Thursday, October 01, 2009

1 OCT 09: Tea-Minus

As I walked toward a supermarket on South Lumpkin Road Wednesday morning, a woman was walking out. I moved to a different path to let her by - but sometimes people want to bump into you, anyway....

BLOGGER BEGGAR #5: "Sir, could I have a dollar?" the woman asked.

"For what reason?"

"To get a soda," she said pointing behind her. But then something changed. "Sweet tea. I want to get a medium sweet tea at Church's." This apparently beat a can of Piggly Wiggly cola from a vending machine - but with less iron.

"Let's go," I told the woman. Church's was between Piggly Wiggly and where my car was parked - a laundromat where my clothes were in two washers. My goal was to get a couple of grocery items while the washers were running. Instead, I suddenly was doing some fast walking.

"I'm going to get some food...." the woman started to say.

"No," I interrupted. "You asked for tea, and that's all you're going to get." Too many beggars over the years have tried to turn a request for one thing into a shopping spree. Until you say no, the wish list will grow.

The woman said several things to me while we walked to Church's, but I didn't hear much of it due to traffic on South Lumpkin Road. Yet somehow I heard her mention, "I'll have money tomorrow. My check comes on the first of the month." Amazing, huh?

I deliberately carried less than five dollars for laundry day. The washers already had $2.50 of that, and I needed to save money for the dryer. So I decided I'd have to buy something for me to go with the woman's sweet tea, and put both of them on a credit card. The day washing machines take credit cards will be a very sad day for our country....

"I guess you want me to order it?!" the woman said after we walked inside Church's. Yes, I did. And as she asked for a medium sweet tea, I discovered there's no "medium" on the menu board -- only small, large and something bigger. The middle drink was NOT a dollar, but $1.59. Maybe McDonald's fills their "any-size one-dollar" drinks only halfway.

It was about 10:50 a.m., and I'd eaten breakfast at 8:30 after a morning run. So this was an absurdly time for me to eat lunch - but the Church's menu offered little choice. So I ordered a 99-cent value menu thigh with biscuit. Putting a $1.59 drink on a credit card seems practically as absurd to me.

After the credit card was swiped, the bombshell came - as the beggar ordered a chicken dinner for herself. "You have money for food?!" I asked.


"But not for a drink?!"

"Not for a drink." At this point, I should have held up my small chicken box with an empty second hand to teach a lesson.

"You probably could have asked for water...." I said with some disbelief. I've done that often at fast-food restaurants - and if you actually order food, they'll show mercy and let you have it for free.

The woman seemed puzzled by this idea, so I asked the Church's crew how much water would have cost. "About 11 cents," someone guessed -- as if a Columbus Water Works bill was at stake.

"So you could have saved about a dollar-40 -- well, saved ME a dollar-40," I explained to the woman.

"I'll pay you back," she promised. "I see you here often." Not that often -- as I only do laundry every two weeks, and the last time I visited that Church's was with a different beggar by my side. Do homeless people know more about networking than I do?

"Where do you live?" I asked the woman who claimed to see me often.

"I live on River Road," she answered - a long way from South Lumpkin Road. But I don't think that would make her a person of interest in a business fire....

"I come down here to tutor two days a week -- Monday and Wednesday morning" she continued. Given what was unfolding at Church's, I certainly hope she's not teaching mathematics or economics.

I told the woman of my next planned laundry day, and she said she'd be at the laundromat to pay me back for the sweet tea. "If you don't show up," I said walking out the door, "I'll know you're a liar." By saying this, I repeated an earlier error -- but once you've leaped to one wrong conclusion, it becomes as habit-forming as bungee jumping.

Still holding a box of chicken in a bag, I quickly walked to my car at the laundromat, put it in the trunk - then repeated the walk to Piggly Wiggly I planned to make in the first place. But I did NOT repeat something I did on the first attempt. I did NOT think to myself about how the number of meetings with beggars is down this year.

Reviewing all this -- yes, I should have listened more carefully to the beggar's comments on the sidewalk. I should have asked the woman more questions in the first place. But many beggars claim to have no money at all, or pocket change at the most. They're not like most loan applicants at the bank....

As I write this, I'm reminded of a new project by the city of Columbus - a ten-year plan to eliminate homelessness. Wednesday's case showed me even if the homelessness ends, begging by strangers probably won't. Guaranteeing people a home does NOT guarantee they'll know how to fill the kitchen pantry.

Speaking of tight money and educators: a new fiscal year begins today in Alabama -- and public schools face mandatory cuts in state funding of 7.5 percent. So if you see cars at recycling centers with "Alabama education" license plates, teachers could be picking up scraps of white paper for printing tests.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Readers from around the world visit "On the Flop!" <--

E-MAIL UPDATE: Aren't we all happy that the Greater Columbus Fair is open? Well, maybe some aren't....

Tuesday night a local TV channel had a live newcast at 11PM from the fair. I was amazed at the number of elementary children running around at that hour.I guess they were there under the supervision of their teenage parents.

Now now -- maybe they were visiting from Opelika. It was only 10:00 p.m. for them, and they showed up an hour late based on Bob Jeswald's explanation.

As someone who lives near South Commons, something else is annoying me about the fair. A low-flying helicopter is circling the fairgrounds, practically non-stop. You'd think Columbus Police would use detectives on the ground, to find rigged carnival games....

(Before you ask -- the helicopter is red. This means it's NOT from the United Nations, to spy on the Third Brigade's preparations.)

Let's patrol the Wednesday news beats now:

+ The Ledger-Enquirer reported Columbus Council may issue $131.5 million in bonds. The money would be used to build a variety of projects, including the long-promised natatorium. Of course, critics will declare this appropriate -- because the city is jumping off the deep end into debt.

+ Third Brigade Col. Peter Jones gave a presentation on Iraq at Brookstone Elementary School. I learned something new from the TV coverage -- that Iraqis who wear red checkers are Sunni Muslims. By extension, people who wear orange checkers at this time of year are from Tennessee.

+ The Columbus Chamber of Commerce began its annual "Inter-City Leadership" trip, to get ideas for community growth. This year's trip is to Mobile - so if some delegates come back endorsing riverboat casinos downtown, you'll know which ones took a side trip down Interstate 10.

+ A lawsuit was filed against Victoryland, claiming managers rigged a slot machine in August so Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford could win $50,000. Aw, c'mon - if that happened, Langford's picture would be all over Interstate 85 on Victoryland billboards by now.

+ WTVM showed Pacelli High School football players continuing a tradition, by doing the "freshman slide" into mud. It's a good thing they did it on a sunny day - because I wouldn't want a thunderstorm to turn it into an electric slide.

+ Instant Message to former President Carter: Congratulations on turning 85 today! Do you plan to mark the occasion by naming 85 critics of President Obama that you consider racist?

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