“Well, bust my cornbread!”
James Wade’s signature phrase developed out of a sentence he based on his mother’s cooking.
“[When I was younger] my mom, she had me some cornbread that she forgot was in the oven, and it has the tendency when it’s overcooking to start cracking and stuff, like that, and I said, ‘Mom, the cornbread’s been busted!’ So we couldn’t afford butter, so she took some margarine and put it on there, and that’s how I come up with the line, ‘Well, bust my cornbread.’”
Said as a positive exclamation as well as one of disbelief, James’ catchprase has long caught the ears of his Ballard customers. Found singing and dancing at various selling locations in the neighborhood, he remains a constant positive figure to his customers.
“The guys in Ballard, they saw me dancing … and [my customers] made me a big poster of me dancing and it says ‘Well bust my cornbread!’ and I said, ‘Well I’ll be damned.’ It was kinda funny, but what touched my heart is that they wrote on the bottom, and said, ‘We thank you, James.’”
“I said, ‘What are y’all thanking me for? I should be thanking y’all guys.’ They said, ‘You know, a lot of times, we don’t wanna be here, James. But you’re out there dancing and singing, and we say, well, hell if he can get out there, hell, we going to work too!’”
A clear extrovert who engages naturally and warmly with those around him, James says that the people are his favorite part of selling Real Change, despite any negative experiences he’s had.
“I mean, there are a lot of people that are sometimes like, ‘Get a job, stop panhandling,’ stuff like that, but then there’s good people who, especially the evening crowd, you sit back and sometimes I’ll be out there dancing and singing, and the people — like I said, there’s some really good people out there.”
James is extraordinarily grateful for these “good people” in his life and notes that this community has kept him from “going backwards” and continues to point him in the right direction. Formerly homeless due to an electrical fire in his apartment, he slept in self-constructed shelters of cardboard and carpet for six winters, huddling with hand- and foot-warmers to survive frigid temperatures.
James has been a vendor for seven years now and says that he’ll “sell Real Change until it don’t exist anymore. It’s a good organization.” His ebullient personality is lived out not only in his passion for human connection and selling papers, but for cooking, as well. His favorite thing to cook is — no, not cornbread — catfish.
“You know, I used to cook all the time, I’ve been cooking for almost 37 years. The only thing I never had was a certificate for that. That’s what I would like to get back into … I make a good catfish with gravy, grits and biscuits. It’s something a lady showed me from New Orleans, in Florida- I used to live in Florida for 16 years.”
James hopes to go to cooking school in the near future and finally claim recognition for his years of experience.
“I’ve been running myself ragged, but you gotta put you behind everything that you do, you know. For me, stuff like that? I see myself being lazy about it [now]. I see myself getting into this program, and take it from there.”
A perpetual optimist, James is set on conquering his goals. One day, he could bust someone else’s cornbread, this time from a restaurant kitchen.
“‘Can’t is not in my vocabulary. I’m gonna keep on doing what I gotta do, keep on surviving.”