By J.M. Blaine & Nathan Anderson
“My wife and I will meet you in front of the library on Church,” Contributor vendor Clint McDowell tells me over the phone.
“How will I recognize you?” I ask.
“Oh, you’ll know,” he laughs.
Super-sharp intern Nathan Anderson and I park and make our way over to Church Street. There’s a couple there, dressed in black Contributor shirts and hats, carrying Contributor messenger bags.
“Hey uh, Jamie,” he says. “You think that might be them?”
So how did you get to Nashville?
(Clint): I’m from Indianapolis, originally, and when I got laid off there I heard there might be jobs in the Nashville area.
What kind of work did you do there?
(Clint): I drove a forklift in a warehouse. Factory job, really good work. I had been doing that for a long time, too.
How did you find The Contributor?
(Clint): I was over by the McDonalds one day and there was this guy selling the paper. I watched him for a while but really didn’t think it was for me. We were working people, you know? I just wasn’t sure what it was about. I didn’t want a handout.
What changed your mind?
(Clint): I went over and talked to the guy, checking him out. I asked, “Hey man, can you really make any money at this paper thing?” He pulled out a wad of bills and laughed. “What do you think?” I headed straight down to the Contributor office right then.
It’s worked out well for you?
(Clint): It has. The Contributor has helped keep a roof over our heads. We’re off the streets now. It’s a good job. It’s work though—you got to work it.
How do you mean?
(Clint): Wake up early, get to your post. I was getting there at nine, like most jobs. Nope. Can’t do that. You have to be out there early—six or seven, when traffic first starts. From there, you just get your spot and start building relationships. That’s the most important thing. You can sell a lot more papers when you are a familiar face.
You sell together as a couple, right?
(Clint): Sometimes. Juanda has a lot of health problems. I tell you, the paper has really helped her. It’s made her a lot more outgoing. Just to get out and be around people, say hello, maybe get a hug. That can make a huge difference in a day. People need a reason to get up in the morning.
Where’s your post?
(Clint): At the corner of Glen Echo. Right there by the CVS.
I passed there today. Seems like that would be a good place to be.
(Clint): Pretty good, most times. A lot of cars but some foot traffic, too. The secret is to smile, make eye contact. That helps people trust you as a vendor. Most people are pretty respectful of us, and some will even surprise us with very nice tips and gifts, especially around the holidays.
You plan to stay there awhile and keep selling The Contributor?
(Clint): Eventually, I’d like to get my Tennessee license and find a good job driving forklift again. I’d like to get back to that someday.
I hear the job market is picking back up in that area.
(Clint): I heard that too. Hope so. I’m looking now but until I find steady work, I’ll keep selling papers.
Can you tell me the story of how yíall met and a little bit about your relationship?
(Clint): Well, I think I was in Tacoma, Wash., and I was staying with my uncle and things weren’t going right with him so I moved out and I moved into a shelter and that’s where I met her at. We became friends and started dating about a year and a half and started going to church together and three years later, we got married. After I had got a job and I was doing good and stuff like that.
What kind of shelter was it?
(Clint): They had everyone living there. Women with kids, single people. It was a church. You have to go to the church and do everything that the pastor instructed you to do to come out the situation that you was in. I mean, it was a literal church, but they had rooms for families, and a lot of people.
Did they sleep in the sanctuary too?
(Juanda): Yeah, people with kids would find the first place, and then the single people would go wherever else was left. It was pretty cool, it really was. I had a four-month-old son and he (Clint) got close to my son, and that’s another reason we got together. Everywhere he went, my son went. And my baby called him Daddy, so that kind of like drew me to him. Because, at first, I was like, I am not marrying him. He kept on after me for about a year and a half and so I started going with him and after that I was very strict and I was raised in church, so there wasn’t no sex, there wasn’t nothing going on unless I married you, so. He just kept on and kept on and kept on and kept on and kept on, so finally I gave in—we got married.
What plans do you have for the future?
(Clint): Getting us another place to stay. We stay in a boarding house now and I mean, not having a (fulltime) job and bad credit, it’s hard to find a place. That’s my first goal, trying to get up outta there. And, hopefully I can find a job. I’m getting older now, so a lot of people, they don’t want to hire people older. The main thing is hopefully we can find us an apartment instead of staying in a boarding house.
(Juanda): And stay in a safe environment. Because where we are, in this room, is over by Jefferson and you’ve got all kinds of chaos going on over there. And the landlord that we rented from, he said he had a two-bedroom house and we went and looked at it and the environment is…we used to be on drugs, and we’re not no longer on drugs so we have to be careful of the environment. He offered that house, but we chose not to take it because it’s like taking a step back, and letting temptation back in. We have to be very careful how we do things and how we make decisions.
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