I went to Schlotzsky’s for lunch today and as I was munching on my chicken and pesto pizza a man in his early thirties came in with his two sons. He looked like a typical yuppie in winter gear and his sons, roughly five and seven years old, were similarly attired. The kids were rambunctious and confident. The man was friendly. The scene was unremarkable until the man spoke. He addressed the manager, who happened to be standing near the register, “Hi, sorry to bother you but we’re from North Carolina and I’m trying to get bus tickets to get home. Could I get a couple drinks for the boys?”
The manager said that would be no problem and gave the boys cups. While the boys filled up their drinks, the man gave his spiel to a customer and I think he got a couple bucks. Then he went outside and had a smoke. He appeared to be giving his spiel to a man and woman who were also out there smoking. I couldn’t tell if he got anything from them. The boys joined him outside as he approached a newly arriving customer when she exited her car. I saw her give him a buck or two. Then he guided the boys toward the main part of the shopping center. As I drove home, I saw him receive a few bucks from a middle-aged woman outside of Einstein’s Bagels.
He didn’t give me his spiel at the sandwich shop because he never made it over to my side of the place. I would have happily given him a couple bucks — if I believed his story. But I think he was full of crap. He was making a killing though. I suspect he and his human props made a complete circuit of the shopping center. Am I a heartless bastard? Am I overly cynical?
I would love to live in a world where I can have pleasant conversations with complete strangers. Once in a blue moon it happens but it’s rare. Nine times out of ten when someone talks to me in public they want money or they are crazy. This has been my experience regardless of locale, at least within the United States. And when I have initiated conversations, most people think I want money or am crazy. We’ve all been beaten into submission by the beggars and the crazies.
There’s the straight-forward approach. Stand at intersection with sign. Or stand at intersection with funny sign. Or sit at entrance to subway stop with sign/funny sign. Some people get more creative. They approach you and say, “I lost my wallet. I need $1.20 to get home. Can you help?” Or, “My car is out of gas. Can you give me a couple bucks to get gas so I can get home.” And now this guy and his kids who need bus tickets — to get home. Clearly, the scammers have determined that needing to get home is an effective theme.
I just didn’t buy what this guy was selling. How did he end up at a shopping center at Colorado Blvd and Yale Ave needing bus tickets to North Carolina? He and his kids did not look the least bit downtrodden. The kids were altogether disinterested by his spiel. They had seen him doing this many times. It disgusted me the way he was using the kids to ramp up the sympathy. Mainly, I just had a feeling he was full of it, a feeling heavily influenced, no doubt, by a negative presumption based on past experience.
Either I’m a grinch or this guy is despicable. And maybe that’s why he was so successful. Nobody wants to feel like a grinch and nobody wants to think a father would use his two boys as part of a money-grubbing scam.
After lunch, I arrived at my home as the sun was going down and the bitter cold was retaking the city. I reminded myself how lucky I am to have a warm home and a warm bed. Who am I to judge this man? I don’t know what hardships he has endured and continues to endure. All I know for sure is that he’s spending some of that alleged bus ticket money on cigarettes.