Thursday, December 03, 2009

3 DEC 09: Will Walk for Food?

All the rain didn't stop me from talking a walk Wednesday afternoon. Trouble was, a person I encountered along the way apparently didn't believe I was walking. He wanted me to be a Columbus bank -- but lacked some trust.

BLOGGER BEGGARS #6-7-8: "How're you doing?" said a man standing near the east door of the Circle K on Fourth Street. We've noted here before that convenience store can be prime real estate for beggars. Sometimes I wish the stores would paint bright yellow spots where they can stand, so most visitors will know.

I walked in the west door of Circle K to buy a 99-cent bag of corn chips. But over the years, I've learned beggars usually wait outside that door - so now I exit through the east door, and head to the Fourth Street sidewalk to walk home. This man proved there's a rebel in every crowd.

"I'm OK," I answered after making sure the man was talking to me. "What do you need?" Why do I ask such open-door questions like that? Does the Open Door Community House even ask questions like that?

"I'm looking for two dollars, so I can get a sandwich," the man told me.

"Come on in, and I'll buy you something."

"I don't want chips or...." So much for offering my four-ounce bag as a last resort.

"They have sandwiches in here, sir." Such as turkey and roast beef on white bread, for about $2.50. Not that I normally buy them - not when Burger King can put beef on a bun and heat it up with cheese for only one dollar.

"I want barbecue," said the beggar.

"They might have that in here...."

"They don't. Believe me." But with every sentence, this man was becoming harder to believe. It was as if the manager of Circle K had X'ed him out.

The beggar in effect was saying he could only eat a barbecue sandwich. This was stunning -- since the vast majority of beggars I've met want to eat chicken. When I mentioned that to this beggar, another man cleaning the floor mat of his car at a nearby gas pump appeared to laugh.

"So it's barbecue or death...." I continued. This was not the first time I'd met a beggar in Columbus who could only eat one particular menu item. If there's a local doctor or dietician who's making these diagnoses, please contact me - there's a reality TV show waiting to happen here.

I didn't mention it to this beggar, but I couldn't meet his two-dollar request. I carried less than two dollars to Circle K, and already spent $1.01 on corn chips with sales tax. But I still wanted to help him, by putting his food purchase on my credit card. Maybe I need to knuckle under and buy those restaurant gift cards after all.

"I can walk over there for barbecue," the beggar said -- pointing in the general direction of Chester's at Sixth and Veterans Parkway.

"My car is two blocks from here," I offered in seeking a compromise solution. "Come with me to my car, and I'll drive you to get the barbecue sandwich."

At this point, the doubt level seemed to become mutual. "Your car is how far away?!" It's as if this beggar knew it's not safe to walk around the neighborhood, because beggars could be lurking anywhere.

I counted the blocks for the beggar, to get from Circle K to my car sitting at home. There was still light rain at this point, but this would have been easy. Well, should have been. "I'm hurt, man." He can walk three blocks to eat barbecue, two of them longer north-south blocks. But he can't walk two shorter east-west blocks to my car? Maybe it's a magnetic alignment problem....

The beggar started to suggest I drive my car over to Circle K - but that seemed like a ruse to me. A beggar in downtown Atlanta asked me to do that for him on a winter night 13 years ago, but my car was even farther away. By the time I reached his spot, another beggar waved at me and wound up in the passenger seat.

I finally persuaded the barbecue-seeker to walk two blocks to where my car was parked. I started walking down the Fourth Street sidewalk. He walked across the middle of the parking lot, as if he still might find my car there. Without meaning to do it, I walked faster than he did - subconsciously trying to get this finished as soon as possible.

"Forget it, man," the beggar said in the middle of the Circle K parking lot.

"You've made it one-fourth of the way, sir," I told him. "Only a block-and-a-half to go." The beggar was still on his feet -- it wasn't like he'd dropped to a crawl.

I walked back to the beggar, to get an explanation. "I'll be straight, man." Maybe he was all right, but I was exasperated.

"I'm trying to get you that barbecue sandwich, which is the only thing you can eat!" I actually jumped up and down a couple of times to reinforce the point -- shaking the barbecue dust inside my own bag of corn chips.

"I'm straight, man." The beggar gave no other explanation. I suppose at this point, I could have offered to carry him on my back - but somehow, I think the only way he would have been satisfied was if I put two dollars in his hand, and walked home without him.

Beggars like these admittedly bring out the frustrated angry side of me. Should I have offered to walk with him the other direction, to Chester's Bar-B-Q? Should I have gone back inside Circle K in the first place, to see if they really sell barbecue sandwiches -- or perhaps simply a bottle of barbecue sauce, since the bread itself didn't seem to be an issue?

Another person who asked for my assistance later in the day was much easier to handle. A player at my Wednesday night poker tournament asked if I could buy a soda for him. I had a restocked wallet at this point - and one dollar out of 20 isn't so bad, if you get paid 1,000 extra chips on the spot for it.

