Living in Seattle’s University District for the past five years, I’ve gotten into the habit of noticing and naming some of the colorful characters who inhabit this fine neighbourhood.
There’s nothing quite like the experience of waking up on a nice summer morning, with a warm breeze streaming through your window while you are slowly brought to your senses with the repetition of “Real Change? Have a Good Day. Real Change? Have a good day sir. Real change? Have a good day ma’am.” And you can’t really compare the incident where you see drug dealers peddling from inside the hive of all criminal activity in Seattle: the Jack-in-the-Box at 50th and University. Those times when bums cuss you out for half a block when you don’t give them any money? Priceless. You just can’t get that anywhere else.
Taking a little bit closer look at these characters and their overriding traits, is it possible to classify them into distinct groups? Of course it’s possible. In fact, in addition to being possible, it’s *required* of us to embark on this grand endeavor.
This is the “classic” street drunk: the hopeless individual who has had their brain long since fried from chronic alcoholism. They’ve probably entered rehab dozens of times, but can never kick the habit. Not only is it a physical addiction, it’s a physical requirement. They simply cannot exist without it.
The inebriate is usually wearing lots of mismatched layers, a beanie, and can be seen shuffling around slowly by gas stations, mingling in alleys, and sadly walking past bars. They often can be spotted opening a bottle of wine with their finger, push the cork into the bottle, and continue to drink the entire thing in one gulp.
Perhaps the street inebriate I’m most familiar with is one I’ve called “Mario,” as he looks as if Mario the Plumber would if our favorite video game character aged 30 years, lived on the street, and had a raging alcohol habit. I’ve seen him down entire 40s in two swigs, and every few months is carted off by the fire department after passing out in a public area. I assume he goes to treatment for a while, but always seems to wander back to the U-District to continue his drinking. He mostly keeps to himself, but occasionally will listlessly yell at passerbys and often harasses users of a local gas station. The taxi drivers seem to have taken a liking to him and often hang out with him between jobs.
These colorful individuals full of sunshine and happiness love to yell at you, a passing car, or invisible rabbits named Frank. They’re often more mobile than the inebriates, quite a bit louder, and determined to get their point across. If you hear something along the lines of “GET THE HELL/FUCK OUT OF OUR GODDAMNED COUNTRY, YOU MEXICAN/ASIAN/BRITIAN” echoing across the district: congratulations! You’ve discovered a yeller.
They’re usually racist, and blame the problems on foreigners. Various subtypes exist, including the “wall yellers,” who yell random syllables at extremely nonplussed walls, and the “change yellers” who often cuss you out when you don’t give them enough money for whatever they wish to purchase.
Well dressed angry man
Well Dressed Angry Man is a frequently spotted yeller. He wears nice clothing, but has extremely wind-blown blond hair and gets in a combative stance when yelling. His favorite method of operation is to kindly ask for money, and then yell racial slurs at the top of his lungs if you refuse.
Talkers are nothing more than a minor distraction at best, and an annoyance at worse. They walk around the U-District in search of someone to talk to about a topic they really like.
Soviet Union Guy
Soviet Union Guy is one of my favorite talkers. He’s this tall, older looking Russian dude who always wears some sort of overcoat, Russian hat, and will hail you down if you make eye contact. In a thick Russian accent he will say “Hello!” and then ask you what country you’re from. If you say America, he will say about how great America is compared to the Soviet Union. After generally agreeing with him on this point, he will then ask about where your family is from, and then also talk about either a) The Soviet Union was generally very lame when treating this country, or b) how it is a very nice country with very good vodka. I don’t see him around as much anymore, but if you ever see him walking around, make eye contact and see if he’s talkative. It’s a fun experience if you have a few minutes.
These people are looking for money, but try to do it on the sly. They will approach you and start asking you for directions or some other local bit of knowledge. Yet soon enough they start asking you for just a few dollars for this or that. Fairly experienced ones won’t bother to argue the point if you say no, but more determined ones will pester you a while before giving up.
Elaborate story dude
This guy I actually believed the first time, but didn’t have any cash. His story of “we’re just trying to get home, and my girlfriend is in the car, but we just ran out of gas, etc. etc” was semi-believable. Until he approached me two weeks later with the exact same story. And then approached me a month after that. Oops.
The dealers are commonplace, and usually leave you alone. Although sometimes if you get in a fight with them (or so I’m told), they may stab you or fire shots at you after you call the cops.
I managed to survive my Freshman year without being solicited to buy weed, but this streak was broken sophomore year. Brian and I had decided to venture out of the dorms and walk to (where else?) Jack-in-the-Box for some cheap tacos and burgers. We walked pass one on the ave, who after we walked past, said “wanna buy some weed?”
Gee, you think. What a wonderful day to go on a stroll outside. The birds are singing, it’s warm and sunny, and you’re moseying along the ave taking in the city when all of a sudden a red vested 25-year-old runs up and starts shaking your hand and talking about saving starving children in Africa.
WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE AND WHY HAVE YOU CAPTURED ME. They’re persistent, have all sorts of stories and pictures, and are more than happy to take your credit card information on the street. I HATE THESE GUYS SO MUCH.
The real changers sell real change. They’re pretty cool people, but are worthy of a mention because they’re frequently found.
Modern-day drum circles, the hippies sit around with their dogs and always are asking for money while too stoned out of their minds to realize what they’re doing. Mostly harmless, but may occasionally get in yelling wars about weed consumption.
Sometimes, you just see some weird people on the Ave who don’t really fit any other description. Plastic Bag Guy is a good example of this. He wears a plastic bag as a hat, and has fashioned all sorts of plastic things and fit them in an old Safeway cart he probably lifted from the store in the U-District. I don’t know what he does, where he’s going, and what his ultimate goal is. One idea is that he is secretly a lobbyist for the plastic companies.
Gas Station Crew: The weird social group that hangs out at the gas station next to the Mars Hill Church on 47th and Brooklyn.