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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Unexpected Email I Received From A Panhanlder Today

When I lived in Chicago I was never comfortable with people on the street asking me for money. I was worried that I was contributing to a bad habit that may have put them on the street or that their story was a fraud.  When I was walking the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, I was told that a certain panhandler sitting near The Cheesecake Factory made over $70,000.  While I tried not to pass judgment, I never understood why someone who was that good at asking a stranger for money did not get up and get a job.  After all, successful sales people have to ask people they do not know for money all the time! There were times when I thought the "loose change seekers" were better at it than I was. 
I have also seen many panhandlers to demonstrate marketing savvy.  They know people will read their sign so they put something worth reading.  Personally, I respect the signs that make me laugh.  Here are some of my favorites:

Today, my view of a panhandler changed when one of them emailed me.  For the first time in many years I have a morning routine that includes driving the same route each morning.  At one high profile corner there have been two panhandlers who are friendly and creative with their signs.  One morning I whipped through the light and saw the sign out of the corner of my eye.  The gentleman was asking for money for his BMW fund.  I found this to be an example of the strength of the Houston economy and if I were not late for a meeting I would have made a u-turn and snapped a picture for my Facebook status update. 

Each day I drove this route I looked for him again.  Finally today, the stars aligned and I caught the light while he was standing there with the sign.  I figured it would not be nice to take a picture from the inside of my car and not give him money.  So, I broke a personal rule and quickly pulled out some dollar bills.  I handed them over and asked for a picture. 

For the next 30 or so seconds we had a conversation that started with "you get it don't you". In an instant my view of this man changed.  He explained that he is a writer and is trying to get noticed.  He asked me for a card because he carries on the panhandler tradition of asking strangers for something, in other words, he is a salesperson. At this point my Mother, Linda, is probably thinking she should have told me 1000 more times not to talk to strangers!  Well Mom, talking to strangers has pulled me along in life and I felt an instant connection with this one.  His name is Tom and he is looking for a job.
I am impressed with the email he sent me.  Well written, complementary, researched (made two references to blogs I have written) and effective. His talent is obvious. I hope he finds what he is looking for but I will miss him on the corner.
If you would like to read Tom's blogs, please visit: http://homelesspatriot.blogspot.com/ and http://rogersparkbench.blogspot.com/


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  2. Thanks for the great article about me, Kate. It was worth relocating to Houston just to meet you!