So I’m standing there waiting for the 136 bus again this morning and this same grizzled, scruffy old guy who I almost always see there comes hobbling around the corner. He’s wearing the same just-a-little-too-short pants, the same lint-covered gray knit cap, the same brown down coat. I don’t know if he’s homeless, though I suspect he lives in the halfway house around the corner, the one that houses all the obvious mental patients that wander the streets on Bryn Mawr back and forth. But I know he’s going to ask me for money. Hell, he asks everyone who’s standing on the bus stop for money every morning. I’m not sure if he really needs it. I mean, he gets on the same bus as I do when it finally arrives, which means he’s at least got bus fare. So maybe he’s just looking for walking-around money, or some extra coinage for a nice meal at Manny’s Deli. But whatever the reason, he’s always working the crowd at the bus stop for money.
But he did something strange today. I see lumbering around the corner, stopping in front of everyone in front of me, see his mouth moving, apparently asking for change, see their heads shaking back and forth: no. And he finally works his way over to me. And instead of flat out asking me if I have any spare change, he first asks me, “Have I asked you before?” I’m a little taken aback because A) I was expect the rote question, “Got any change?” and B) I wondered, asked me WHAT before? So I said exactly that to him, asked me WHAT before, and he responds, “Asked you for change. Have I asked you for change before?”
Now, I’ve never been asked by a panhandler to let him know if he’s previously attempted to tap my generosity. I can see the same guy on the same street corner every day for a year and he never seems to be concerned if he’s wearing out his welcome. In fact, the more familiar he becomes with me, the most likely he is to rush past everyone else to get to broke l’il ol’ me. Nope, it’s mostly just stick the hand out, ask the question and if no clink of the coinage is heard, move along.
But I’ve never been part of panhandler survey before, one that starts with “Have I asked you before?” I’m wondering is this part of some new homeless focus group effort, a street guy questionnaire designed to improve their panhandling technique.
“Now, if I have asked you for change before, would you say I was A) extremely courteous, B) very courteous, C) courteous, D) slightly courteous or D) not courteous? Now on this second part, please rank my bumming from one to five, one being “Not likely to give me money” and five being “Very likely to give me money.”
Anyway, I’m curious as to what he’s talking about, so when he ask if he’s asked me before, I say no. He follows up quickly with, “Well, do you have any spare change?” I say no again and he grunts something and moves on to the next person. And I’m left there to wonder about the panhandlers who doesn’t want to wear out his welcome.