The man wept

Hey, have you ever heard this story (or a variation of it)?

I’m trying to get to xxxxxx (location) to get home to see my sick relative. I have almost enough money for a bus ticket, but I need a few bucks more. 

*Storyteller proceeds to pull out ID to show you.

Or maybe this one:

I have a wife and kids in a car nearby in the parking lot. We’re hungry and need a place to stay tonight. Can you spare a couple of bucks for my kids?

*Storyteller proceeds to pull out ID to show you.

I figured most of you have heard one of those. 

Sorry man, no cash

In my effort to be less negative and off-the-cuff judgmental, I find myself trying to be more compassionate for people who give me a “sob story” and ask for a few bucks.

My go-to response with these people is that I have no cash on me. And that’s true. I never keep cash in my wallet. One reason is simply because I’ll spend it on stupid crap that I don’t need (e.g. junk from the vending machine at work). The other reason is so that I can feel like I didn’t lie when a stranger asks me for a “few bucks.”

Late December, 2010

After Christmas in 2010, Lacey, Logan and I took an impromptu trip to San Antonio to see some friends. Ryan and Janae were getting settled in to their on-base housing at Ft. Sam and invited us up to see them. It had been one or two years since we’d met up, so it was a go. Plus, this was the closest Ryan had ever been stationed to us.

Well, we stopped outside San Antonio to get some gas. I remember it was one of those Murphy gas stations outside a Walmart. 

A man approached me, and I knew what he was gonna say. I tried to avoid making eye contact, but he still approached. And he recited one of the cookie-cutter stories to me about needing cash for a bus ticket.

Now, I did have cash this time. But I was tired from traveling. And who among us doesn’t get a little worn down by the same bullcrap story?

As I was about to tell him my excuse of not having cash, he did something I had never seen before.

He started crying. 

The. Man. Shed. Actual. Fucking. Tears.

Real tears, a few sobs, maybe some snot.

So I gave him $5 and wished him the best.

As Lacey and I got back on the road, we noticed he was pulling the same gig on another unsuspecting motorist.

“Motherfucker,” I said. “He’s just working the whole row.”

Keep the change

Don’t we all kinda hate panhandlers? To a point. If they can stand out there and beg, surely they can get a job. Right? That’s what I tell myself.

And when I walk past someone and tell them I don’t have cash, I spend the rest of my walk feeling a mix of pride and guilt.

I feel more guilt than pride these days. Most of us shrug these people off as dead-beats, drug addicts, or just plain losers. And, I’ll wager most of them are.

But can you know that for sure? Every person? Every time?

I was ‘robbed’

I had a homeless person steal a crappy old camping chair from out of the bed of my truck one day while I was at work. The arresting officer asked me if I wanted to press charges and the first thought in my head was, How much of an inconvenience is this gonna be for me? So, despite the officer’s urging, I declined to press charges. 

It was a piece of shit chair. Big whoop. If random person had asked me if they could have it, I would have given it away. In fact, it was broken. I tried sitting on it the next day and damn near fell on my ass.

What should we do?

One of my biggest reasons for not initially wanting to help someone who approaches me, or someone who stands at a corner with a sign, is that I think they can work just as easily as they can walk or stand around begging. 

That’s true, right? Really, I’m at a loss sometimes. 

I’m sure drug addiction and perhaps mental illness play a part in why someone would panhandle. I’m certain it’s not a lifestyle one aspires toward.

So, should I judge myself better than them?

Should I help?

Like I said, lately I feel more guilt than pride when I pass up on the opportunity to help someone. I want to believe these people genuinely need help. Help that goes beyond just giving leftover change or a few bills so they can get a fix or a beer.

I don’t know their real story. What if it’s even more horrific than the standard one they’re telling me? I bet it is, most of the time.

What if I bought 5 Whataburger gift cards with $10 each on them? Those would fit in my wallet. It would ensure a truly hungry person could get a decent meal and perhaps a drink on another day (the #2 combo w/cheese and a medium soda is about $8).

What if I put some extra bottled water in my truck’s center console? What if I included a few packages of peanut butter crackers, too?

What if I forget about doing any of these things the next time I come across $50 and I predictably spend it on myself instead?


Add yours →

  1. It’s a conundrum. With many of these people, if you try to give them anything but cash like A Whataburger gift certificate, they get angry and cuss you out. A lot of them want cash to feed their habit, whether it’s drugs or alcohol. There are agencies available to help and most “legitimate ” homeless will use them. There have been numerous stories telling about watching panhandlers getting into nice cars or going into nice apts at the end of the day. That’s why I prefer to give through my church or other organizations that help those in need. They can make my dollars stretch farther, anyway. But, yeah, I do feel a little guilty when I purposefully avoid them or tell them “no”. But for the grace of God go I, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This past Friday I did help someone in need. I tell this not to brag or anything, just to say that I did feel like I was helping someone, legitimately.

      I bought him a couple of sandwiches and a water from this cafe near where I work. He seemed uncomfortable inside the place (I’m sure he’s used to being treated poorly).

      He thanked me and went on his way. I hope I made a difference.


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