Saturday, March 03, 2007

Panhandler in the Kmart parking lot

I gave blood today. Almost couldn't - my iron was a bit low, too low for the old guidelines, but within the less stringent guidelines that have been enacted recently. And my blood pressure was low, which is unusual. Maybe I'm just very relaxed. Maybe the Zen-like calm that I have bathed myself in this week has had that effect. Bottom line, I got to give blood.

Afterwards I went to Kmart to get cat food for Joey. Joey, our middle cat, has become a bit of a finicky eater since he had several of his teeth pulled a few months ago. He does seem to like one type of food, but occasionally will just lick at it and then begin to cry for something else. The food he likes, Fancy Feast in cans, Grilled Turkey and Grilled Chicken, was on sale 5/$2. I bought 16 cans of the Grilled Turkey and 4 cans of Grilled Chicken, plus an assortment of 5 other types just in case he decides he likes something new.

I also bought a 25 lb. sack of cat litter. Clay, not clumping. Still have to finish getting up all the dust from the clumping stuff from the furnace and water heater.

I had just opened the door to my car to begin loading my purchases into the car, carefully favoring my left arm to avoid rupturing the needle site, when I noticed a dark-haired girl coming towards me.

She might have been pretty. She had a very drawn and haggard look to her, and she was smoking a cigarette. Her clothes were in good condition, her long hair seemed clean and well groomed, and I couldn't detect any odors other than her cigarette. She could have been anywhere from 16 to 38, but I was guessing college-age, early twenties, maybe.

"Excuse me," she said, and I knew what was to follow. "This is going to sound strange, car - I'm in that Subaru over there - my car is completely out of gas, and I'm 40 miles from home, and I don't have any money for gas or tolls, and so I pulled into this parking lot with the crazy idea that if I ask enough people I might be able to scrape together enough money..."

I reached for my wallet. I still have residual guilt over refusing a guy near the entrance to Wegman's a few years ago who was asking for money to buy food for his kids, who turned out to actually be buying food for his kids.

Twenty dollars would do it; that would buy her four gallons of gas and leave enough for tolls to anywhere within 40 miles. I should have asked her where she lived - the only toll road within 40 miles is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and she would really only need to use that if she was heading South, because I-81 is a far better road for getting to points North. Maybe she wouldn't have been able to answer correctly and I would know she was a fraud.

I opened my wallet to see seven dollars. A five and two ones. I gave her the two singles. "I'd have more, but I lost my job this week," I said. She made noises of gratitude and disbelief at what crappy deals we were all being handed lately, and then made her way off to her next mark - sorry, potential benefactor.

As I pulled away I saw her next target hand her some cash. Was it enough? I don't know. He seemed amused, pleased with himself, as he got into his car. I guess I was, too.

If she was for real, I hope she got what she needed and got home safely. If she wasn't...well, I wish her the best, anyway.


Gort said...

I wrote about this a year ago.

As I was loading my supplies in the car a kid approached me with a sob story about getting lost and asked me for a dollar. My response was "you're the third person to give me that line in the last 2 weeks." He replied, "I guess that means no." No shit Einstein.

I wasn't lying, it wasn't the first time I heard some variation of that line over the years. But it has made a comeback lately. The difference this time is it is kids in their late teens or early twenties using it. Not the usual drunks and lowlifes. Has anyone else run into this lately?

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I had a friend buy a guy with one of those "Will work for food" signs some burgers and fries once. The man thanked him profusely and when he thought my friend was out of sight he tossed the meal into the bushes. I'm not saying that this is what was going on in your case, I'm just saying...

hedera said...

Back when I rode the rapid transit, which has parking lots, I was once approached in the parking lot by this guy, with a sad story, needing a little cash. I don't remember it now, but it was a really elaborate riff, about 2 guys trying to get to a job interview, and they ran out of gas, and and and. The first time, I listened to the whole riff (despite years of ignoring panhandlers), evaluated it, and thought it just MIGHT be true because it was so improbable and detailed. And in any case if it was a fake I had been amused by it. I think I gave him a couple of dollars.

OK, the next week or so, in the same parking lot, here comes the same guy, and he begins to tell me the same story. He was a fairly distinctive looking black man (no they do not all look alike), and I have a very good and very detailed verbal memory. Fool me twice, shame on me; I gave him a very firm "no" and moved on. If you're going to work the same area regularly, you really need to be able to recognize your previous marks...

Anonymous said...

Most of the time, it's a scam. I've gotten hustled a few times, especially back when I took mass transit more. People always do the "I need money to get somewhere ..." line. But here's how I look at it: If they lie, that's really not my problem. If you gave, you gave, for the right reasons. It means your instinct is toward generosity; that's a good thing.

One story, though: Back in June 96 I had just re-started my career after a long period of grad school and travel (six years). I had to commute to work, and I was absolutely flat broke at the time. I had no money for gas, and nothing in my bank account, and I suddenly realized at the end of my third workday that I didn't have enough gas to get home that evening.

On the way home, I parked my car next to a gas pump, and well ... went looking for cash. I ended up asking a guy on the street. I asked for a buck for gas, and he gave it to me halfway through my speech about how I just started work. That was enough for a gallon of gas -- good for 30 miles. That night, I borrowed gas money from the landlord.

Bill @ IB

Anonymous said...

I've been hit up twice in the last two years with sob stories -one was a woman claiming her child was in the local children's hospital and she needed gas to get back to the hospital. I never did think to ask her what she was doing in a parking lot 15 miles from the hospital. That only occurred to me later. The second was a woman who claimed she had bad asthma and was a few dollars short of being able to buy her inhaler. I fell for it twice but never again. I've got a kind heart but won't be scammed again.