From the July 10 edition of Street Roots
Vendors experience generosity from Street Roots customers on a daily basis. It is usually done out of compassion for another human being without any thought of getting something in return. John Alden calls such giving “paying it forward.” This vendor profile is a thank you letter to everyone who “pays it forward,” but especially to a man named “Matt,” who helped John on July 1 by giving him $10 for a doctor co-pay.
John had spent three months in Salem this spring helping a disabled friend prepare her house for sale and doing some landscaping. The house sold in mid-June, allowing his friend to move to a handicap accessible apartment. After the house sold, John returned to Portland and began selling Street Roots outside Starbucks on NW 12th and Glisan.
Even though his corner doesn’t have much traffic, John likes his chosen spot. He gets there around 7:30 a.m. and sells papers for about three hours. Then he goes to the park, a coffee shop, or library and writes his autobiography while resting his legs. He returns to Starbucks about noon and sells his newspapers, picking up just enough money to survive on.It’s a long way from his days as a young student at the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. Alden says he went on to chef at Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills and was the executive chef at the Marriott in Dallas, Texas. Standing all day, day after day, took its toll on his legs, however. Severe varicose veins now prevent him from keeping up the high pace of work in a kitchen. He now devotes his time to earning money to support himself while writing his story.
John has developed a few regular newspaper customers, and one man, Matt, buys him a cup of coffee most mornings. On June 29, a Douglas fir splinter that John had gotten while landscaping in Salem began hurting badly. He had neither health insurance nor a doctor, so he turned to the Rose City Resource Guide and discovered that his low income would probably allow him to be seen for $10 by a doctor in the Gladys McCoy Building downtown. He did not have $10.
John continued to sell papers on June 30 and early on July 1, hoping to earn enough to see a doctor. He had some newspapers and $4 in his pocket when Matt arrived at Starbucks and asked John how he was. John said he showed Matt his swollen left hand and an ugly red line that ran from his thumb up the inside of his arm, nearly to his elbow. Matt gave John $10 for the co-pay.
He had blood poisoning. John used his $14 for a taxi from the doctor’s office to the Good Samaritan’s emergency room, where he was immediately admitted into the hospital.
He was in the hospital for two days waiting to see if the IV would kill the bacteria before it reached his heart and killed him. The pain was severe enough that he had morphine in the IV the first day, but the physical pain was minor compared to the pain of lying there with a telephone within arm’s reach.
Even though I have noticed that loneliness seems to be a common denominator among the vendors I have interviewed, I did not understand why having a telephone was so painful until he explained it to me.
It never rang. And he had no one to call.
By Elizabeth Schwartz, Contributing Writer
Photo by Elizabeth Schwartz