Thursday, August 31, 2006

How to get rich - 40¢ at a time

One of the things that I've had the hardest time adjusting to is the vast number of homeless and beggars in DC. For some reason, there seems to be more in DC than in London, which is amazing because London has 16 times as many people.

Maybe I'm more aware of the beggars because they have a better schtick. In London, the beggars were all the same. Clearly poor, down on their luck, in ragged clothes with a cardboard sign explaining they were homeless and could use some help. They said nothing to you, simply looked up into your eyes with a "pity-me" look. If you dropped coins, you often wouldn't get much of a response.

In DC, beggars are more in your face and generally more agreeable. Outside Union Station, there are usually 2 or 3 beggars each morning. They are in varying quality of clothing, but none are obviously homeless and downtrodden. No one appears drunk.

One offers you a free paper for a donation. He has grabbed them out of the free bin and hand delivers them if you want. You have to actively avoid him. But if you give him a few coins, he'll happily shout you a cheerful salutation.

A second beggar will simply come up and ask for your spare change, if you make eye contact. If you give him any money, he'll suddenly become your buddy and begin to ask you about YOUR family and wonder how they are doing.

A third is willing to help you with your bags in the cab line, even though a sign says that portering is strictly prohibited. Since he has your bags at this point, he'll begin talking with you. Often asking people where they are from or discussing the weather.

I like to do my giving at church, so I run the gauntlet each day with no intent of giving. Starting with "Already read it online.", then diverting my eyes to my iPod, and finally laughing at the commuters arriving and trying to figure out if the "porter" is part of DC hospitality or a guy looking for cash.

Yet, today I was taken for 40¢. On my way to the Metro stop near work, and nowhere near Union Station, I was asked for money by a man who looked nothing like the London beggar. He was simply standing 20 feet from the entrance to the Metro. He had a big smile on his face and actively sought eye contact. He didn't let my iPod stop him because as soon as he had my eye, he asked if I had 40¢. I brushed him off and truthfully said, "I don't have any change." Not to be deterred, my smiling beggar told me, "No problem. If you have a dollar, I have 60¢ for change."

Truth be told, I did have a dollar. And I was slightly moved by the reasonableness of this man's request. I stopped and pulled a $1 from my wallet and handed it to him. My smiling beggar grinned wider and offered me 60¢ as change, which I took.

Now, I thought his was interesting, but Mrs. Expat Teacher encountered another man in a different part of the city yesterday with the same schtick. She also came home with 60¢ change and a funny story.

I don't know if there is a blog for beggars with the best methods for getting cash, but this "I'll make change" method is highly effective with the Expat Teacher household.