Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When to Give and Not Give on the Subway

I remember visiting Washington D.C. when I was 17, and being overwhelmed by the amount of beggars. If you've ever visited or lived in any major city, you know that the unlicensed subway performers and panhandlers have a few different ways to get you to give.

On my route to work, there's the people I see daily.
  • The guy playing the harmonica in Brooklyn, on crutches, missing a leg.
  • The accordion playing dad while his wife walks asking for money, while wearing their baby.
  • And a plethora of homeless.
But some days, there are a lot more. And on a day like today, there's 3 people panhandling at once, waiting in line to for the previous act to end so they can ask the people in one subway car to donate. And that gets horribly awkward. That happened today on my commute- and made me wonder if the tourists knew this would happen before they came to visit NYC. And today, once the accordion family left the homeless guy in the corner started yelling at everyone who gave for the next 20 minutes.

“Ladies and gentlemen soliciting money in the subway is illegal, we ask you not to give. 
Please help us to maintain an orderly subway.”

It's hard to watch and to see others with sad stories and lost limbs and wearing makeshift shoes. But the truth is that, while we are told to give, we should try to do so wisely.

Give, because you most likely can give something.

So, below find some of my know-how about panhandlers, performers and the scammers.
These are from the perspective of a woman, so of course you might think some of them are silly. I won't put myself into harms way and think it's best to ignore those acting "off". Silly females and our defense mechanisms.
1. As a general rule, I have money in my pocket for this reason. Also, if I need something I normally don't want to take out my wallet in a crowd. 

2. I don't give to the drunk homeless. Or if they're yelling at strangers in the subway. If I'm above ground and they are asking for food, I might offer to buy them a slice at a pizzeria, but often they will say they "just ate".

3. The panhandlers? They're anyone who comes in with a speech about being in dire straits. They might be newly homeless with a baby on the way, ran out of money trying to make it in the big city, or they recently had a house fire. Give to these people. Sometimes they will fool you (work the subway car to then sit and put the ones next to the hundreds in their wallet; call home asking what's for dinner, on their bedazzled iPhone). But for the most part, those people do not get a ton of cash. They don't impress tourists with their singing, breakdancing or musical abilities. Their stories are an admission of defeat, and if they have a young family with them then you can bet it isn't a ploy. People can be conniving, but most wouldn't bother dragging their child around, or wearing them while asking if they had a choice.

You might've seen this before, but this video will prove a point that looks are never what they appear.

4. And the performers? I normally don't give because they often make a lot of money. If you are in Manhattan, you will see often. They tend to stick to the touristy stations (I live on the N/Q/R line that goes through Times Square. A lot of them are not needy or looking just for money, and I have seen them actually pick up business cards and interviews from music professionals commuting home. They usually get off a few stops after and I rarely see them in Brooklyn or Queens. If they are in Brooklyn or Queens, they are trying to earn handouts, instead of just begging. You could always tell the difference. A harmonica and stained pants, versus a brand name guitar and dress slacks.
I do not like breakdancers on trains because not only do they make a ton of money (and bring in business cards) but they end up injuring themselves and others and blasting music whenever I have a migraine after work. I can deal with the Mariachi in Brooklyn, because they aren't going to kick me. Or a baby.

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