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More than just a vendor

 The Contributor - USA 11 March 2019

Selling a street paper is everything but an easy job:” I’ve been flipped off, told off, sworn at and even had stuff thrown at me,” says Douglas Lawrence, vendor of Nashville street paper The Contributor. That’s the reason he decided to write down his story, to make people see that he – and his colleagues everywhere – are so much more than just vendors. (1030 Words) - By Douglas Lawrence

The Contributor_More than just a vendor

More than just a vendor: Douglas Lawrence.  Photo: Raven Lintu

First and foremost, we are members of your community. We are your friends and not your enemies. We are the eyes and ears for the communities that we serve. We could be the first responders to emergencies and one of these emergencies could be yours-you really never know. One day, a metro squad car stopped by and told me that they had trouble with people breaking into the cars in the parking lots where I sell my papers. Now, a lot of my regular customers park their cars in these parking lots that the officer was talking about. He asked me if I could keep my eyes open, and if I saw anything suspicious, to please call him and report it. I replied that I would definitely call metro if I see anybody breaking into the cars in the parking lots. This officer sees me frequently selling my papers and knows that I am in a perfect spot to notice anything suspicious. If I witness a traffic accident or anything else, I could be summoned to court as a witness to tell what I witnessed.

One day, I was on my "spot" selling The Contributor when I noticed an elderly lady wandering around in the parking lot. I could tell something was wrong. One of my regular customers was going to her car. I got her attention and I told her that the elderly lady in the parking lot seemed disoriented and needed help. I told her that I did not think that it was proper for a man to approach an elderly woman and that a woman should be the one to approach the lady. My customer escorted the elderly woman into a place of business and discovered her address in her purse. Come to find out that the elderly woman had Alzheimer's and she had wandered away from home. My customer got the elderly woman home safe and without incident.

A real sweetheart that I have come to know walks by me quite frequently. I drop my papers and assist the lady across the street every time I see her coming. This lady is blind and cannot see the crosswalk signs. She has never bought a paper from me or given me money. A lady stopped and gave me $40 for a paper and said she could not believe that she seen me helping a blind lady cross the street.

And I am more than these things. I am a sidewalk therapist. A man walked up to me one day and bought a newspaper. We struck up a conversation. He told me that I had it better than he did. I became intrigued. He said that he made $25 per hour with good benefits. He continued to say that his house was mortgaged to the hilt and his wife was ready to leave him. He was driving a brand new car. He informed me that he was hooked on Internet gambling and could not stop. I told him that there is help available and that gambling is just another addiction just like alcohol or drugs. We parted ways and I have not seen him since. Many of my other customers stop by just to talk about their problems and need a kind ear to listen.

I am a stranded motorist's assistant. A lady locked her keys in her Lexus and she said that she needed to call a locksmith. All I could think was that was way too expensive. I told this lady that a wrecker service would be cheaper and that they could get into her car with a Slim Jim. She called a wrecker service and got into her car. She took my advice. The lady came back and told me I had just saved her more than $100. This lady bought one of my papers and said, "Have a nice day and thank you for your help."

Dozens of these experiences have taken place and there are too many to mention in this story. I am a valued customer for local merchants. Being homeless, we must spend most of our money just to get by. This helps stimulate our ailing economy.

I am a city bus customer. It costs $3.40 round trip to get back and forth to sell my papers each day. I am a cell phone customer. I pay for my own cell phone. I am a free smiles dispenser. I am a trash picker-upper. I am a recruiter for new vendors. If your hands are full, I am your door opener. I am a hugger. Some people just need a hug. I am a street direction provider for lost visitors and tourists. If you are lost in Nashville, I am the man that you need to talk to! I am a fashion coordinator. A lady was walking by one day and the white tag was sticking out of the back of her shirt. I informed her of this problem and she quickly corrected it. Now, if I had a tag sticking out of my shirt, I would want somebody to let me know and I would correct my tag problem. I am free entertainment for your kids. I give all kids the papers for free-with permission from the adults. I then inform the kids that there is a puzzle in the back of the paper for them. They love it!   By having the opportunity to give back to the communities that I serve, I have grown to have a new respect for myself and The Contributor newspaper. The readers of The Contributor and my customers must know that I am more than "just a vendor." So, please, do not disrespect a Contributor newspaper salesman. You never know, I could be you or you could be me. You really never know what's next in life.

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