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How a panhandler taught me about public space
I was blocking traffic in my direction. I couldn't take a left because the drivers in the opposite lanes had blocked my intersection. They were waiting for the light I had just passed to turn green again.
I explain my predicament to you so that, as a driver, you can relate. But I haven’t given you a sense of where I was. I didn’t gain a sense of place myself until the roadside panhandler stepped from his island and parted the cars for me. He signaled for two drivers to move forward and two others to back up.
They had ignored the “Do Not Block Intersection” sign in their direction. They had studiously avoided eye contact with me. But they obeyed him.
I parked the car near the intersection, grabbed a twenty from the glove box, and crossed the intersection on foot to meet my Moses.
Cars flew by in both directions not a yard from us. He was holding a sign that claimed he had been jumped over a hundred times. My money would go toward karate lessons.
By way of introduction, he summarized some of his life’s story and what had driven him to panhandle. He allowed me to record him, so I’ll cover some of his story in a subsequent podcast.
I’ll cover also how the local police and the local charities that work with the homeless ask people not to give money to roadside panhandlers.
I wanted to know why he chose to panhandle here, on this particular traffic island between the large intersection and the small one near our Airbnb in South Arlington.
He looked around him. “This intersection was lonely, lonely like me inside. I’m a dark person.”
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