The winter is cold here. While this is hardly news, I think that unless you spend some time here you don't understand how cold it really is in February. The temperature is always below freezing, but it's the wind that whips unimpeded across Lake Erie from the Arctic Circle that really crushes your soul. It was one of those grey windy freezing days when I pulled into a downtown parking spot to find a shivering cold black guy in his late 20s/early 30s waiting for me to exit the car. Oh yeah, he also had a damaged eye that left a lazy lid partially obscuring the milky discolored eye.
I sized up the situation immediately. He was going to hit me up for some money. Well, of course, he might just kill me and take my wallet, but I didn't want to risk looking politically incorrect and fleeing the "scary downtown negro". Can I say that? He was pretty fucking scary looking in a early 1960s way ... Like a character on a Prison Break movie that kills someone early in the film but is later killed even more horrifically (yet justifiably) by the hero. And I saw myself as the secondary character that spat up blood while the killer laughed in minute 17 while sticking me with a shiv.
I get out of the car, and he launches into his sales pitch. "Hey man, I appreciate you gettin' out of your car. I know some people look at me and just be trippin'." He then produced a dog eared piece of paper with some hand writing on it. "I just got out of jail, and I just want to go home to Akron. But the lady over there says I got to have this amount of money to get on the bus." This was clearly bullshit, but I was strangely excited to see that he didn't hit me up for just spare change, but $7.50. Way to ask for the order! Why ask a dozen people for change when you can ask one guy for $7.50? That's the way I operate in sales, and what else is this but straight sales? I gave the guy 4 bucks, because he clearly needed it. It was about 23 degrees and the wind chill made it "really fucking cold". He didn't even have gloves or a hat. If he was going to blow it on drugs or booze, at least he would be out of the cold while doing them. It was fine with me.
As I walked away, I thought about how the last 4 or 5 times I had been hit up for change it has been with the same basic story. It's really odd to me. The story is always the same basic tale, but the details change with the seasons. For example, the basic story is always this: "Hello. I am a good man. I am on my way to work/home/back to children. Fate has worked against me and I am out of gas/bus fare, and if I had just a little help from a Good Samaritan like yourself, I could get back on the path of righteousness." But the really interesting thing to me is that for a three month period, different guys will work me with the exact same story the exact same way. So, the question I have is this... Why is it that every pan handler has the same exact story going at the same time? How does this information get around? Are there sales meetings? Tip sheets? What is it? How does it work?
There has to be some kind of seminar system, or panhandling website I don't know about. I sort of envision a Holiday Inn ballroom filled up with homeless guys and junkies taking notes on laminated workbooks. Standing at the front of the room, complete with overhead projector, a presenter uses a laser pointer and works through the material. "OK guys! OK! I know a lot of you have to go get your methadone, so I'm going to keep this moving. If you fall behind, or have a question, consult your workbook afterwards or ask me in the Q&A section. OK...OK... Let's get back to the "My kids are in the car and I have no money for gas to get them home" pitch. I cannot stress this enough people, get yourself an empty plastic gas can. It lends credibility to the car in your story, and is a terrific prop. What is the three dollar cost of a gas can when you are asking for ten dollars? Do the math people! Plus you can use that gas can again and again and again... Also, if you have pictures of kids, use them people! There are only so many pitches we can make in a day. Let's make them count!"
How else do you explain that all these guys have the same story going at the same time? A few years ago, every guy hitting me up for money used the "kids in the car" story. In the last 6 months I have had the "going home from jail" story. Who can forget the "I'm late for work, and just need bus fare" story of two summers ago? And I am telling you, I get hit with the same story from different guys in different cities all the time.
I have been driving around downtown lately looking for the scary one eyed guy. I haven't seen him. I hope he bought a hat.