Being homeless is by no stretch a tragedy and while it is not a cause I actively combat, it never fails to illicit a reaction in my mind if not my heart.
In Canterbury, England the youthfulness of the homeless population is shocking, the true stench of the homeless population surrounding Philadelphia’s City Hall will turn your stomach, and the aggressive and entitled nature of the panhandlers in New York City will boil your blood.
Be it anger or despair or sorrow or even gratitude in my own good fortune, my responses have always been rooted in the misfortune – self inflicted or not – of others. Never has it been, on its own merit, a positive response. That is, until I encountered perhaps the smartest homeless man in the world while visiting Key West a few years ago.
Key West? No further explanation is required, this guy is ahead of the game. Face, if I had no home or societal tether, a urine soaked park bench in Philly’s City Center would not be my first choice. Nor would a back alley or crowded sidewalk in the NYC. Without steady shelter, a warmer climate just makes sense. It’s what birds do, there is a natural model.
However, the genius behind this homeless man’s plan is in his day to day approach. He has staked out a popular tourist and photo-op location and in a very friendly and engaging manner offers to take the picture every couple or family wants to capture on their camera – them standing next to the attraction. Enough curious ‘patrons’ will ask questions that enable him to humbly share that he’s homeless which creates an undercurrent of conversation and voila, the tips come rolling in.
Counting my 2 bucks, he probably raked in 8 or 10 dollars in the 20 minutes we were there.
Now I’m not naïve enough to think that is could not be a scam. Enough investigative news teams have followed panhandlers from their corner to nice cars and homes and too many of New York’s wheel chaired elderly change beggers have simply been ‘checked out’ of hospitals and institutions by lazy relatives trying to turn a quick buck. So even if this dude isn’t exactly living under a pier he is effectively exchanging a valued service for the tips he collects – a lesson from which many workers relying on our tips could learn.
And so my point – do I have one today – is that we should each have a plan. Mindlessly wandering through our days without a plan propelling us towards a positive and improved outcome is polite society’s equivalent of a well pissed park bench. Meanwhile, working with a goal, an objective, a plan to win is rewarding and much admired, whether you’re the director of your department or the best paid amateur photographer in Key West.
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