I WAS walking back to the office after making my usual weekday morning walk through Central Park to the downtown post office. I also stopped at Subway on North Park Street to pick up a sandwich to eat when I got back to the newspaper office. As I neared the south side of Central Park, a large man suddenly appeared in front of me.
“CAN I ask a favor?” he said as he got in front of me. “As long as it doesn’t involve money,” I replied. “I’m hungry and I need some money to walk over there to Subway and get something to eat,” he told me. “I won’t give you any money, but I will buy you something to eat and will walk back through the park to Subway with you,” I replied.
THE MAN hesitated and then said something I had never heard before from a park panhandler: “I will sit at one of tables in the park and you can go over and buy me some food and bring it back to me!” “I don’t do curb service,” I replied. “I can’t go to Subway because they won’t let me go inside anymore,” he replied, apparently not realizing that he had contradicted his earlier statement about wanting money so he could go to Subway to buy some food.
“I’LL JUST wait here in the park and you can bring the food to me,” he said again. “Why don’t I just give you my sandwich and then you don’t have to wait to eat, or go to Subway?” I asked him. I’m not sure how he replied, because I didn’t hear everything that he muttered, but, apparently, the turkey and ham sandwich that I had was not in line with his choice of sandwiches. Maybe because it was a 6” sub, in-stead of the foot-long. Maybe it was because it was on wheat instead of flatbread. More likely, it was because he wanted cold, hard cash instead of cold turkey and ham on wheat bread.
HE ASKED again why I just didn’t give him the money so he could go over to Subway himself and not bother me — forgetting his first and second contradictory statements in which he told me that they wouldn’t let him in Subway and that’s the reason he had to wait for me in the park to bring the food to him. I told him I had paid for the sandwich with a Subway card instead of cash, so I wasn’t carrying much money.
THEN, he made a request that surely wins the award for “most outrageous panhandling demand”. He said: “Since you don’t have much cash on you, why don’t you go get some more money and I’ll wait here in the park for you.” I guess with age, I get dumber looking! Maybe I should have asked him if there was any particular denomination of bills that I should get for him — but I decided to move on. OVER the decades that I have worked in downtown Decatur, I’ve tried to be sensitive to those who approach me asking for money. From those experiences I’ve developed a perspective that I will help those who appear to really be in need of food and certainly point out places where they can get help including food and shelter. I’ve had several people who needed a good meal go into Subway with me so I made sure I paid for food not drugs.
I’VE HAD many more panhandlers not be interested in letting me buy a meal for them when I offered, than I have those accepting my offer to give them a hand and feed them. Over the past few years, most of the panhandlers I’ve encountered have been more aggressive (which is against the law) than in earlier years. Maybe that’s a reflection of the tone of today’s society…I’m not sure.
FROM personal experience, in most cases, the help they want is money to buy drugs. Although I am concerned about my fellow citizens, I don’t think I’m quite ready to wear an apron, carry a tablecloth and table service with me, and reserve a table in Central Park, when I walk to the post office to get the mail each day. Besides, I haven’t been cleared by the Macon County Health Department to serve food in Central Park.