Watch out for the latest panhandling scheme

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders Some of them have been around so long I can recognize them from a distance of several blocks, simply by the way they walk or stand.

And even those I've never seen, once they begin to speak -- using tired old storylines -- I recognized them right away for the con artists they are.

Every now and then, like one night last month, I encounter a new schemer with a slightly different twist on an old hustle.

Panhandlers per se don't bother me. I see them daily and, more often than not, will give them spare change or a dollar, not worrying about what they're going to do with the money.

It's the ones with the stories, not so much the signs of "Will work for food," that I find the most intriguing (and irritating), unless they are unique and somewhat entertaining.

There are the guys who include a faraway location in their stories to up the ante for a donation, like those at area service stations, sometimes with a family in a nearby car, who say they need gas money to get home -- to Tyler. In other words, two or five dollars won't do it.

For years, a man hung out near the entrance of our downtown building, telling passersby his car a few blocks away had a flat tire, but the tire was ruined and it would cost $18 to buy a used one. He always promised to return that afternoon or the next day to repay, sometimes invoking my name as the "friend" who could vouch for him.

A regular downtown bicycle rider for months had the story of desperately needing the cost of a bus ticket to get home to his pregnant wife in Oklahoma or Arkansas.

Two of my favorite panhandlers I met in Washington, D.C., not far from the White House.

The first approached me with a policeman in plain view. Acknowledging the officer, and speaking loud enough for him to hear, he recited the D.C. panhandling ordinance to me and explained that he would not ask me for money. Of course, if I wanted to give him money "out of the goodness of your heart, then that's not panhandling."

The other guy held a 16-ounce cup and asked, "Mister, would you donate to the United Negro Hamburger Fund?"

When I laughingly asked what that was, he said, "Because this Negro needs a hamburger real bad."

The best sign I've ever seen was held by a man standing in a median in the Cultural District. His piece of cardboard read, "Why lie? I need a beer."

The latest scheme I witnessed one night last month while exiting Interstate 30 at Forest Park Boulevard. At the stop light, traffic was backed up because of a disabled vehicle in the right lane, causing people to move to the left-turn lane.

The driver of the stopped car had rolled down his window and tried to talk to people in other cars forced to stop at the light. At first, I thought he was asking for directions, but when I got to the light, he said his car had just run out of gas and he had no money.

As I reached for my wallet, he began to say he had a far place to go and, before he named a city, I had tuned out, realizing he was adding the old distance element to the con.

Still, I gave him $2 and had my suspicion confirmed when he looked at the cash and said with a hint of disgust, "Is this all you got?"

When I checked 30 minutes later, he was still there, begging, causing traffic problems and posing a real danger at a crucial intersection.

That's one tactic that should not be allowed.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

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Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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