first thing he’s going to think, that I sold it. I don’t even want him thinking that.”
Back when he was on the street, Geno’s family was so scared of him that he couldn’t go visit them at home. “I couldn’t blame them,” he added. “I would have been scared of myself. I was an addict, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”
Geno now lives in subsidized housing and does “anything to make an honest living,” including yard work and selling scrap metal, as well as selling Real Change. He doesn’t need to sell Real Change anymore, he said, but he does it because he loves it.
Geno started selling Real Change at a particularly low point. “I’d found out that my baby — the little girl I’d been taking care of for three years — was not even mine.”
He was walking downtown and a guy selling papers asked if he wanted to do something for the poor and homeless. He read the paper and saw a friend of his was a vendor and thought he’d try.
Geno takes a low-key approach to customers. “I’m not like those who are always trying to call people to them. I just stand there on the curb and give them plenty of room and let them come to me. If they don’t want to buy a paper, I don’t bother them. If they want to acknowledge me, that’s great.”
He counts his faith and his family as blessings, and showed me the rosary he carries with him everywhere. Geno and his parents came to the United States from the Philippines when he was two years old, and he figures he’s probably the only Filipino Real Change vendor. His grandfather, now 100 years old, brought the family to the U.S. with money he made working in the sugar cane fields in Hawaii. His grandmother died this year, on New Year’s Day.
Geno’s big worry right now is his dog, Splash, who’s dying of cancer. “They said she’s going to be dead already. I just keep praying. I said to myself, treat her like a human. Just let her die natural.”
For fun, Geno likes to ride his bike and play video games. As for the future, Geno hopes to find his soul mate.
“I don’t want to grow old by myself,” he said. “I’m a good man.”