PORTLAND, OR – Every morning at 5 a.m., Street Roots vendor Shaun Followell wakes up, carefully packs up his gear and heads to the Starbucks on 15th Avenue and Fremont Street to sell papers. After a couple of hours, he hops on the bike he made himself and rides downtown to the Street Roots office to pick up more. He then heads back to northeast to the New Seasons at Williams and Fremont to sell papers again until he sells out or leaves to volunteer at Bike Farm, a nonprofit that focuses on bicycle education. There he will fix bikes, sometimes alone, sometimes sharing his mechanical expertise with an eager student.
“I get a real sense of satisfaction out of fixing one up and getting it back to where it works really nicely and looks good and all that,” he said. “I enjoy doing it, it’s a good project, and lets me kind of fulfill that side of me, that creative side.”
Every day Shaun follows this simple yet full schedule, finding joy in his customers and the bikes he builds, even with the ever-looming threat of unforgiving weather and an even more unforgiving job market.
A Navy veteran, a land surveyor by trade, and a skilled bike mechanic, Shaun is a person who will look you straight in the eye and a man of few words with an air of mystery about him. Originally from a small town of about 2,000 people in Indiana, Shaun has lived in Portland for the past 12 years, drawn by the city’s natural splendor.
“The air’s a little bit cleaner here than other places. I breathe better and feel better here.” He also enjoys Portland’s small-town feel. “Portland isn’t really a city. It’s kind of big for a small town. I can’t go anywhere without running into somebody I know.”
Shaun has been with Street Roots for only a couple of months, but has taken to it naturally. Despite his dedication, however, he admits he makes only enough money to cover his most basic needs, such as food.
“It’s fun talking to people though,” he says with a shy smile. “And it’s a good paper.”
Before joining Street Roots, Shaun, an ITT graduate, says he worked as a land surveyor and helped build the Yellow and Green MAX light rail lines downtown in 2006-7. Having been a workingman for most of his life, Shaun turned to Street Roots after a decline in the city’s infrastructure projects left him struggling to find a steady job. He reads technical books in his spare time.
What would he like to tell street paper readers?
“All I can say is thanks for buying the paper and being a regular supporter.”
His goals are straightforward and earnest. “My only real hope is that I can lift my income up a little higher than it is and kind of live a little more comfortably.”
By Ann-Derrick Gaillot