Open PalmThe other day, over the weekend, The Wife and I decided to head to the local mall to see a movie we thought looked good. (As it turned out, it wasn’t worth the drive, but the company was good.)

Between our home and the freeway, there’s a couple of large intersections with long traffic signals. The traffic tends to accumulate at these intersections and invariably you can generally count on a homeless (looking) panhandler or two mining for . . . handouts.

The Wife and I support the fight against homelessness by donating to local shelters. We are told this is far more effective than individual handouts. With the shelters, the money goes for food and clothing and housing, not for drugs.

Sure enough, at the first intersection, there was a quiet woman with a sign that said she was trying to get to San Francisco and asked for help. Oddly, she was pointing toward San Diego and not San Francisco. Uncomfortably, I diverted my eyes away from hers and waited for the light to change.

A few minutes later, we came to the next interruption in our journey. And a second person looking rather down on his luck. This one had no sign, but he displayed an imaginary water spritzer and cloth. He pretended to clean our windshield–as he listened through his headset to what I wasn’t sure. Watching him, I concluded he probably didn’t have a future as a mime, but he might have a shot at public office.

Once we reached the freeway, we had an uneventful and uninterrupted shot to the mall. No further panhandlers, no traffic lights and, on this rare day, not much traffic either.

As we walked through the mall past some nice shops and toward the multiplex, we came upon a clean-cut young man sitting on the floor with his back against one of the storefront windows, undoubtedly currying no favor with the store merchant. The young man was holding out a tin cup.

I was curious. And disappointed. He was clearly panhandling, but he didn’t look like your average, run of the mill, vagrant. I stopped in front of him. The Wife gave me “that look” and wanted to keep moving. (You may wonder how I knew the expression on The Wife’s face off to my side when my gaze was on the young man now directly in front of me, opposite The Wife. Trust me, I know The Wife pretty well.)

I stared at the young man. He stared back at me. I couldn’t help myself. “You don’t look like the typical panhandler. What’s your story?”

Politely, he responded, “Well, I just figured with all of the beggars around chasing handouts to support their drug habits, it occurred to me that people like you might be interested in helping me raise money to cover my college tuition.”

Now, that was refreshing. I asked him what he wanted to study. He said he was planning on going to medical school.

As I wished him well, dropped a five-dollar bill in his cup and headed off to the movie, I said to The Wife that I thought he might be better off majoring in communication and running for public office. Not sure, but think I garnered another one of those “looks” from The Wife.

Turned out the visit with the young panhandler was more interesting than the movie.

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