Monday, October 5, 2009

Begging

Caveat Lector: This post may be touch on some politically incorrect areas and certain (Marin-based??) readers may be appalled. So be it. If you're honest with yourself, you know there is truth in what I write. Even if it makes you uncomfortable when you read it.

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Our median-standing-newspaper-seller isn't there any more. He was always there, and now he's not. His chair with the attached umbrella is missing, too. For a while, he had a cooler with SODAS $1 inside it, but the police took issue with his entrepreneurial spirit and he was gone for a few days. But his chair remained in the bushes and then he was back. Now it's gone, and so is he. About a week before his disappearance, Mr. 6 and Little Brother made the Amster roll down the car window so they could ask him his name. Now we're all wondering what became of Daniel.

Someone else is there, but he doesn't wave at us as we drive by. Daniel did. He smiled and welcomed us into the neighborhood, or sent us on our way with a cheery attitude. I never bought a paper from him, but it didn't matter. I always got a smile and a wave. He made it easy to acknowledge his existence.

That's the thing about these median-strip people. It's hard to know what to do with your eyes. It feels disrespectful to avert my gaze, but I don't want to encourage any hopeful thinking. I'm not passing out dollars from my car. I've been trying a combination smile/head shake move; it's still a work in progress. Daniel made it easy; he took the first step himself.

We used to see a 30-something couple with a Stranded - Need Gas Money to get to Texas sign when we lived in Marin. They must not have been very talented at begging. There they were, month after month, year after year, at the Terra Linda and Vintage Oaks and Strawberry exits off the 101, still looking to fill their car and get on their way. They were fairly annoying in their disrespect for those of us who passed them on a regular basis; didn't they think we'd remember them?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the kind of person who can stand in the middle of traffic looking for a hand-out feels invisible. That's why I'm working on my semi-smile/head shake. I want to notice but not engage. No one should feel invisible. But I'm in my car, my personal private space of the interior of The Schnozz, and I just don't want to care right now.

I'm not comfortable being the first car next to the paper-seller and not looking at him. On the other hand, I have no problems being the passenger at a light and ignoring pedestrians waiting to cross, even if they are standing right in front of me. What's the difference?

I think it's because I don't like the intrusion. Yes, as the median-guy at Ina and Thornydale rebukes me from his sign, I shouldn't laugh because you are trying. But attempting to engage drivers as they try to avoid texters and motorcyclists and un-tarped loads is not safe. Nor is it welcome. Why don't you just get out of my face? I'm a good person. I do my share. I think about the plight of the world's poor and I try to do my part to fix it. But right now I am trying to be the third car through a two car light so would you please just go away. Right now I don't have time for the guilt.

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