Real Work

Edward MacClain earns his living 75 cents at a time.

"REEEEEEAL CHANGE, sir?" A passerby looks down, trying to avoid eye contact with the vendor of the newspaper published on behalf of Seattle's street people. "Have a good day, sir." Nearly every good day for eight years, Edward MacClain has sold Real Change outside the University District Safeway store. And for the past eight years, he has been the top Real Change salesperson. Real Change is bimonthly and provides a voice for the homeless, who comprise most of its writers and salespeople. Although MacClain is not homeless, selling the paper is his only job. "I have no boss, and I get to do exactly what I want, when I want."

Most days, he works from noon until 11:30 p.m. MacClain considers it a day off when he only works for two or three hours. Real Change founder Timothy Harris says MacClain is so dedicated, he injured himself on the job. "This is a guy who got carpal tunnel from selling Real Change." MacClain has worn a wrist splint for the past three years.

He is a U District institution, asking every person on Brooklyn Avenue North between Northeast 50th Street and Northeast 47th Street to purchase Real Change, and wishing a good day to every sir and ma'am who walks by. "I didn't buy the paper so I could hold it," MacClain says. "I bought it so I could sell it."

Most Real Change vendors pay 30 cents per paper and get to keep the remaining 70 cents of the $1 donation price. Because MacClain is one of the top three vendors, he pays 25 cents per copy. He says he does not keep track of the number of papers he sells each weekonly the money he makes. "I cannot walk into a store and pay for something with the Real Change newspaper. They want cash," MacClain says. Selling the paper is his only source of income. Before, MacClain worked in the food industry for 35 years. He says he is a baker by trade (specializing in French pastries) and that he has a degree in sociology. The entrance to Safeway has always been his. "I never leave this spot," MacClain says. "In this neighborhood, everybody knows me. Why would I go to a neighborhood where nobody knows me?"

A FRIEND BROUGHT MacClain to the Safeway location eight years ago. The friend stopped selling there, but MacClain did not. He says he purchases between 400 and 1,500 newspapers a week, depending on whether he can get a ride downtown to the Real Change office. The paper's circulation is about 18,000.

MacClain lives in Lake City. Asked why he does not live in the University District, he says, "You don't shit where you eat." MacClain says he does not let averted eyes or "No thank you" get to him. "You gotta be like a duck in water, or you'll end up in Western State. Not everybody can accept rejection, but rejection is a part of life."

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