I could never imagine what it would be like to find myself on the streets. No money, no roof over my head, no food and no real prospect of improvement. We can imagine what we might do and we can try to conceive what it might be like, but I am of the opinion that unless you have been in that situation you really have no clue what you might do or how you would react.
The intersection near my place of employment is a frequent home to panhandlers who stand there with the requisite sign about needing food or money or both and they usually have the obligatory “God Bless” written somewhere on the sign. The purpose of this entry is not to discuss whether they are in the right or the wrong. This posting is not to debate whether they are legitimately in need or simply too lazy to seek gainful employment. The purpose of this article is talk about a new form of panhandling I witnessed Saturday night.
My friend Brad, his kiddo Buddha, and yours truly were dining on some fine seafood at the local Long John Silver’s. I am just a slave to the creatively named L5 platter which is not to be confused with the A5 platter which consists of A&W fare. As you are guessing this is one of those little combo shacks that houses BOTH an A&W and a Long John Silver’s. Which leads me off on a bit of a tangent in that I sometimes worry about the quality of my food in these places because what if the “Burger Chef” was the only one there to make my fish? Would he or she have the necessary skills to produce the same savory quality which is attainable only by a full time fish man? I don’t exactly lose sleep over this question but it does make one scratch one’s head does it not?
Anyway, I will now get back to the issue of what I have deemed “Point of Sale Panhandling.” A rather scruffy looking gent came into the A&W/LJS Combo Shack and took a seat at a table somewhat close to us. He had a coat which was torn in the back so that the filling was coming out and he was less than tidy. I am not going to go into detail because we have all seen the type and to give specifics would only waste time and in a sense further degrade the individual even though I doubt he will ever have the opportunity to read this.
To make a long story short, the guy was sitting at the table for a few minutes and then he leaned over and engaged in conversation with a couple that I would guess to be in their early to mid fifties. They spoke very quietly for a few moments and then the older gentleman and what I am assuming was a homeless individual approached the counter and placed an order. The older gentleman paid and the less fortunate man soon carried a tray heaped with fish back to his table and began eating.
I am still trying to figure out if there was a breach of panhandling protocol here. Is this form of panhandling more “professional” than the traditional sign bearer at the intersection? With this method one knows that their contribution is going directly toward sustenance. In this case a good source of protein, fish or chicken. One can be certain that their donated funds go to food rather than alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or spray paint. I have to admit that I would be far more inclined to actually pay $4 or $5 directly to LJS so that this individual could eat than I would to slip him a couple of dollars while waiting on the traffic light.
So last night I asked myself, had the person approached me and asked me to buy his dinner I think I probably would have. I had just gotten paid and this is the check that does not have any major bills earmarked for allocation so yeah I probably would have. Now conversely had I seem him with his good old cardboard sign standing on the median I most likely would not contribute.
That being said I think our friend here might have a good gig going. I know the restaurants are more than certain to take an opposing view of the situation but if the patrons in the establishment are willing to kick in a couple of bucks for a meal then I guess the restaurants might just realize that a sale is a sale and as long as there was no frothing at the mouth or public urination they might find it acceptable. Of course this would preclude OU’s Austin Box from dining there but I am sure it’s a worthwhile trade off.
This then led me to thinking about the following prospect. What if the restaurants actually saw an increase in profits because of this? Let’s say that not one, but three beggars staked out the joint. If each of the panhandlers were successful, that would potentially make for six sales rather than just three. There would be the three original sales to the average customer who would then make a second purchase on behalf of the panhandler for a total of six sales, thus effectively doubling their take had the panhandler not been there.
If one figures that the average panhandler could eat two pieces of fish, a scattering of fries and two hushpuppies, the contents of the beloved L5 platter, once every two to three hours, and there were three beggars, then basically that could result in the sale of an additional six platters every three hours. If the restaurant were open twelve hours then that would mean that an additional twenty-four platters were being sold daily. One must then consider whether these inflated numbers would be enough to compensate for the three to four people who would leave at the site of the homeless people. My guess is that in the long run it would be more profitable because even if people bolted at the sight of the panhandlers there is still a good chance that they would simply take their food with them.
Okay I admit that the last two paragraphs were just me having fun and creating an excuse to demonstrate my amazing mathematical skills and acute business acumen but nonetheless it was an interesting thought. The point is that I just found this method of panhandling to be more courteous to the donor because the donor was able to see exactly how his donation was spent. We don’t even get that consideration in reference to our tax dollars.
In conclusion, if nothing else I hope that this has made each of you who reads this more appreciative of what you have and of the support systems such as family, spouses, friends, etc that might have assisted you at some point in your life to make certain that you were never in the shoes of this poor guy who had to ask someone for help. I did some more thinking. If you really want to help that individual standing in the median maybe give them a gift card to one of the fast food places within a reasonable walking distance. Maybe they can use it, maybe they can’t but at least you will know that you didn’t give the guy money for something other than food.