Tuesday was another day in the life of the panhandler and the shopkeeper.
On a beautiful November day, Mike, a homeless man, admitted alcoholic and dedicated panhandler, sunned himself at the intersection of Tejon and Bijou streets at 8 a.m., a half-consumed can of Camo Black Ice malt liquor by his side.
“About three of ’em, you got a good buzz goin’ on,” Mike said.
It’s no bed of roses.
“I didn’t sleep too well last night,” Mike said, alluding to his latest spot — the front porch of a chiropractor’s office not far away.
He insists he’s no trouble: “I leave early. I don’t leave no trash or nothin’.”
As he panhandled, Mike mostly said a pleasant ‘how’re ya doin’, sir’ without asking for money directly. Sometimes, he said, people will give him money in response.
At other times, he says, it’s ‘ma’am or sir, could you spare any change?’ ”
After a prosperous day Mike might be able to spring for his drink of choice, Kentucky Deluxe.
“Nobody gripes at me for sittin’ here,” he said.
As Mike talked of life on the streets, Brandon Eaton walked by and said, “Mike, you want a cup of coffee?” Mike nodded.
A few minutes later Eaton, who manages the AT&T store on the corner, came back with coffee for Mike. This was a mild surprise, given that Downtown Partnership, Inc., has been pushing City Hall for an ordinance to ban panhandling downtown.
The easy-going Eaton has mixed emotions about the panhandling issue.
“I don’t think we can stop them from asking,” Eaton said, “but there is an element here that needs to be fixed.”
The trouble with trying to legislate it, Eaton said, is where to draw the line.
Eaton said Mike is not aggressive about it, never makes a fuss.
“Ask and ye shall receive, that’s what the Bible says,” Eaton said. Asked if Jesus would vote for a panhandling ban, Eaton didn’t hesitate. “No, I don’t think he would do that.”
Eaton acknowledged that he’s run off street people if they start yelling, “but I’m not going to tell them they can’t come in and talk to me. The guys like Mike, I don’t have any problem with.”
Back on the street, Mike acknowledged homelessness is fine with him. He regrets getting in an argument and getting booted from Marian House and hopes he can return for a meal soon.
Just then by providence or coincidence, a woman walked up and gave Mike a pastry.
“This’ll be my third winter here,” said Mike, who came here from Terre Haute, Ind. “I stayed at the Bijou House last year for three weeks when I got the shakes. I messed that up, that was my fault. I was drinking in the park and a guy ratted me out.”
Another homeless man walked by, staring at the pavement and reciting song lyrics.
“That’s a fruitcake there,” Mike said. “There’s a lot of ’em out here.”
Like most street people, Mike wouldn’t give his last name. To outsiders it can seem as if they’ve surrendered half of their identity but to street people sticking with one name, or a nickname, is one way to maintain privacy.
Mike — one of many faces on our streets — didn’t seem to have much false pride.
“I do dumpster diving, look in trash cans. If it looks good, I’ll go eat.”
He looked forward to taking a shower at Ecumenical Social Ministries later in the day.
“I keep my own soap, Irish Spring,” Mike said. “Yeah, I’ve got my own soap. I don’t go around stinky.”
A detached observer would disagree, but no matter, especially the City Council, whose members don’t get close enough to smell a street person, or who have no interest in banning panhandling elsewhere in the city.
It’s not about the smell, anyway. It’s simply the sight of people downtown like Mike that bothers some City Council members and the Downtown Partnership.
Because if they don’t see them, they won’t have to think about them.
Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contact him at 719-636-0363 or firstname.lastname@example.org