Our Vendors 

Personal Essay: We’re more than ‘just vendors’

Wed, Feb 19, 2014

Douglas Lawrence

Photo: Raven Lintu

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’s street paper, The Contributor. He decided to write down his story, to make people see that he – and his colleagues everywhere – are so much more than “just vendors.”

First and foremost, we are members of your community. 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. 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 saw 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.

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 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, 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 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; she said she could not believe that she seen me helping a blind lady cross the street.

I am a sidewalk therapist, too. 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. I told him that there is help available and that gambling is just another addiction, 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. They 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. I told this lady that a wrecker service would be cheaper and that they could get into her car with a Slim Jim. She took my advice and told me I had just saved her more than $100. She bought one of my papers and said, “Have a nice day and thank you for your help.”

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 trash picker-upper.

If your hands are full, I am your door opener.

I am a street direction provider for lost visitors and tourists.

By having the opportunity to give back to the communities that I serve, I have grown to have a new respect for myself and for 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 street paper vendor. You never know, I could be you or you could be me. You really never know what’s next in life.

Douglas Lawrence
The Contributor – Nashville

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