If you had never met Mike Becker, you would assume that he’s your average StreetWise vendor. Mike interacts with his clients, volunteers at a Catholic charity, takes photographs of Chicago, and earns a stable income. However, Mike isn’t your average StreetWise vendor. Mike is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair.
In 1988, Mike and his brother were at the beach. Chicago had been in a huge drought and he and his brother decided to jump in Lake Michigan to cool off. “I had been drinking tall cans of Old Style beer and dove into shallow water. I hit my chin on something. I’m not quite sure what. I broke my neck on impact and immediately passed out,” said Becker. “I was paralyzed from the neck down and have been for the past 25 years.”
Mike is now a C-6 and C-7 quadriplegic. This means that he has musculature that permits shoulder motion, elbow bending, functional triceps, and wrist extension. Mike has wrist braces to aid his hand movement, which allow him to roll his own wheelchair. “It’s been the greatest challenge I have faced in my life, for sure. Dealing with the complications of my injury has been really tough,” said Becker.
Despite his disability, Mike still has the energy to sell StreetWise. Since this past Christmas, Mike has been vending on the corner of Belmont and Broadway. He lives in an SRO and uses his earnings from StreetWise to pay for his living expenses. “I wanted some extra dough and getting a job is hard because I can’t work every day of the week. I also can’t do a lot of tasks that many employers require due to my physical disability,” said Becker. “I can do StreetWise on my own time, so it’s good for me.”
A few years ago, Becker received a camera from a Catholic charity to take photos around the city. He took photos with the disposable camera and sold them at a gallery held by the charity. He then used the money from those sales to buy a digital camera. He then took more photos of the city and sold those at another gallery held by the charity. “Last year, I used the $980 I earned from my gallery sales to buy a new digital SLR camera for $960, and used the extra $20 to buy a burrito for me and my friend at La Pasadita. This year I hope to make some more money, buy some lenses for the camera, and hopefully put my photos on the Internet.
“I really like taking photos of birds, bugs, and people in Chicago. It’s been a hobby of mine ever since I received that disposable camera from the Catholic charity,” said Becker.
“Close ups are my favorite type of photo. I really want to take photos of the Air and Water Show and stop those airplanes dead in the air.
“I have a lot to live for, a lot to see, a lot to do. I do too much for my own good,” Becker said. And the next thing he wants to do? Go to Louisiana to eat Cajun food with the locals and drive an airboat.
Sam McGarvey, StreetWise Editorial Intern