30 APR 04: SEVEN UP
"I'm sorry.... I'm sorry," said the thin older woman limping along with a cane. She said this to me as I approached my car Thursday night, outside the Bradley Library - but what could she be sorry for? That she's walking down the middle of the
driveway, not using the sidewalk? That somehow she swung the cane and poked a hole in a taillight?
"What are you sorry about?" I asked - knowing full well a begging moment was beginning.
"I'm hungry," the woman said. Of all the times to meet this woman. The place where I work has been providing free food all week to the staff -- but I didn't think to put a hamburger or a hot dog in the car for my break time.
"Can you just give me a couple of dollars?" the woman asked. She appeared to be older than 70, but I refuse to play favorites when it comes to beggars. I have to assume EVERYONE will use that money for booze or cocaine.
Not knowing if leftover food was waiting inside my workplace, I tried the next-best spur-of-the-moment thing. "I can drive you up the hill and buy you something...." As thin as the woman was, she certainly did NOT need to wait for Wendy's to come out with its low-carb menu.
But I had to move quickly to help this woman, because I was at 40 minutes into my one-hour break time. When I explained I had to get back to work after helping her, she said, "That's all right, that's all right...." Apparently some beggars don't want food that's TOO fast.
"I offered," I said as I closed the passenger-side car door I'd unlocked for the beggar - and then as I entered the car on the driver's side, I heard another woman's voice nearby.
"I gave you some money the last time...." that woman told the thin woman. So it seems this beggar enjoyed hanging out with a well-read crowd -- or maybe the computer-addicted ones.
This quick surprise meeting was a memorable moment of Thursday, the seventh anniversary of my moving to Columbus. In many ways, it brings back memories of the metro Atlanta area I left in 1997 -- only there, the number of potential beggars around the main library seemed like so many pop-up Internet ads to avoid.
I don't think I ever thought seriously about it, but one good reason to leave Atlanta was to get away from the beggars. I encountered one only two days before I moved in April 1997 -- on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the drive-thru speaker of a McDonald's near Morehouse College. He was NOT happy when I told the attendant I was ordering for him as well.
That Sunday session led to the beggar getting an order of fries, a short ride around the West End area of Atlanta, a discussion of him staying in some kind of halfway house after serving prison time - and a Bible discussion. And in a fast-paced city like Atlanta, it all happened in about five minutes.
The man at McDonald's said back then it's dangerous for me to offer shelter to beggars. I told him he expected me to buy him food - and part of the same Bible verse mentioning that includes taking in strangers. He was more "picky and choosey" with the Bible than he was with his free food.
As often as beggars have asked me to help them over almost 20 years in Georgia, they so often leave me frustrated and grumbling under my breath. Try to meet a need without giving them money, and they reject it. Meet their need to the letter, and they suddenly need something else. It's almost like they're money-hungry oil executives....
But let's not get distracted from the main event: my seventh anniversary in Columbus. I arrived in April 1997 to a city rebuilding the Second Avenue Bridge - and now crews are hard at work rebuilding First Avenue, right outside my door.
I arrived in April 1997 to a city protesting "Ellen" announcing she's a lesbian - and now some in the city are protesting "American Idol" dropping what one caller called a "little red-haired boy."
I arrived in April 1997 to a city with 11 commercial radio stations. Now there are about five more - but only three companies own them all.
I arrived in April 1997 to a Phenix City with a nice convenient Wal-Mart store on the 280 Bypass. Now that spot is the best place in the Columbus area to park your trailer for weeks at a time.
Of course things change over seven years -- but some things in Columbus have not. Gray Conger remains District Attorney. Red McDaniel remains a Columbus Councilor. And my love life remains nonexistent.
This time of year happens to mark the convergence of a lot of anniversaries for me. For instance, five years ago today I bought the computer which brings you this blog. In the world of computers, this means it's almost ready for donation to the
Your blog comes to you through a special-discount "E-Machines" from Office Depot. It replaced a Compaq I still have in a closet, which a church friend woman in metro Atlanta gave me in 1996. It's SO OLD you can lock the keyboard into the small monitor panel and carry it around - an early "laptop" so heavy it would leave your lap numb.
For seven months after I bought this PC, I never used it to go on the Internet. I'm still behind the Internet curve in some ways. For instance, I am to "broadband" as most of Columbus is to Starbuck's....
For almost all of 1999, I was content to use my PC for writing documents, figuring my gas mileage and playing the four built-in computer games. I've actually kept track - and sometime this summer I should play my 7,000th game of FreeCell (winning percentage above 75 percent!).
The problem with my computer now is that Microsoft is phasing out programs for my "Windows 98" operating system - and even the Millennium Edition is still pricy at more than $200. Instead of watching Windows Media Player video, I'm waiting for the DVD version to reach stores.
We'll mention another big anniversary in a few days - but now let's catch up on things I've missed in a busy week:
+ Muscogee County Democrats announced attorney John Martin will challenge Gray Conger for District Attorney. They can find two people for D.A. - but as of Thursday night, they still had no one to replace Rep. Tom Buck?! It IS becoming too expensive to drive to Atlanta....
+ Longtime Rep. Jimmy Skipper of Americus announced he'll retire from the Georgia legislature this fall as well. I wish him the best - but to me, that name never seemed right for a politician. Shouldn't "Jimmy Skipper" host an after-school cartoon show or something?
+ The Boom Boom Room on Cusseta Road was fined a second time for overcrowding. The first offense was $1,000. The second offense Thursday was $300. If it happens a third time, the owners might be eligible for a city grant to relocate in an industrial park.
+ Instant Message to Clear Channel Radio: Do you really mean to have announcements urging me to "wear protection every time" running on WHAL-AM - the gospel music station? Shouldn't the message be a little different there??
+ And how could we forget the new official "brand" for Columbus? It's "what progress has preserved." Watch for a variation of this at Callaway Gardens: "What progress - our preserves."
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