Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pounding the Pavement for PBR

Carla has left the building until Sunday night, so I'm filling the void wherever and whenever I can. Let's take a short break from progressive fratricide and calling for the downfall of the old Republican order, and give a nod to the "and culture" part of our "Oregon politics and culture" tag...

Monday afternoon as the day dragged on, I finally found a good time to get some lunch, so I headed to one of my favorite places for cheap eats, Ash Street Saloon. I'm usually able to get my takeout meal and get out of there before the cloying stench of cigarettes overwhelms me, and it's hard to beat $3.25 for a full-size cheeseburger and fries in downtown Portland.

So I'm crossing 2nd Street by the new Thirsty Lion Pub, when I'm approached by a somewhat ragged waif in developing dreadlocks and the shabby-chic sweater and jeans combo. "Could I possibly borrow(!) a dollar-fifty from you?" she asked. As I almost always do, I gave the young and apparently healthy woman the courtesy of looking into her eyes and addressing her directly with my reply. Lord knows I haven't the first clue what it means to be either homeless or hungry, so I'm not about to begin laying down the judgement when I encounter somebody who appears to be that way.

But I'm not willing to dispense my own haphazard form of social engineering, either, preferring to give to shelters and crisis centers directly, and also using the wonderful voucher system employed by Sisters of the Road. So I smiled, put on my best apologetic tone, and said "I'm sorry, I can't." Most of the time it's actually true; I often don't carry any cash at all, including change. I pay by debit card, and use a monthly pass for the bus and Max. But even if I have money, I still can't...bring myself to give strangers cash for unknown uses. I've offered the opportunity to accompany me somewhere to buy them food, but most days I really don't have the time for that kind of largesse either, so I gave her my line and moved on.

Shortly thereafter as I waited for my cheesburger to cook, who should amble into the saloon, plunk $1.50 in coins onto the bar, and ask for a Pabst? If you said Mary Starrett, you're wrong. If you said "dreadlocked panhandler," give yourself some love. I waited for her to get her beer, and then looked directly at her (again) and said, "Now THAT is why I didn't give you a dollar-fifty." She shrugged and said, "I got what I needed." And so did I--a reminder that I'm probably better off sticking to vouchers and my version of empathetic rejection.

Have any good panhandler stories? Put em in comments!