I pulled up outside the 7-Eleven and there he was.
He is probably in his late 20s.
I've encountered the guy before. He doesn't make hanging outside the 7-Eleven a regular thing but he's there at least once a week. I've also seen him elsewhere around town. He's pretty clean but not too clean. He always seems to have a pained look on his face much like a hurt puppy. He's always polite and never takes more than three steps toward you.
His opening line is always the same, "Sir, can you spare some change?"
Live and let live, right? The only problem is the second you see him - the semi-pathetic beaten down look and polite demur - you get a tinge of guilt. It must be a natural reaction. A good panhandler knows that. I caved in once and he got a dollar bill.
After that there were perhaps four times I came across him outside the 7-Eleven. Each time I kept my money but I left feeling guilty.
Today was different. I was going to take the bull by the horns.
Instead of waiting for him to move toward me and speak first, I stepped toward him and spoke.
"Do you have a buck you can spare?" I asked.
From the look on his face you'd thought I just sucker punched him in the gut.
Somewhat startled he managed a "Huh?"
"I don't have enough money to buy cookies, do you have some money?" was my response.
The shocked look disappeared quickly and the polite face didn't return.
"What's your problem, dude?" he shot back with a slight scowl on his face.
"Precisely," I said and walked off.
First of all, "dude" here is getting a little tired of being played.
In the past week I had been panhandled in the Costco parking lot as well as leaving it, been asked for money twice on the same trip to Food-4-Less, and then outside 7-Eleven. That doesn't count the panhandlers I've jogged by plying their trade, or the half dozen or so I passed on off ramps welcoming me back to Manteca.
The 7-Eleven panhandler's reaction to my approaching him and asking for money mirrored how most folks feel when panhandlers approach them - they're uncomfortable. I'm willing to bet, though that he didn't feel guilty. Judging from his facial expression he was ticked.
He didn't like the idea I was hitting him up for change. That begs the question: Why does he feel it's OK to hit myself and others up for money as they are walking by?
And why did he get angry when I asked him? I've never gotten angry with him when he has panhandling me.
A number of people believe rules limiting panhandling that are enforced when law enforcement services are not tied up on other matters are somehow unfairly targeting the unfortunate.
Let's make this clear: The rules are targeting those that panhandle and not poor people. There's a big difference.
There are at least two panhandlers in town I can point out to you that definitely aren't homeless. Both go home at night to homes that aren't much different than residents who work. One of the two definitely collects federal disability checks.
Many drive cars to their job site whether it is at the entrance to the Costco parking lot or near the freeway off ramps.
Also, do you notice they virtually disappear in bad weather?
Last year there was a couple with two young children who worked the entrance to the Food-4-Less parking lot holding a sign reading, "Our children are hungry please help."
They were there like clockwork for four straight days but then on the fifth day when it rained slightly they were nowhere in sight. But they returned the next day and for several more after that.
I don't know about you but if I had a wife and two kids that were hungry and I had come to the conclusion the only way to help them was to panhandle I would have been out there in the rain begging solo.
The fact that panhandlers are almost all fair weather folks should tell you something.
The other is where they are from. That panhandler I mentioned at Costco tried to hit me up twice - once when I was going into Costco and later when I had driven over to Kohl's and was coming out of the department store. Each time he told me he was selling candy for his church and had a box of 50-cent candy bars with him.
I'm not saying because the guy was in his 40s that he wasn't from a church, but outside of Costco I asked him what church. He gave me a name that I didn't recognize and he quickly replied, "It's in Modesto."
When I asked where, he simply said "God bless" and walked off.
In front of Kohl's I asked him for information on services. He said he didn't have any printed material with him.
Let's see: You belong to a church in Modesto and "selling" candy bars in Manteca to fund it. You belong to a church but you have no inkling of the service times. Gee, could he have been panhandling?
So again, "what's my problem, dude?"
I'll put it the simplest way I know, dude.
And especially panhandlers that don't take too kindly to being panhandled themselves.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.