Meet David Yandell

From, November 29 2008

In the Shadows – Hope and Charity, Portland Mercury, 11 20 2008

David Yandell, 47, is going through some hard times. He started Radio Cab’s locally renowned turkey project 11 years ago, delivering up to 1,000-plus turkeys to low-income families at Christmas every year. But last Christmas, he says, he was “canned” by the cab firm, following a “beef” with the company’s superintendent over $40. Sadly, he is no longer delivering turkeys.

“I didn’t owe it, so I wouldn’t pay it,” he says, of the alleged $40. “They don’t say you’re fired, they say, ‘We have no more shifts for you,’ but I knew what they meant.”

Tom Alexander, Radio Cab’s director of business services, declined to tell their version of events. “I would love to tell you the truth, but once [Yandell] came up with threats of a lawsuit, I have to remain mum,” Alexander said.

Yandell, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000, says the illness may have been partly what fueled his manic efforts to do charitable work. Apart from the turkey project, he previously organized charity efforts to give free bikes and school supplies to needy kids in Portland’s public schools. But this year, he’s found it hard to focus, what with looking for jobs on Craigslist and trying to put together $360 with odd Labor Ready shifts, to make the monthly rent on his room above the Marathon Taverna on W Burnside.

On October 15, Yandell’s rent money finally ran out. He became homeless, sleeping in his car a few times, and on his friends’ couches before ending up at the Portland Rescue Mission.

“Oh, it’s great, it’s fine,” he says, when asked about the conditions. “I was in reform school for two and a half years as a kid, so to be in a room with 50 guys just takes me back to being young.”

Despite his apparent optimism, it’s difficult not to worry about the path Yandell’s life has taken over the last 11 months. When we met on Friday, November 7, at Backspace on NW 5th, Yandell was playing solitaire on a laptop with the ‘6’ and the ‘X’ keys missing. He’s stopped taking his Effexor antidepressant medication since becoming homeless, but continues taking two mood stabilizers and says he feels “okay,” although he worries about losing his laptop. Being homeless can be boring, and his computer game keeps him occupied. Since landing at the Rescue Mission, Yandell has also found on-call work manning the front desk at another homeless shelter, Transition Projects, Inc. on NW 5th and Glisan, for $11 an hour.

As we’re talking, a man approaches the table and leaves $5 on it, before walking off again, quickly. Yandell thanks the man, and tells me he’s a cab driver from his old job, keeping him in smokes. Since becoming homeless, Yandell tells me he has reached a tentative agreement to blog about his experience with a web producer at KOIN 6 News in exchange for in-kind payments like gift vouchers. I urge Yandell to keep safe and stay positive. Lighting his second Camel filter in 20 minutes, he tells me he’ll be fine.

When we catch up a week later, things aren’t going so well. KOIN has pulled his one published blog post following an apparent dispute about the terms of his contract, and Yandell is disappointed. “To my knowledge we didn’t promise him anything and it would be against our policy to do so,” KOIN News Director Lynn Heider tells the Mercury. Yandell disagrees. But I sure hope his luck changes, soon.

EXTRA –The ups and downs of David Yandell: Cabdriver, turkey philanthropist talks about life with bipolar disorder, Portland Tribune, 9 19 2006