The question echoes inside the Engineering Arch, ricocheting from Ulrich’s to In-n-Out and resonating up and down South University Avenue.
“Spare any change, my good friend?”
The echoes come from Ronnie, a middle-aged Ann Arbor native who can be found standing outside of the arch almost daily. And immediately following each request, through his gap-toothed smile, he offers each passerby the same wish, regardless of whether or not they have change to spare: “Have a nice day.”
Even though he said University students are fairly generous with their quarters, Ronnie isn’t only occupying his post for profit.
What he’s really looking for, he said, is another friend and some conversation.
“It’s more on a friendship thing,” Ronnie said, who declined to give his last name. “I don’t expect people to stop and give me change. I would prefer to have a real close friend than change in my pocket.”
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Ronnie said he once had dreams of attending California’s Gemological Institute of America for jewelers and designing affordable jewelry for everyone to enjoy, not just the wealthy.
He returned to his hometown from Los Angeles about 10 years ago to help care for his aging mother. He continues to live with her near campus.
He survives on welfare and the kindness of students, he said. While he said he would like to get a job, he prefers to be available during the day in case his mother needs anything from the pharmacy or store.
Ronnie said although students frequently assume he will use the money they give him to buy drugs or alcohol, he saves up for purchases like his new winter coat — a tan one, with faux fur lining.
Ronnie said that he prefers the campus area because of the friendliness of the students, and said that Ann Arbor becomes much more “snotty” when students leave in the summer.
Ronnie is not discouraged if students ignore him.
“If you don’t speak to me, then I guess you don’t want to part of my repertoire,” he said
It doesn’t take much to get on Ronnie’s good side.
“I like people (who are) vibrant individuals. Those are my special people,” Ronnie said. “If they do have (vibrancy), I encourage them to reach their highest goal. If you have anything special about you, I encourage you to reach your highest goal, too.”
“Everybody likes what I’m doing,” he said with a laugh. “Except maybe the police. They have to work for their money.”
– Know a campus character worthy of a profile? E-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.