The Big Issue’s Mark captures the pulse of the city from his Adelaide pitch.
The alarm on my phone sounds. I roll out of the bed in my boarding house room, careful not to sit on the bung spring in my mattress that will, I’m sure, one day cause me immense pain.
I have no more and no less than 46 minutes to leave my room in order to catch my bus. It’s always on time. I’m rarely late. But I’m never too early; I hate to wait at bus stops. It’s a fine line.
My first thought is coffee. I have a very large mug, it holds two cups. It suffices. I watch some mindless breakfast TV and gradually get ready for work. I fill my pockets with a wallet, some loose change, my phone, half a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Slinging my Big Issue bag over my shoulder I exit at… (for those of you doing the maths)…
…and head down South Terrace towards my bus stop. As I get to the bus stop I have just enough time to put on my vest and badge before the bus rolls up. I get on and say hello to my Bus Mum. She is just like my real mum – she nags, she encourages – but I only see her five minutes a day, the time it takes to get from my bus stop off South Terrace, to my next stop on Pulteney Street. I say goodbye and wish her a good day.
I arrive at my pitch, Adelaide Arcade, and pull my first two Big Issues out of my bag.
It’s always a dream to sell a mag to the first person you show it to. It always leads to a big day. A positive affirmation that life is both amazing and worth living… It doesn’t happen today. In fact the first person I offer the magazine to doesn’t even make eye contact with me. Oh well. Miracles don’t happen every day.
At this time of day there are very few people around; it’s mostly just me and the pigeons. But I will nearly always sell one in the first half hour, so it’s worth waking up early.
This morning my first customer is a regular. A nice man in his fifties, I think he works at the uni campus across the road. We exchange pleasantries and he is on his way. And so am I, my first sale for the day! Hurrah!
I’m just innocently kicking my foot at the pigeons when I look up and see some strapping lads heading my way. I recognise one of them as the captain of an AFL team, who will remain nameless. Now, as they get closer, I recognise another from the same team.
A lot of AFL teams have been staying at the Ibis down the road from my spot, so I have been celebrity spotting for most of this season. Not one of them has bought a magazine disappointingly, but today the captain says hello, nice bloke.
I have sold seven so far, which is about average. Could be worse. I try to sell 25 every six‑and-a-half hour shift. It doesn’t always work out, but it always surprises me when it does.
I look to my left and see a young girl I know who is homeless coming down the street. I think she is as young as 20. We always have a good chat; she is studying a certificate at the moment, so I always ask about it and urge her to keep going. She’s a bit down today, so I offer her a cigarette and this cheers her up. I wish her well and she leaves with a smile.
One of my regulars is coming towards me with a grin and a giant coffee in her hands. The coffee is for me, she says, the biggest one they had. She said I looked cold, which I certainly was, and she thought I needed some warming up. God bless her cotton socks. I also needed some waking up for the lunchtime rush that was about to hit. She buys a magazine, which is a bonus. I tell her she’s my favourite customer of the day, and she laughs as she says goodbye.
Many customers buy me coffees; it’s nothing for me to have six coffees in a shift! I hate to say no to people’s generosity. Even if it does take a while to go to sleep at night, there’s nothing like sweet, sweet caffeine!
Alright it’s nearly time for the lunchtime rush, 12 to 2pm. I have sold 15 magazines, a little below par, so I need to be on the ball, energetic and alert. I have stocked up on mags thanks to the girls in the office; they do a pitch walk to me most days, just before the rush.
I have a bag full of Big Issues, half a thermos of cordial and four cigarettes. Let’s do this.
Before I know it there are dozens of people coming in four different directions. I select people to make eye contact with who I think might buy the magazine. This is not easy. You get a bit judgemental with your choices, focusing on the key demographics of the magazine, ignoring others to your detriment at times.
I have one basic rule I try to follow: look for happy people! I suppose happy people are more likely to help others; it’s not always the case but a good general rule.
It’s easy to get lost in the lunchtime rush, so I hold the magazine high for people to see, and I raise my voice: “Get your Big Issue here”, “Help someone help themselves”, “Great read guaranteed”.
The sales start gradually, a regular here, a random there, and most satisfyingly today, a new customer. I explain the mag to this elderly gentleman and he digs it. So he buys his first one. The first of many, I hope.
I look down the arcade and I smile. Coming towards me is my favourite customer. He smiles back. A gentle giant, let’s call him Rick, he always gives me 50 bucks and says keep the change. Rick’s from England, where The Big Issue started, and he’s a legend. I imagine I’m not the only person he helps. A true philanthropist.
I’m not sure if Rick knows but he makes my week every time I sell a mag to him. A donation like that can really make a difference to someone on the breadline.
Rick leaves with a smile and I’m energised to sell the rest of my magazines.
I have just one magazine left to sell. It’s been a bloody good day. I’m even friendly to the pigeons, as one of them sneaks in between my feet to grab a crumb. It would be good to sell this last one though, to make the day complete…
…And as I think this I see one of my regulars approaching, a $10 note clasped in his hand. I had forgotten that he said he would come back to get a mag half an hour ago, but here he is!
He beckons for me to keep the change, and gives me a “Go Crows” before he goes. Yet another kind soul.
I sit in the window seat at Hungry Jack’s, eating my Baconator Deluxe meal, looking out at all the people passing by. All the flotsam and jetsam of the harsh, jagged wheel of life, of which I’m one.
An insignificant piece in the puzzle. But yet a satisfied one.
I have a place to live, food to eat, and a job that I enjoy doing.
It was another good day today, among many good days at The Big Issue.
I hope for more.
First published in The Big Issue edition #638
Photo by Nat Rogers