Vendor of the Week
Vendor of the week: Robert Surles
Some years ago, Robert Surles made the front page of the Seattle Times. The photo identified him by name. The story was about homeless people riding the bus. “It wasn’t a flattering story. I call the [reporter] and go, ‘How’d you get my name, because I didn’t give it to you?’
“He goes, ‘Yeah, you did.’ ”
“ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘then why am I sleeping in the picture? I would never do that, [give my name] because I don’t want people to know.’ ”
This time around, Robert is getting publicity he wants. “I was homeless for 10 years. I’ve had a place to live for nine. I feel happy and blessed. I’ve got money coming in and a good woman. Real Change pays my rent. I get odd jobs, I do some yard work and Tom, across the street, puts me to work.”
Robert works out while he sells papers at the corner of First and Yesler. “I got bored just standing here. I stretch, and I throw [a football], and I’m constantly moving.” He runs to Pioneer Square every day from his studio apartment on Capitol Hill; in the afternoons, he walks to Holgate Street and back.
He also likes to toss a football across the intersection to his customers and friends. “A Duck [the amphibious vehicle] ran over it the other day, but it’s tough. I watched the wheel go over it and I thought, ‘Oh, oh, that’s it,’ but it just popped out the other side.”
Robert graduated from Federal Way High School in 1981. He and his older brother were adopted when he was 11, after his father was killed in a tavern fight. His mother had died of an overdose when he was 2. “My older sister was the one who took care of us.”
An Apache from Arizona, Robert’s adoptive parents are white. “I haven’t been back to the reservation since I was 10.” He doesn’t miss it. “It’s kind of an eyesore. I was lucky I didn’t grow up with my [birth] parents; they were pretty heavy drinkers.”
Robert admires how tribes in Washington have reinvested money in their communities. “The Spokane Tribe has one of the nicest reservations I have ever seen. In this state, the Indians know where to put their money.”
Robert is celebrating his 50th birthday this month. “I’ll be with my girlfriend for sure, but nothing spectacular. If I was back in the old days I would be partying up, drinking. I have a simple life: I’ll be happy with a couple of movies, pizza, Cokes, friends.”
He’s also thinking about a change of career. “I’m in my ninth year [of selling Real Change]. Hopefully at the end of September that’ll be the end of it. I don’t think I can handle another winter out here. My goal is to go over to that casino in Bainbridge and work at that nice restaurant. All I have to do is put my application in — being Native, I go right to the top of the list.”
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