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51st and Telegraph: Informal economies

on July 2, 2009

When we started talking about the possibility of an “informal economy” flourishing at the intersection, we imagined stories about door-to-door salesmen or fruit stands. In fact, it was during my search for the elusive Temescal fruit vendor that I encountered someone with a far less formal setup–at least, that’s how it looks at first.

Every day, Terry B. pulls a plastic shopping cart through Oakland, collecting plastic bottles and aluminum cans to recycle and supplement his Social Security disability benefits. In his audio slideshow, Terry tells us which recycling centers are ripoffs and where on 51st street he scores the most bottles.

His story reminds me of another informal-economy story I am working on. Artist Lauren Wilson also passes through the intersection, selling handmade greeting cards from her wheelchair before moving on to work Berkeley’s stretch of Telegraph Avenue. Both Terry and Lauren need money after their Social Security benefits cover the bills, but they pride themselves on not panhandling.


  1. Susan R. on July 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    This post raises a really some interesting questions: What is the average or median SS disability benefit (assuming the subjects of this post didn’t care to disclose theirs) and what is the cost of living in Oakland. There are websites that keep track of living costs for the working poor. s.

  2. the king of pop on July 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Anything to get those dirt bags off the street. The panhandlers in this area are just a bunch of moochers including the “urban miners” who troll for trash. Let them sell crack.

  3. […] Below is my multimedia piece on Lauren Wilson, a Fruitvale artist who sells greeting cards around 51st Street and Telegraph Avenue. The story describes her day-to-day routine, and the slideshow features her larger, more elaborate pieces. Altogether, it completes my two-part series on informal economies. […]

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