A chance encounter at a convenience store off of I-95 offered an unconventional opportunity for a poignant and timely lesson.
The incident occurred during a trip to Richmond where we would be dropping our son off at college. Dorm move-in is a well-orchestrated affair, but the scheduling meant we would be heading out of Berryville at 7:00 am. With our truck packed and fair weather in the forecast, we headed down the road. Our trip was right on schedule so we decided to make a pit stop. We exited I-95 and stopped at a gas station at the edge of a massive retail campus that had all the usual suspects, Target, Lowe’s etc. I didn’t need to go into the convenience store, so I stretched my legs, then my son and I leaned on the back of the truck and chatted about his upcoming college adventure. While we were standing there, a scraggly-looking fellow wandered into our general area so my proximity sensors went off, stealing some of my attention from the conversation. As we continued to talk another fellow wandered up to the first and started talking about the tough morning he was having working the parking lot. These two were “professional” panhandlers that apparently worked the area for a living.
Interesting and noted.
When my (ex)wife came out of the store, we were preparing to get in the truck. The first guy approached me and laid his schtick on me.
“Brother, can you help me out? I need $7 for a propane canister. My wife and I lost everything….”
I’m looking at this guy incredulously thinking, really? You stood right there and laid out your “business plan,” and you are dimwitted enough to think I missed that? I fought back the reflex to call this guy out and simply told him I couldn’t help him as we left.
Panhandling 101 lessons for the day for that guy; don’t show your hand within earshot of your mark.
The real lesson (I hope) was for my son. As he begins his temporary residence in an urban area, he will be subjected to a distinctly different environment than the one he grew up with in Berryville. It will be filled with many new sites, sounds and experiences. Some will be great opportunities for culture and learning; others will be tenuous glimpses of life’s harsher realities.
When we were back on the road, I asked if he had caught any of what had just transpired. He had not. So I told him, and we chuckled at the sheer stupidity, but he heard two important things. Be aware of what’s going on around you, and be prepared to deal with professional beggars who may or may not have passed the course in Panhandling 101.
In a weird way, I feel like I owe that scraggly professional something.