By Sam Forgione, Contributing Writer
Readers may remember Bob Hannick from the back page of the July 9th issue, when Di Agee wrote a caption explaining why Bob is her favorite Street Roots vendor. Though I had met Bob once before, I was delighted to experience his easygoing charm once again and learn about his experience as a vendor.
Bob works at 6th and Morrison, across from Pioneer Square. He heard about Street Roots from his friend Barry, who encouraged him to resurface from his apartment and work for a good cause. At first, he was reluctant: “The first week, I said, ‘This isn’t my job, sitting on the corner, you know?’ Finally, I got to where I am now and everything just picked right up!”
Bob was originally situated on 6th and Alder, but migrated to his current location to be in the center of the downtown Portland rush.
“I just love talking to people and meeting them. I make a living out of it.”
It is clear from being around Bob that he thrives in his current location, where he works Monday to Saturday from morning to 2 p.m. Instead of soliciting customers, he contentedly waits for them to approach him.
“I don’t say, ‘Would you like to buy a Street Roots?’ They know the name. They all love me, and I’ve got a lot of customers.”
Bob was born in Aberdeen, Wash., and moved to Tillamook in 1953 to work various handyman jobs. He learned about jobs by word of mouth, and eagerly accepted any work he could find. Bob mentions plumbing and truck driving as two such jobs, though his experience as a sawmill worker seems to have made a lasting impression on him. He recounts the story of a scar on his right hand, a white line that runs from the back of his hand to his forearm:
“I was taking lumber off of the carriage, and the guy didn’t know if he had the log stuck on or not — to hold the log on the carriage — and he pressed it, and when he did I jerked my hand back. It went in the leather glove, just below the band, and when it did, it jerked the glove right off, and I just threw my hand under my arm, went to the office and they rushed me to the hospital. When I got to the hospital, they said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I lost my finger or not.’ I came back after I got out of the hospital, my hand was all wrapped up, I didn’t lose any of my fingers, and two months later I was back on the same job.”
A girl with dyed-blue hair stops at the crosswalk amidst the swarm of Saturday afternoon pedestrians and casts an affectionate smile in Bob’s direction. “Hi!” she says exuberantly. Bob responds with the cheerful smile and greeting he is known for.
Bob made a living by staying productive and learning quickly and is fortunate to have never experienced homelessness. He is presently retired. When I ask about his health, he mentions his struggles with epilepsy, which he was diagnosed with in the 1950s and treats with medication, as well as back and heart problems. Bob’s back was operated on a few years ago, and he received pacemaker surgery on his heart in 2000. Bob is, however, a strong survivor, and approaches his disability with the same steadfast spirit and positive attitude that graced the conclusion of his story about the sawmill injury.
“When I was diagnosed with my heart trouble, I said, well, I gotta live with it! No use being a couch potato.”
Bob credits his job as a vendor for the improvement of his health, as it gives him “something to look forward to.” He mentions how his daughter remarked, “Daddy, you’re looking better!” when he started selling Street Roots. Bob’s daughter is 30 and lives in Beaverton, and his two sons are making constructive efforts to recover from tumultuous life events. One of his sons visits him every day to talk, and the other recently entered into a program at the Union Gospel Mission.
Bob celebrates his love for vending by reminding people that Street Roots addresses not only homelessness, but important municipal events and news as well. His comfort, integrity and enthusiasm are a refreshing anodyne to the occasional commotion of downtown Portland, and worth seeing for oneself.