Playing the Part of Poor

Chicago has its share of panhandlers. I guess I’m stating the obvious as most urban areas, especially the downtown sections, will have them, and sometimes, especially when I worked downtown for a spell, I would occasionally put some coins in the cup of a dude who regularly set himself up at the end of one of the bridges. He wasn’t the aggressive kind of panhandler, didn’t have the sign detailing his woes, but would casually wish you a nice day if you caught his eye. For me he just seemed like he was a little lost in life at this stage, not ready yet to move on back to the “real world” as we call it, and most of the times he just seemed happy to sit there on his milk crate, greeting people on their way to work. I guess I always figured an extra buck or two would help him through another day on the way to whatever life would bring him tomorrow.

He was a nice enough panhandler, but if you’ve been to the “big” city, you have probably seen and experienced your share of the not-so-nice. There are the stories about of the dad holding the gas can (one I’ve personally experienced), asking for a few bucks so he can get some gas to get back home, even to the point of either having his kids in tow or if he caught your attention, pointing to the car with his wife and kids, them doing their best to “act” sad next to the car. Then there are the guys and gals with the detailed life stories on a piece of cardboard, usually ending with “Will work for food.” A friend of mine even had someone asking for money for food outside of a McDonalds. My friend went in, bought him a meal, but when he brought it back outside to give it to the guy he was pissed just saying “I didn’t want any food, just the money.”

The curious ones for me, though, are the people located at the off-ramps of the expressways, most of whom I will never believe need the money and could actually find a job should they desire, but making tax-free money on the side of the road actually seems like the easier gig for them. One location I would drive to regularly had a guy, nicely disheveled, holding the cardboard sign, and always with a limp as he would hobble from car to car stuck at the light. You would see some people give him a buck or two, and from the couple of minute light cycle I could see him easily bringing in about $20 an hour. What most people didn’t see was that the minute he called it a day suddenly his limp was gone, he would take a small stroll down the street, and go into his house near the off-ramp.

I only bring this up because the other day I saw a panhandler girl, on an off-ramp, and after seeing a dude one day, a woman a different day, and now this girl, I’m figuring it’s becoming a family gig. The issue was that whereas dad would go for the disheveled look with the torn jeans, and mom did a decant job of looking down-and-out, the daughter needed to learn to play the part of poor because either she found some way-to-nice clothes at the Goodwill, or this is one profitable off-ramp. Her hair was fairly nice, she didn’t look dirty/grungy, and yup, the clothes were clean and looked brand new. I know it sounds a little wrong of me to judge, and maybe she did need the money as she just lost her job or has some other disheartening life story, but having seen my share of obvious scam-artists on the panhandling front it’s hard for me to even consider helping you if you’re not even to to try to scam me, or play the part of poor.

Call me heartless if you want but the dude who owned the house and begged for money really tainted my feeling sorry for most panhandlers, however, when I do see people give the panhandlers money, I wonder: “Do you give money to panhandlers on the side of the road?”

That’s it for this one! L8R!!