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Pay it Backwards

So three years ago, I wrote this post on my old blog about how I grudgingly lowered my wall of suspicion one evening to give $20 to a guy who gave me a sob story in the parking lot at Blockbuster. Yeah, I hadn't really given much thought to Netflix yet. What can I tell you? I'm slow to change.

Anyway, I wrote this follow-up post 10 days later, about how the guy had never mailed me my money as he'd promised to do. Yeah, I got suckered.

I thought about those two posts, 'cause yesterday while Mrs. B, our neighbor Mike, and I were sitting outside our neighborhood Harsnucks Coffee House watching a 10-year-old curse out his mother, a sort of well-dressed guy approached us. I say sort of 'cause his shirt and tie and slacks and shoes looked like they had been nice at one point. But they were a little grimey. Still, I gave him points for trying to maintain an air of pride.

So we all thought he was gonna ask for a light for a cigarette or something. Instead he dove into a sad story about having lost everything in the markets and how he and his wife and two young children had recently been forced out of their nice house across the street, and how he'd found another job for significantly less than he'd earned before, and how he and his family had gotten a room in a seedy hotel a half mile away and the manager, after verifying the guy had a job, had agreed to let the family stay free for a week till payday, and how the very next morning - yesterday, Sunday morning - the manager had changed his mind and said pay up or get out, and how he needed $65 for a room for one night, 'cause his wife and kids were gonna have to sleep in a car, and how he'd scraped up $10 and needed more.

It was all a lot to take in in under 60 seconds. But you know what? In spite of my promises in those prior posts to never give money to panhandlers with elaborate stories again, I felt compelled to give this guy some cash.

Hell, I'm broke as a joke too. Not "for real" broke, like penniless, but broke in the sense that I don't believe in "spare" money or "extra" money right now. If I have it, it's likely accounted for already - bills, necessary savings, shoes for Mrs. B (kidding about that last one!). People with "extra" money spend it for fun. I don't find spending to be fun anymore. Maybe I will again someday.

Anyway, my buddy Mike wasn't buying it. But Mrs. B shot me the look and nudged me, and I knew what she was thinking: This isn't three years ago. This is the middle of a recession with unusually high unemployment numbers. So what might have sounded like BS to us three years ago had a ring of sincerity to it.

Plus, the guy pulled an Ace card on us and said at the end of his pitch "If you don't believe me, it's the (Yada Yada) Hotel straight up the road, and you can go and pay for the room directly instead of putting the cash in my hands."

I didn't call his bluff. I figured why would anyone risk getting exposed as a fraud when they're hitting up a few skeptical-looking strangers for cash? I could easily have called, jogged, or driven up to that hotel to check his story. Maybe he was counting on us being to lazy to check.

So we hooked him up - not with the remaining $55 he said he needed, but we got him noticeably closer to his goal.

Could be he conned us like that guy in the Blockbuster parking lot conned me. But I felt better about helping this guy 'cause the way things are these days everything he said could have been the gospel truth.

I hope so, 'cause just as with the last guy I told this one not to pay it forward, but rather to pay it backwards. In other words when payday comes around mail me my money!

I don't expect to ever see the money again, but it would do a world of good for my waivering faith in goodness if he does keep his word and pay me back. If he does, I'll give what I gave him to the next sincere person in need I come across.

I will keep you updated.



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The Sarcasticynic

You might think differently had the man slipped half of your gift to the ten year old potty-mouth.


Pay it backward. Interesting concept.

I live in Santa Cruz (just moved) and I get hit up for cash all the damn time… worse than San Francisco, worse that anywhere in the Bay area.

It can be hard to know who ‘deserves” my “spare” change and who is a scammer.

Karmyn R

I still think you should have walked to the hotel and paid the bill. I'd rather spend more money helping someone who really needs the help than give cash and have it be wasted.


Sounds like a low-end grifter running a basic short con. Did this happen at the Starbucks on NE 30th and Biscayne, by any chance? Plenty of seedy motels running north from there to the the Tuttle.

James B.

Sarc, that would've pissed me off and made me wanna tackle that guy and get my money back.

Kay, it really is tough to know. I wish there was some window through which we could look back a few weeks after the fact and see what happened.

And as for "spare" change, until the economy picks back up, I don't believe in "spare" money. It's all accounted for by a bill or a mandatory savings, one way or another.

Karmyn, you're right, in that going to the hotel would have been the surest way to test his story. But frankly, it was Sunday afternoon and I was in a comfortable lounge chair on the sidewalk outside Harshucks Coffee House, and I was just feeling too lazy to walk 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile to go to the seedy hotel.

Ha, NicFitKid, good guess! I could picture that being the area too. But nope, this was further north. On Biscayne, yes, but in Broward.

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