I remember a report some years ago that said a beggar in the right area on an eight-hour shift can make as good a salary as any other minimum-wage worker, if not better. It makes sense when you think about it. Add up all the loose change, throw in the key $1 or $2 tip from a very giving or very guilty rich guy or girl, and that can easily get up to $5 or $6 per hour. There was a tall black guy everyone called Slim who stalked outside CBOE for the entire ten years I worked there. He briefly sold Streetwise newspapers for a while, but mostly he's always just lurked and begged. In a hurry to, what else, get lunch, I nearly ran him over one day not long after I started there, to which he replied, "Excuse the hell out of me!" I just glared at him. Guess who's still down there, and guess who's not? So maybe begging is the way to go. After all, I'm sure Slim's received more money from Bill Brodsky and the other jackass tightwads down there than me and many others who actually worked for CBOE.
There's always interesting observations about beggars in Chicago, especially working downtown as I do. But a couple of incidents made me wonder if they're not better off than some of us believe they are.
Two weeks ago, a guy was standing at an intersection with a paper cup in his hand looking for change from people coming out of a Walgreens. Not an unusual sight, except he was rocking a leather jacket with a Kung Fu-looking insignia on the back. Even I don't own a leather jacket. It was nice too, black and blue and in better condition than you'd expect. I guarantee the retail value on that sucker when it first sold was at least $200. I'm sure it's damn near worthless now, but still, if you have to beg for change, I'd think you'd sell the leather jacket to some goodwill shop or something and find another coat. That same goodwill shop would probably give you a different coat for nothing, and selling that leather number would certainly pay for several meals.
Then, a week ago, I'm standing outside the train station and waiting for the bus to take me home, the last leg of my commute. A tall kid, no more than 17 but three inches higher than me, has to tap me on the shoulder in order to beg because I have my trusty headphones on, which have probably shielded me from an estimated 650 other chances for someone to beg me for something. He apologizes for bothering me, then asks if I can swipe my bus pass through the train turnstile so that he can get on the train. He's dressed like a typical teenager, i.e., his clothes are worth more than my wardrobe. He's also holding a canned pop. Um, maybe if you hadn't bought the pop, son, you could have afforded to go home or wherever you were trying to go. After I turn him down, I notice him wander back over to a posse of about three other young males, and I would wager my house that at least one of them had a working cell phone on them and could call someone to come pick them up. But it's easier to just beg strangers to pick up the slack for you. I'd also bet that people have been giving him things all his life because he's tall, black, and male, and he looks like a potential hoops star. I would make a joke about his Hummer being in the shop, but maybe he's not good enough to make an AAU coach or wannabe agent buy a vehicle for him. Keep working at it, kid, there's countless numbers of people willing to give you a ride anywhere you want if only you can consistently stick that turnaround jumper.