Vendor of the Week
Vendor Profile - Bryan Halberstadt
How did you get to Nashville?
I just sort of landed here, I guess. When I was 18, I left Missouri — that’s where I grew up — and started backpacking across America. I wanted to see the sights, go places.
What did you do for work?
Anything. I worked on horse farms, gutted fish, kitchen work. But mostly I hiked. I did [a section of] the Appalachian Trail.
Where did you stay while traveling?
Generally, I camped. I tried to stay out of the public eye. You know those sheds they have on display outside of home improvement stores? Sometimes they don’t lock those, so I stayed in those a lot. You ever been inside one of those?
Like a tool shed?
Yeah. The bigger ones have a loft. They’re actually nice. I’d shut myself in at night, and in the morning there’d be free coffee when the store opened. I did that in three cities.
How did you get involved with The Contributor?
I came to Nashville for the music scene; I play guitar. And it’s always easier to find work in the big cities. I planned to sell the paper as a temporary job, but I met my girlfriend and decided to stay. It took me three months of selling to really hit my groove.
What do you mean by groove?
Well, there’s lots of different ways to sell. You can wave like crazy and get real excited and risk scaring people off. Or you can just stand there and hold the paper and look bored or lazy. I take the middle approach. I’m real laid-back and friendly. I keep a five-foot distance between me and cars unless I see someone waving me over. I want my customers to feel comfortable.
So, tell us something that might not be apparent to people who haven’t experienced homelessness.
It’s hard to find good food when you’re on the streets. Cheap fast food often has a lot of harmful chemicals in it. I read labels on everything. A lot of times donated food is expired. I try to pay attention to what I’m putting in my body, but it’s not easy at all. You have to be creative.
Give us an example of a way to eat cheap and healthy on the streets.
I have this recipe I like to call Homeless Stew. You get a packet of ramen noodles, and the very first thing to do is toss that flavor packet away: It usually contains a lot of MSG. Instead, throw in a can of mixed vegetables and mix it up. That gives it some flavor, and it’s better for you. I’m also big on exercise, so I skateboard a lot. I go from my place in Mount Juliet to the train station and catch the bus. Riding bikes is another good way to get around too. I’m part of the Oasis program.
Which Oasis program?
There’s one that helps kids and adults learn to build bikes from recycled parts. That’s how I learned how to work on bikes, and now I teach others.
What’s your living situation like now?
I’ve been in an apartment in Providence since July 2013.
Mount Juliet, Providence? That’s a nice area.
It is. I’m really thankful, man.
You can cover that on your Contributor earnings?
In the winter, yes. It’s my main source of income. When it’s warmer I supplement with other things. I do handyman work — remove bushes and trees, plumbing, electric, tile, carpet. I want to open a business one day. Like a real LLC handyman business. I do artwork for the paper too. And me and my girlfriend want to start a community garden. Help other people learn to grow food and stay healthy.
How have you changed since you left home?
Back then, I was arrogant. But backpacking changed that. When you start hiking, it’s like you realize, “Whoa. The world doesn’t revolve around me.” Before the paper I was a nuisance to society, but now that’s changed. I’m more humble now. It’s about helping others, not just myself.
How do you help others?
I bring food to other vendors. I might bring a bowl of soup from Olive Garden to my friend Tamara. There’s a guy who sells close to my spot. But instead of competing, we help each other. I might bring him a thermos of coffee and ask him how his day is going. It’s like, today you’re helping me, and tomorrow I hope I can return the favor. That’s what it’s about. We help each other.
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