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Stories from the streets



The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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 Sunday, 02 January 2005
Sunday, 02 January 2005 16:27:37 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

In a comment to my previous entry, The Evil Cub points out that there’s a difference between beggars and musicians/buskers. And I do personally differentiate between beggars and musicians/buskers or others that provide a service of some sort. In fact I have stories :-)


I go to San Francisco quite often, and (other than possibly Washington DC) it is the worst city for beggars in the US. But there are also a few street musicians there. I have no problem giving them a bit of cash, as they are out there making life more pleasant. They are _working_ for a living, albeit in a non-traditional way.


Washington DC used to have some very good musicians, but due to heightened security around the capital area beggars are hard to find there, as are musicians or anyone else who might be considered as loitering. They are all a few blocks away, in a concentrated ring around the “secure zone”.


New York and New Orleans both have some excellent street musicians. I think New York is better for this on the whole.


Though I must say that one time in New Orleans I was walking back through the French Quarter late and night and heard the haunting notes of a sax echoing through the streets (I was a couple blocks off Bourbon, so I could actually hear a sax). It was so beautiful that I went out of my way to find the source of the music and drop a bit of cash into his case. That was a singularly awesome experience in a city that is best visited once every two or three years at the most.


But it isn’t just musicians that should be singled out. There are other helpful people on the street as well. My most colorful experience occurred in LA as a friend and I were trying to find a restaurant and got turned around. A street lady calling herself Downtown Donna offered to help. She was really strung out, and not just gaunt due to lack of food. It was pretty obvious that she was a druggie. But we accepted her offer and sure enough she led us right to the spot. Obviously we tipped her for the help – in cash.


(I should point out that my friend walked with her, while I hung back a few paces and kept my eyes open. I’m not a reasonably savvy traveler, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to be led into a trap of sorts in the cesspool that is downtown LA. At 6’5”, wearing black jeans, my black leather coat and Australian leather hat I am pretty intimidating. But you can never be intimidating enough against thugs with weapons, so it is best to just be smart ahead of time.)


In a related story, the beggar who “owned” the street on which our restaurant resided was really ticked off. He swore at us and told us that she was a druggie whore and that we’d thrown our money away. We didn’t tip him for his proffered advice.


But back to Downtown Donna, who I have little doubt used the money for drugs. However, the fact is that she earned the money by being polite and helpful and providing a valuable service as guide. What someone does with money they earn is their choice. Paying for a service is also a choice, but is not the same as gifting money to someone sitting on their ass. Like a street musician, Downtown Donna made the dark and ugly streets of downtown LA a slightly more pleasant place, and there’s no doubt that she did the same for numerous other visitors. That is a service with value as I see it.

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