My heart has hardened to the panhandlers at the Alewife rotary. Every morning I see them walking back and forth, up and down the lines of cars waiting to get through the light. Many mornings, I handed them my stash of toll change—the plaintive hand-lettered signs they carry and their tired eyes were just too much for me to ignore. At first there were only one or two of them, but a few months ago their numbers swelled and now there’s a panhandler for all four entrances to the interchange. During the evening rush hour, I’ve seen five of them working the lines of traffic.
That’s when I started getting suspicious. And then I hated myself for getting suspicious. What kind of horrible person thinks badly of the homeless? But their hand-lettered signs all looked like they’d been written by the same person, and I noticed a certain organization to the way the panhandlers worked their assigned traffic lanes during the morning and evening rush hours. My suspicions were just something I felt terrible about, though. Until today.
This morning, all of the panhandlers had canes. All of them.
These people, who until today had ably trodden wet, cold paths through the snow and mud next to the road, were all carrying identical gray orthopedic canes, the kind you can get at the pharmacy. Do ploys get any more transparent? If one of the panhandlers had suddenly started using a cane, that would be one thing, but all four on the same day? My sympathy and generosity have tapped out as of now.