Saturday, February 26, 2005

Beggars on State Street

We have some regular beggars down at the campus end of state street. There are about 3 business locations: in front of the drug store at the corner, in front of the electronics store on the other side of the street, and next to the benches across the street from the bus stop. I recognize about 5 guys (almost never any women) who take turns holding the empty cups. The spot by the benches is less popular--it is usually either empty or held by a fellow who uses a cheerful patter to solicit donations ("Spare some change for a politician down on his luck" or "I need some funds to buy the good booze" etc).

The rest of the beggars rotate among the other locations. On rare occasions one works the library mall by the bookstore. One woman shows up from time to time, but she stays mobile and doesn't just stand in one place. I first ran into her in University Square Mall a dozen years ago. She was stoned out of her gourd and incoherently trying to cage bus fare to Milwaukee and talking about the business degree she was working on at UW Madison.

I try to give McDonalds gift certificates. I know it is rather insulting to assume that he'd spend cash on booze or grass. It is also rather accurate, so I'd rather try to give food. Unfortunately I almost never have the time to take the guy to lunch or supper--I've only done that a couple of times. Yes, I feel obligated to try to give something somehow--the Master said so.

I know quite well that a beggar can sell certificates--it is just a little harder for him to get his money. He has to work for his cash :-) One man has approached me at night twice in the past year trying to sell bus passes. I guess he doesn't know that the University handed out year-long bus passes in lieu of pay raises . ..

A new guy worked the electronics corner Friday evening. I was fresh out of coupons, and his shtick was rather fake. He leaned on a couple of way-too-short crutches to try to look helpless.

The beggars who work the electronics corner stand about 40 feet away from the bus stop, but they never come to the bus stop itself to beg. Since we'd be a captive audience, I think we'd find a beggar more threatening and be more likely to call the cops or chase him away.

I'm not talking about the buskers--the picolo guy who drives the vendors on Library Mall wild (imagine picolo for 4 solid hours!), or the pair of guitar players, or one of the gloriously incompetent singers who imagine that aggressive guitar playing covers up a lack of rhythm. Or the drummer who beats on a 5-gallon paint bucket. They add genuine flavor to the street--maybe a little odd sometimes, but flavor. They're part of the life of the city.

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