(I wound up playing in the tournament much longer than he did - which may prove a lack of alcohol in your system is no guarantee you'll think straight when you're betting.)

Wednesday's doubleheader brought our total number of encounters with local beggars at eight for the year. One we haven't mentioned came our way two Wednesday poker nights ago, when we stopped on the way home at the 14th Street Circle K. A police car was stopped at the 15th and Veterans Parkway store - so the needy people may have been out in bunches.

A woman saw me preparing to fill my gas tank, and said she needed money for "something to eat." At least she wasn't specific - nor apparently was she observant enough to ask a cab driver quietly parked nearby for help.

"I have food in the trunk," I told the woman. This was my second time to bring out a small "beggar bag" with a can of meat and a boxed beverage - although the first time I did it, I almost became stuck in mud at a flophouse blocks away [6 Apr].

"I'm trying to get some groceries," the woman clarified as she walked toward my car. It was after 11:00 p.m. in Columbus, Lewis-Jones closes at 10:00 -- and the last thing I wanted to do was drive a total stranger several miles to a Wal-Mart.

When I gave the woman a beggar bag, she took it and walked on. I don't recall her even saying thank you, or even pretending to act enthused about it. It was as if she expected to return to her hiding place, open the bag and find several pairs of discarded socks.

BLOG UPDATE: Wednesday was Russell County's turn to have a tension-filled governmental meeting. In fact, WRBL reported the School Board President threatened at one point to call in the sheriff - and since Tommy Boswell is leaving office in a year, he might have ordered everyone to be detained in a school gym overnight.

The Russell County School Board voted 4-2 to fire Superintendent Yvette Richardson, six months before her contract was up. While no one used the word, in 2009 I think this is called a forced Palin-ization.

The vote came at a specially-called school board meeting - a meeting some members complained was a surprise. They said they were kept in the dark about it until Tuesday. And in this case the phrase is fitting, since the ouster vote was along racial lines.

Russell County School Board member Keith Mitchell admitted he went to an attorney in October, to draw up papers to terminate the superintendent's contract early. Yvette Richardson confirmed she's talked with the district attorney about that topic, but "thought it was a joke." Richardson didn't live in East Alabama long enough to figure out a lot of people are lacking in the "sense of humor" department.

School Board Vice President Kenneth Barnes became so upset, he walked out during the meeting and refused to return. In this case, the "blind side" he experienced had nothing to do with that Sandra Bullock movie.

Yvette Richardson will remain on the Russell County School payroll six more months, only as a "consultant" and not a superintendent. And she'll receive about $66,000 in severance pay - which means she'll be able to drive back and forth to Birmingham as often as she pleases.

BLOG CLARIFICATION: It turns out the WBOJ-FM call letters moved with "The Truth" down the dial this week, from 103.7 to 88.5. The new "103.7 Lite FM" has the call letters WLTC - which probably means some listeners will demand to hear Stefanie Tiso present the morning news.

Now for other quick bits of Wednesday news:

+ The Columbus Airport wound up receiving more than 3.6 inches of rain. Parts of the Riverwalk were flooded again Wednesday afternoon - and if any more mud builds up near Rotary Park, I may have to start jogging there in hiking boots.

+ Chauncy Glover presented his final news stories on WTVM and WXTX, before moving to Jacksonville. Richard Hyatt's web site dared to call Glover a "bon vivant" - and why Hyatt would bring up Glover's alleged sexual preferences, I have no idea.

(We mentioned in October that Glover won a "Libby Award" for his on-stage work at the Liberty Theatre. I kept waiting for a newscast to put his name on the air with the words "award-winning actor" below it - but I guess that's not good for a news reporter's credibility.)

+ ABC's "Nightline" presented the first prison interview with convicted HealthSouth executive Richard Scrushy. Scrushy said his seven-year prison term punishes his family every bit as much as himself. Of course, things could have been different - had Scrushy hidden money better in the Cayman Islands.

(Leslie Scrushy revealed she was asked to leave a Christmas event at her Birmingham-area church, as her husband's racketeering case unfolded. So? An expectant mother named Mary was barred from some buildings years ago, and look what resulted from that.)

+ WRBL reported the University of Georgia is offering a scholarship to Carver High School quarterback Devin Burns for the second time. Considering the way that offer was withdrawn the first time, the Burns family should wait for a confirmation fax before driving to Athens again.

(Georgia head coach Mark Richt fired three assistant coaches Wednesday, including defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Plenty of Bulldog fans probably will send him an appropriate farewell give - a plastic spaghetti strainer.)

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) found Georgia Tech topping Siena 74-61. Paul Hewitt of Tech faced the team he used to coach - and he's probably the only member of the Tech staff who knows how to pronounce "Siena" correctly.

+ The Atlanta Hawks tore up Toronto 146-115. The Hawks hadn't scored that many points in a game in 15 years - back when "Augmon-tation" referred to point guard Stacey Augmon, and not the figures of dance team members.

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