By Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer
The corner of NW Lovejoy and 11th Avenue where Starbucks is located doesn’t quite pick up foot traffic until noon, when the sun finally hits that side of the pavement. The tall Pearl District buildings make it a fairly shady corner and according to Jason, the Street Roots vendor who sells there, “the windiest corner in Portland.” He wears a jacket, gloves and scarf to sell the paper, because even on a nice day the shade can get chilly. Jason is new to this corner, less than a month in, so he is still trying to make himself at home.
A “get-to-know-the-neighborhood” period is typical for any vendor, but Jason’s case is a bit unique. The last Street Roots seller at this location was Dilly, a long time vendor who recently passed away. Getting people to warm to the new guy is a task of its own, but working a corner where everyone was still reeling from the loss of their friend is an exceptional challenge. Luckily, Jason has proven to be a good fit, largely because he can appreciate Dilly’s significance to this community. He has purchased extra copies of the Street Roots edition containing Dilly’s obituary, and invites anyone who would like a copy to ask for one, free of charge.
This is Jason’s style, unassuming and approachable, he does not want to come off as a salesman. Foremost, he would like to start conversations and make friends while he works. He will say “hi” to everyone, and then feel out whether they want a paper, a chat, or to be left alone.
“If they’re in a rush, don’t ask them anything. If they are on the phone don’t talk to them. … If they are talking to someone else, don’t interrupt,” lists Jason. To those not on their cell phones Jason will always say hello, ask how people are, inquire if they are enjoying the weather, and maybe ask, “would you like to buy a Street Roots?”
Already, Jason has regulars in tow, and everyone seems to be supporting him as a new member of their community. Jo, the owner of Physical Elements, a clothing store around the corner from where Jason sells, eagerly calls Jason a “good match to the vibe of the neighborhood.” Jason had a poem published in the last issue of Street Roots, which his customers were very supportive of. “We like having an artist in our midst, and we are very proud of him. We want him to continue with his art,” she says, smiling.
Jason hopes to publish more poetry in Street Roots. He also enjoys heavy metal music, finding the intensity it offers to be comforting and a great stress relief. He used to wear multiple facial piercing, but does no longer. He muses thoughtfully that he must have just grown out of them. He says this is not a judgment on people with piercings, but that for him, moving beyond wearing them signaled a kind of growth or moving on.
Jason grew up in Chicago, but has lived in more states than just Illinois. He has spent time in Indiana, Arizona, California, and now Oregon. Although he says Chicago is his true home, Portland gives it a “run for its money.” He enjoys the slower pace of life in Oregon, comparing it to the perpetual rush he felt from people in L.A., the last city he lived in before moving up north.
A bit of a loner, Jason moved up here by himself, and thinks he’ll stay for a while. He’s enjoying his time with Street Roots and the opportunity it provides for meeting people and beginning new conversations. He would like to say thank you to the people he has met so far. Even those who don’t buy a paper, but who are willing to engage in a friendly chat, enrich and make more dynamic his experiences.
The sunlight stretches across 11th and Lovejoy by 12:30 p.m. A man in a business suit calls familiarly to Jason on his way back into work, and just before that Jason greeted Lola, a small rescue Boston Terrier and her owners — these are his new regulars. He seems to be accomplishing the goals he has expressed, he is a welcoming face and is becoming an established friend in the Pearl.