Like a lot of us who have lived a while, David Armitage wants to “go home.” He wants to go back to a time, place, and relationships where life was easier. Although he is from Portland originally, David wants to return to his adopted village in northern Greece. While he prepares to return, he sells Street Roots newspapers because, “it gives me something to do.”
David refuses to succumb to the kinds of depression he sees in some other men who just sit in their rooms and “do nothing.” He reportedly only goes home at night to watch a movie on television and sleep. During the day, he sells Street Roots at the back door of Powell’s, then takes the streetcar to 23rd and Lovejoy and spends most late afternoons sitting in the shade of a tree outside the Lovejoy Grocery store. “I put my newspaper on the table in front of me where people can see them,” he told me. “Then if someone says they want to buy a paper, well, then they can.”
David is a people watcher. He sees students, working people who look stressed out, tourists, politicians, and traffic. Lots of traffic. And road rage. He watches the streetcar go by. He has learned to recognize the streetcar drivers and the mechanics who are called upon when something goes wrong with the trolley. While he watches all this he dreams of his friends and work in Greece where he was the caretaker for a family that owned an orchard outside of Thessalonica.
I commented to David that he seems to have a slight accent when he talks. He said that he’s been back in Portland for four and a half years now, but he is still relearning English after 17 years speaking Greek. He said it had been, and still is to a lesser extent, an extreme culture shock when he came back. “I feel like a stranger in my home town.” It helps to seek out community with Greeks in Portland. He attends the Greek Orthodox Church in Laurelhurst. The church does a good job of “keeping the Greek community together,” David says.
David wanted to talk to me about panhandlers, but had to return to the subject several times during our interview because he found it difficult to express his concerns about what is happening. Lots of people tend to confuse Street Roots vendors with panhandlers. But David draws a sharp distinction between himself and the panhandlers. “I have ID. I have a passport. I don’t do drugs. I don’t have a record.”
Selling Street Roots, says David, “keeps me active and connected.” It even helped him find housing.
“I was camping for two and a half years. I was selling Street Roots. A customer took me to Central City Concern.” She put him on a waiting list for housing. “Stop this camping,” she reportedly told him, “you’re too old for it.” He has had secure shelter now for about two years. The current economic situation may undermine that security. David is concerned that the money that allows him to stay in his place might dry up. He is 55 years old.
When he was much younger, David bought a copy of the book “Europe on $5 a Day.”
It was a classic in the 1960s. I had a copy of it myself when I traveled Europe during my junior year in college. He went to West Berlin and worked in a factory with a lot of other “guest workers,” mostly Greeks and Turks. He made good money, enough to travel all over Western Europe between work stints at the machine factory. The wandering life got old and he settled down in Greece at a time when the Greek government had lenient policies regarding immigrants.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. David said that was the beginning of the end for him. Economic refugees from Eastern Europe flooded Greece and other parts of Europe. With them came resentment against all immigrants. Eventually he was deported back to Portland. Selling Street Roots keeps David’s mind occupied and off his troubles.
By Elizabeth Schwartz, Contributing Writer