Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Okay… So I’ve borrowed some Shakespeare and changed a couple words.
What do you think when you see someone begging? Do your thoughts vary based on their physical appearance (clothing, race, gender, grooming, age, etc.), their location, and/or their method of begging?
Vacationing in Atlanta, my husband and I decide to ride the MARTA from our airport hotel to downtown. I want another “vacation experience;” to see what Atlanta’s public transportation is like while getting a look at other parts of the city.
Also, I think it’ll be good for our kids. Seeing life outside of the suburbs is always an opportunity to add another page to their sheltered little lives. They’ve been to a few other large cities and found each to be different. Now we’re going to take on Atlanta. After all, they may go to college in a large city or live in one as adults.
So what should happen while riding the train…
A young man appears from somewhere, walking the isles asking for money. I watch the face of a seasoned rider to see how she will handle him. She never looks up; and not in a nervous way, but with body language that says, “Just keep on walking.”
I say to myself, “If he comes over to me, that’s what I’ll do.”
Five seconds later, he is standing over me as I sit dressed in my tourist outfit, laced with a camera bag over my shoulder.
“Got any change?” he asks in a voice that is mild, yet frightening.
I want to ignore him, but can’t manage the attitude of the seasoned woman rider. Sooo… I look up into his eyes, quickly, and shake my head softly from side to side without saying a word. He moves on.
Fortunately, he does not approach my children who are sitting in another seat. I don’t know what my fifteen year old, “I love my cushy life,” daughter would have done. She probably would have broken out in tears and called for her mommy and daddy… or fainted.
There were lots of jokes about this experience later in the day.
For at least six months, a woman has been sitting at the entrance of a shopping center near my home; the strip mall type. Her chair looks like a turned over bucket, and there appears to be a purse or backpack alongside it. Her hair is pulled back. Her attire is sweat pants and a tee shirt. Her complexion is normal and she looks well fed. If I saw her in Walmart, she’d fit right in. I’d never know that she begs on the street.
The first time I see her, my mind tells me she’s a mother; maybe even a wife with an unemployed husband – though I really have no idea. As I pull up to the intersection, the traffic light is red. I give her a few dollars. I say, “God bless you.” She responds with a smile and a sincere (or well performed), “Thank you, God bless you.”
The next time I see her, the light is green. “Good,” I think. I don’t have to make eye contact or purposely avoid her.
I travel this road often and see her a lot. I’m beginning to harden, and I don’t know why; not feeling as sympathetic. I don’t want to ride past her. When I have to be in the shopping center, I remedy the situation by leaving at another exit.
A friend and I briefly discussed this woman. We call her the Barnes and Noble Lady because the well-known book store is at the shopping center near her post. My friend’s husband thinks she should only give food to panhandlers; not money. B&N Lady has this covered though, because she leaves her food bag in a visible spot, as if to say, “I don’t need any more fast food.”
My husband, on the other hand, has a giving nature, and will hand over the occasional $5 bill. I’m more of a one or two bucks person.
I’ve heard so many opinions on this subject over the years; some strongly against giving. After reading a book in 2010, a true story titled, Same Kind of Different as Me (thank you Simone), I was fascinated to learn a few tricks of panhandlers to get people to give them money. The homeless man in the book, Denver, was a heavy drinker and used some of his money to buy alcohol. Reading his life story, though, it is no surprise that his journey was one struggle after another.
There are always going to be poor people; and just as there are among rich people, many will be addicts. Whether an addict or not, panhandling appears to be a hard and humiliating job. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to hand over a dollar or not? Does it matter?
What do you think?
The sightings of the woman panhandler took place during the summer. I have not seen her since.
Thank you T. K.
image found here