By Sarah Ford
Photo by Jesse Borrell
The word “easy” has no positive connotation for Albert Bland. Those who build themselves up from the bottom aren’t allowed the convenience of “easy.”
In over 10 years as a VOICE vendor, Albert has sold thousands of papers, covering street corners from Denver to Boulder and making a home atop the best-selling vendors list. But for years, he couldn’t find the right motivation to move forward with his life.
“Watching Denver’s prosperity...all these cranes in the sky, all these new apartments and buildings. Everywhere you turn all you see is progress, and I wasn’t a part of it.” he said. “I’m like, ‘what’s my purpose? Why am I here if I’m not progressing?’”
The way forward struck Albert on a mild fall day while staying at a Boulder shelter, as he took a walk through streets filled with fallen leaves.
“I’m just looking around, and there’s nothing but leaves all over the place,” he said. “And I’m like, man, why don’t you rake some leaves or something? I was like, yeah, knock on some doors and rake some leaves. You want things to happen, you’ve got to make them happen.”
So Albert picked up a rake, push broom and ten bags. A few hours later, he was going door to door offering to rake yards for $20.
“People couldn’t believe it. This is the stuff I used to do when I was a kid growing up,” Albert laughed.
Though he didn’t realize it at the time, that day raking leaves was the first day of the Albert Bland Lawn and Maintenance Company, the personal landscaping business he now owns and operates.
As Albert’s services started to expand, his ambitions grew. Soon, he found himself needing a truck for his quickly growing business. It was his job with the VOICE that helped him save up.
“I do everything in numbers, and I’m thinking ‘man, if you do 100 papers a day, five days a week, that’s an easy 500 bucks. So I did that.”
With his new vision, Albert led top-selling vendors for several months, selling thousands of papers.
“I saved five or six thousand dollars in a matter of months without even worrying about addiction and things of that nature. Because I had an agenda now, I had a plan,” he said. “When you’ve got a plan or when you’ve got something to motivate you to move forward, you’re going to stick with it.”
In just a year, he bought a truck and no longer lived in shelters full time as he grew a customer base throughout the Denver Metro area. After nearly five years as a landscaper, Albert has a consistent customer base of about 50 people, and is kept so busy he rarely makes it into the VOICE office anymore.
It’s not easy. Early on, he would sometimes still spend money unwisely. The days can be long, spent laboring under a hot sun or in a blizzard. But it’s his distaste for the easy way out that keeps Albert motivated through the challenges.
“Keep telling yourself you can make it. If I can do it, anybody can do it,” Albert advises. “I’m a living testimony, because I am gutter. I am the streets. But the thing is, I got tired of the streets. That’s easy.”
He’s done “easy.” But that’s far behind him.
“It’s hard to be productive, it’s hard to maintain. It’s hard to be responsible. But that’s what separates the men from the boys,” said Albert. “Boys do what they want to do, men do what they have to do.”
“As long as you’ve got the strength to move your feet, you stand a chance.” ■