58 years of vending, still strong
RUDOLPH CLARKE once sold newspapers for three cents and made a cent for every paper sold – back in the 1950s when he started.
“I’ve been selling since 1959; they ain’t had no NATION then, only the Advocate and the Observer. Back then, there were not so many vendors,” he said.
Clarke has been a vendor for most of his life – 58 of his 87 years – and has a wealth of stories to tell. However, unless you know his schedule, it can be problematic tracking him down as he has no phone and does not stay in one place for more than a few hours.
He leaves his Pine, St Michael home around 5:30 a.m. He passes the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, the Sanitation Service Authority and the Wildey Industrial Complex selling Nation newspapers until he arrives at his first major stop, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
For many staff of the hospital working long hours and patients unable to leave, Clarke is the primary source of news of what is going on in Barbados. He provides an invaluable service and visits each and every ward, selling newspapers to his eagerly awaiting customers.
From there, he spends the afternoon at his spot outside Melwanis in The City before completing his cycle and heading back home. He does this each and every day and has been doing so for years, selling around 200 papers from Monday to Saturday and 250 on Sundays.
“I’ve ridden motorcycles and bicycles and back then we used to ride our bikes past people’s houses and throw papers through their windows. That was fun,” he said, a glimmer appearing in his eyes.
Rudolph Clarke could have been killed after an assault back in the 80’s. He said he was lucky.
However, his time as a vendor has not been all fun. He recalled a particular encounter involving a robbery and assault, which left him grateful to be alive.
“They know I sell papers and must feel I had a lot of money. In 1983 I had a Vespa motorbike and a night I was passing near Queen’s Park. My lights wasn’t working so I got off and was walking the bike. When I get near the gate, a fella tell me he want a cigarette and I tell he I don’t smoke so he then ask me for money.
“When I was talking, two other fellas grab me and one had a knife. He cut me across my stomach, rob me and run away. I run after them – I thought I had to get somebody – but I had to hold in my guts as I ran because the fella cut me deep,” he said.
Incredibly, Clarke said he caught one of the men, even in his state, although he ended up getting away. He also caught another lucky break when he spotted a police officer coming through a nearby alley and managed to tell him everything. He said he recognised one of the men and gave a description. From there, he said he got himself to the hospital to get his abdomen stitched back up.
“All I was doing was trying not to panic. The hardest thing in life is to know what to do during a crisis,” he said.
It was around 4 p.m. as Clarke – with his Nation shirt and signature cap and sandals – spoke to the WEEKEND NATION. Some may think this time was a bit late for newspaper sales but as he spoke, there was a steady flow of people coming to buy papers, people heading home from work who may have missed the chance earlier.
These days, Clarke no longer hits the road at midnight, as he said he no longer had “anything to run behind”. Even so, hitting the road at daybreak is still fairly early.
“I don’t feel the chill; I’m accustomed to it after getting up at 1 and 2 a.m. and ting. Although if it raining too hard, I have to call in and say I can’t mek it,” he said.
Rudolph Clarke making his way from the Nation with his papers. He has been a news vendor for more than a half century, before there was a Nation Publishing Co Limited.
Clarke has made a life from selling papers, even funding his shop, Clarke’s Bar, where he sells drinks and food made by his wife. He no longer sells the Advocate but is happy with whatever he manages to earn.
“I retire from the Advocate; they slow down a lot. One time I used to sell 300 Advocates but then I realise they became conservative and people stopped buying so I had to stop selling – it wasn’t profitable anymore,” he said.
Clarke said he was not yet ready to stay home as his body would tell him when and it has not yet done so.
“I ain’t even study when I will retire altogether. Your body tells you when you have had enough and until then, no matter how old you get, you can go on. Anytime I start to feel weak in my knees or have trouble seeing, then I will stop. A man told me I would be buried with a bouquet made of newspapers,” he laughed.
Clarke has some words of advice for anyone seeking to carve a successful living for themselves: stick with what they were good at.
“You should always stick with what you are good at; if you are not good at something, then try for something else but don’t just run around – stick it out through the hard times if it is something you can do. Always hope to earn the next dollar and aim high,” he said.
By this time, Clarke had sold out and it was time to head home. After telling a potential customer he had nothing more to sell, he bid the team a “God bless” and soon disappeared in the evening City crowd with his bicycle.