You can make it, if you try
The Redhead and I just got back from "Taste of Colorado," a three-day festival of free music, not-so-free food and exotic vendors from all over the world in Denver. If our stay in the heart of the city on the 16th Street Mall is any indication, t...
The Redhead and I just got back from "Taste of Colorado," a three-day festival of free music, not-so-free food and exotic vendors from all over the world in Denver. If our stay in the heart of the city on the 16th Street Mall is any indication, there are more people on the streets and life out there has gotten a little tougher. There were lots of panhandlers.
I like to ask the working people wherever I go how things are going. A woman setting up a stand to sell barbecue answered, "It's pleasant. It's not good. I don't know if it will ever be good again," she said, without stopping. I bought bottled water from her for a dollar.
"That's part of the problem," The Redhead kidded. "I just paid $14 for two large bottled waters." That kind of larceny stopped the woman in her tracks, but she didn't think she would be raising her prices.
"I don't have everything and, at my age, I'll never have everything. I don't want what comes with everything," the woman told me.
One morning, as we sipped coffee on the plaza, The Redhead gave $10 to a homeless woman with a hard-luck story. While I watched, the woman handled the two fives -- and then asked for more! I bit my tongue while The Redhead complied with another five. "You will be blessed 26 times as much by heaven," the woman said, before moving on.
"I'm sorry," The Redhead apologized to me, for not being able to say no. Oh, well. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, having a big heart isn't a crime.
"We just gave a trillion to those thieves on Wall Street," I sighed, "and they didn't even say thank you."
I'm generous with street musicians -- even bad ones -- because at least they're doing something to make my day more pleasant. For years, we used to see an old clarinet player on the street. The first day I saw him, his sign said, "War is Over." I liked the sentiment, and the music, so I gave him a few dollars.
I'll support the arts and I'll tip a workingman generously, but an able-bodied twenty-something man who could be working for a living? I don't think so. Man, I have been broken down and busted more than I care to remember, but I always found a job -- there are always jobs. Once, in Denver, when I was out of work, I applied for a job at a K-Mart in a rough neighborhood. They told me they weren't hiring, but that changed when they found out I had experience and was from North Dakota.
I remember I worked two jobs to get buy. My brother worked three jobs in Denver for a stretch, living on six hours of sleep for months. One of those jobs turned into a 30-year career at the Wall Street Journal print plant. And when they closed that plant, he fell back on a contracting business he started years ago. He's still working hard.
That's what I think about when I see people taking the easy way out. Last weekend, we were listening to some music in the park when another panhandler approached our table. He strolled away empty-handed.
One guy at the table said, "I tried to hire a homeless guy once for $700 a week, but he turned me down. Told me he liked the way he was living." He continued, "One day my brother had two roast beef sandwiches left after buying a sack-full at Arby's, and he drove up to a guy who's sign said, 'Will work for food.' My brother offered him the sandwiches. The guy looks in the bag and sniffs. 'I'm a vegetarian,' he says."
I don't have many rules. But one of them is if you are starving to death, you don't get to be a vegetarian.
These are hard times in the city. No doubt about it. Some of those people on the street have had some bad breaks, it's true, and charity has its place. But my criterion for charity is pretty simple. You have to be trying. You can still make it in America in any economy. You just have to try.