Contributor vendors Keith and Nicki are teammates who work together to sell the paper at their spot – Murfreesboro Pike and Hamilton Church Road. What started as competition between the two has evolved into a sweet friendship. They have been a source of support to one another after each spent time in the hospital. Get to know them better in this week’s Vendor Spotlight.
How did you get started with The Contributor?
Keith: I had been fired from my job and couldn’t find a new one. I was down to my last $1,000 and heard four Contributor vendors talking on the bus. I asked where do I get that paper. We really appreciate the people who started it and gave us the ability to do it.
Nicki: I was working demolition at Centennial Hospital and that particular job dried up. I was only working two times a week and that wasn’t enough, so I did the training and have been selling The Contributor for five years.
How did your friendship begin?
Keith: We started out as competitors. We both wanted the same spot, so each day we’d try to beat each other to the spot. One day it was 28 degrees and I woke up early at 4:35 am to get to the spot first, and I got there and found out he’s already been there since 3:15 am.
Nicki: That’s when we decided it was stupid and decided to start working together. Now we have been friends and teammates ever since. For four and a half years, we’ve had each other’s backs.
Talk about sharing a spot.
Keith: I get up early, so I’ll get down there around 6:30 a.m. and he’ll wander up at 1 or 2 p.m.
Nicki: It works out for us really well because each of us have been able to hold down the spot while the other has been in the hospital.
Why were you in the hospital?
Keith: In July 2013, I got hit by a car on my way to go sell. An uninsured driver was talking on her cell phone and hit me from behind. I’m still selling the paper to pay off the hospital bills. I was in the hospital for 55 days because both my shoulders and right leg were shattered. The only reason I can still walk today is because I was wearing my backpack full of 50 Contributor papers when my back hit the windshield of the car. The doctor said my whole spine would have cracked if it hadn’t have been protected by the papers, and I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I was off the spot for three or four months, but Nicki held it down for me so that it wasn’t taken while I was gone. So I did the same for him when he got shot.
Nicki: Two kids about 14 or 15 years old at one in the morning followed me down the road to a gas station. I stopped and stood under a light and they kept yelling at me to get out from under the light so they could jump me and I refused to move. They ended up pulling out a gun and asking for my backpack, but I refused. That backpack has everything I own inside it. So then they shot me in both legs. One of the bullets completely shattered my femur into two pieces. Luckily, the people at Sonic heard the shots and came running out. One of them took off his shirt and did a tourniquet on my leg and then the ambulance took me to Vanderbilt.
How have you helped each other deal with your injuries?
Nicki: When I was in the hospital, I wasn’t able to work at all so Keith gave me some money. And when I finally got out, I was on the verge of losing my storage unit, so he also gave me extra time on the spot.
Keith: And when my rent is almost due, Nicki will give me more time. We understand each other. We communicate and talk to each other and hold each other accountable.
How does selling The Contributor compare to the other people that stand on your spot?
Nicki: It impacts our sales when other people are out there. People see a circus and don’t want to give to one and not the other. People will associate you with them. Me and Keith are out there trying to do the right thing. When we see someone’s car has broken down, we take gas to them. We used to be able to help people push their cars, but now that we’re injured we can’t do that anymore, but we still try to help in other ways.
Keith: One time I gave a lady $20 for gas and she told her church and raised enough to pay me back three times as much. Now I tell people not to tell anyone when we do nice things because that’s not why I do it.
How do you keep such a positive attitude?
Keith: I always want to have a positive attitude on the job, to me that’s customer service. I never say, "Help, I’m still $75 short on rent." I say, “I’m great, and I hope you are too.” My rule is "Don’t complain to customers and always have a positive attitude."
Nicki: To me, it’s simple. You can do one of two things: sit on your ass and wait for a check to come (which it probably won’t) or you can get up and go out and do something about it. Yes, I got shot, but at the same time it could have been worse. Be thankful for the blessings you do receive. Being alive is still a blessing. I can still see my family and friends. I can still sell the paper.
Keith: And be especially thankful for friends that have your back.