My name is Michael Thistle and I’ve been a Spare Change News vendor since 2007. I’m currently not homeless, but I use to be on and off for many years. I’m an alcoholic who’s been in recovery for 11 years now. Alcoholism took me to many places in my life that I honestly never thought I’d go.
I’ve had a lot in my life that I’m very proud of. I’m a college graduate from Framingham State University with a sociology major, psychology minor and a minor in journalism. I graduated cum laude and 20th out of a class of 325. I played basketball and was a three-time all-state all star. I also had the opportunity to play professional basketball in Belgium for a few years.
Since 1999, I’ve been an alcohol and drug counselor and have been working for CASPAR in Somerville and for shelters, detox centers and the Pine Street Inn. I finally became the intake coordinator at the Answer House in South Boston.
It’s funny, but it looks like I couldn’t keep a job, but that’s not the case at all. Most of my jobs in the drug and alcohol field were federally or state funded, and when Gov. Mitt Romney got into office, he, in his infinite wisdom, thought these programs no longer needed funding. It was quite frustrating, to say the least, but I love my work with the addicted and the homeless, and I kept pursuing it. It had become my calling in life, and it still is.
I honestly love every minute of it. I don’t even feel like I’m working at all. I last worked for the Somerville Homeless Coalition from 2005 to 2007. However, I had to leave the organization due to the death of my older brother, Jim, from throat cancer. I didn’t handle it well, I relapsed and was in the throes of alcoholism again.
However, I quickly realized that drinking never fixed anything; it just compounded the problems I already had. I’m extremely grateful for my drug and alcohol training, as it meant I immediately sought out help. I finally got sober in late 2007 and have been sober ever since. Mind you, it’s only one day at a time.
Although my story may be different than others’, it’s actually quite typical of the stories of many of our vendors. In my case, I started selling Spare Change News to make some money to survive in the world. But the reality is that it’s become so much more than that as time has gone on.
Now you have an idea of my riches-to-rags story, I’d like to tell you why I’ve been vending in front of Whole Foods market on Prospect Street for almost nine years now.
In late 2007, I was homeless and staying in shelters. I needed to make some money to survive and to eat. I wasn’t quite ready to get back to being a counselor because I would only have done a disservice to my client’s, because, to do that type of work, you really need your own house in order. You can only help others if you’re confident and content both mentally and physically!
The opportunity to sell Spare Change News outside Whole Foods arose because a long-term vendor called Joe happened to be sick and couldn’t stand there anymore.
Joe was an awesome man. He taught me how to be a successful Spare Change News vendor. He told me always to be kind, courteous and, above all, myself. However, the biggest lesson he taught me was that I should never take the actions of other people personally, because I’m not the center of the universe.
If people don’t say anything or don’t respond to you, it’s not because of something I’ve done. It’s become everyone has their own cross to bear on a daily basis, and I have to respect that. It’s not that they don’t like me. They just don’t know me yet. I heeded Joe’s words, and I’ve incorporated them into my daily life.
My approach to selling a quality newspaper with great writers and solid, pertinent stories and reporting is to let it sell itself. I’ve always felt that if you have a good product and an even better attitude toward selling that product, everything will work out.
Spare Change News has, without a doubt, changed my life for the better. It’s given me a feeling of self worth. Each and every day is different. My customers and even those who can’t buy the paper have given back to me more than I could ever have given to them.
For example, I was diagnosed with throat cancer in September 2011. They gave me a 50/50 chance to live. But, for some reason, I took the news in my stride and said to myself: “I’m not going to die from this. I’m going to do everything the doctors at MGH ask me to do and have a positive attitude about it.”
I was able to have this attitude because of my time selling Spare Change News. Why? After four years of consistently showing up at Whole Foods every day for four hours at a time, getting to know the people who pass me by, who receive me with kindness, I feel like a positive member of the community. I learned that all I had to was be myself every day and try to be a positive and happy face for them every day.
When I got cancer, I knew I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself. Many people would say, “why me?” I always said, “why not me?” Who am I to think that tough things shouldn’t happen to me? Living life on life’s terms isn’t easy, but with the right attitude, it’s very doable.
I believe I survived cancer because, even though I was going through major radiation every day and three hours of chemo on Wednesdays, I never missed a day of treatment nor did I miss a day of going to Whole Foods to interact with the people who expected to see me. It allowed me to forget about my pain and suffering.
The care of the people in Cambridge in regard to what I was going through was a testament to the amount of good and caring people there are in the community. They made me feel accepted and not ostracized in any way. Yes, it was difficult at times, but everyone was so helpful. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Well, I survived the cancer, and it took three years, but even when I couldn’t talk due to the proximity of the cancer to my vocal cords, people still understood my mission and bought the paper.
I would like to thank everyone and everybody who helped me through that dark time in my life with their words of encouragement and kindness. I would like to say it was unexpected, but I can’t really, because I have too much love and faith in my fellow man.
To sum up why I sell Spare Change News every day, no matter how the weather is or how I feel, I would say it’s like this: Spare Change News is a tremendous vehicle for individuals who are facing tough times, allowing them to stand up and help themselves.
It teaches you how to interact with perfect strangers and gives you a sense of pride in yourself. You know that you’re actually doing a job with the responsibility to be consistent, kind and positive to everyone who passes by. Eventually your consistency and dedication will earn you the respect of many. It’s always been my belief that you only get back what you give out.
Therefore, I’d like to thank everyone who passes me by every day at lunchtime. You always make me feel welcome, even though I’m asking for something. Please don’t get me wrong: the socialization is awesome, but I still need you to buy the paper, because the money is absolutely necessary for me to survive in this incredibly inexpensive city of Cambridge. Nevertheless, the friendships I’ve developed with people over the years are more important to me than anything.
Why do I sell Spare Change News every day?
Because of you, Cambridge! Because of you! Old, young and everyone in between. You make me proud and blessed to be a part of this caring community. Thank you, everyone, thank you!