08 October 2008
Holmes has sold newspapers at intersection for 15 years



BY CHASE PURDY
The Post and Courier
Hassie Holmes says there are two types of people he can’t sell newspapers to.

"I can’t sell to people who can’t read, and I can’t sell to people who swear they know everything. I sell to the ones in the middle, the ones who are curious about knowing."

He sways a little when he talks, and the reflection in his orange sunglasses reveals a busy intersection at U.S. Highway 17 and Houston Northcutt Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. Fifteen years of selling newspapers here explain the patches of dirt where grass should grow.

Holmes, 57, sits on a stack of papers. Heat from the baking asphalt rises around him, and even from across the street the man can look like something he’s not: Some guess he’s homeless. Chances are they’ve never stopped to buy a paper from him.

"You can’t judge the book by its cover," Holmes says. "The strangest thing is misreading somebody. If you just misread this cat, who else have you misread?"

He pedals a squeaky bike from his home in the nearby Greenhill community to his roadside spot every day. He pulls a small yellow wagon filled with newspapers and magazines and umbrellas.

Holmes grew up in the Lowcountry but hasn’t lived here all his life. In 1969, he left Charleston for Connecticut, where he spent nearly 25 years. He earned an associate degree in electronic engineering technology at the University of Hartford’s Ward College of Technology, and later taught physics at public and private schools in Connecticut.

Holmes returned to Charleston in 1993, where he spent one semester as an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston and another semester at Trident Technical College, also as an adjunct professor. But he became restless, and in time he found himself at his roadside spot.

When he looks back, he says he doesn’t regret his decision to drop out of academia and into a world of quarters and single dollar bills. Instead, he embraces it as a personal success. He likes that nobody’s seen his resume for years. “I lived life my way and I rose on it,” he says. “It’s just genuine.”

On hot days, Holmes stays under his umbrellas as much as possible. One of those umbrellas was a gift from a man who’s watched Holmes serve the Lowcountry for years, Red’s Icehouse general manager Steve Carroll.

"He’s a local fixture," Carroll says. "I see him coming and going. Good man, old Lowcountry guy, you know. If I shoot through Hardee’s or something, I always buy a paper from him."

Mehdi Rahimi also knows Hassie Holmes. He managed the Melvin’s BBQ on Houston Northcutt for 28 years before switching to the restaurant’s Folly Road location. Rahimi says people would visit Holmes all the time, sometimes they bought papers, sometimes they’d just want to talk.

"He’s got a lot of friends on that corner," he says. "He’s a smart guy. He knows a lot of things, and when you talk to him, he’ll tell you a lot."

Holmes says his father couldn’t read, and as a result, it’s the driving force behind why he does what he does.

"Maybe it gets to be a precious thing," he says. "A lot of things are based on your ability to read and write. I take this very seriously. But if I inspire anyone, let me inspire the kids, because you’ve got to be knowledgeable."

He says he’s where the rubber meets the road, and after staring into a line of passing cars, he explains how he named his one-man newspaper operation.

"My father was a Hassie and he passed, and my son was a Hassie — he passed. So the first thing I said was, ‘I’m the last stand. I’m Hassie’s Last Stand. I'm the last of the Hassies,' Hassie Holmes, that is."

He takes a sip of bottled water. It’s a gift from one of his regular customers.

When people drive by, many may wonder about the man they see in the same spot every day. Whether it’s raining, hot or cold, he’s there without fail, seven days a week, each week of the year. The most popular question: Does he make much money?

Holmes smiles and laughs.

"Tell them I don’t make no money, I make honey," he says. "Why put your time in running for money, instead of just working for honey?"

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posted by Chase at 3:39 PM |


2 Comments:


At October 9, 2008 at 12:42 PM, Blogger Daniel Silliman

Probably the best piece you've ever done. Really excellent work, Chase.