Thoughts on Street People

A friend of mine, Stacey Austin,  shared a video of street entertainers (buskers) with me and it reminded me of our recent visit to New Orleans. NOLA is a hot bed of buskers (and street people) and during the high season one might be found around any corner of the French Market.

Some people just see these people as  being on the take or trying to scam the crowd. To me, they’re working people whose job is to further enrich our lives wherever we find them.

Buskers work solely for tips and I have a general rule that I always tip. Whenever I go to places like NYC or NOLA I make sure I have some coins and a pocket full of dollar bills. How much I tip depends on how entertained I am.

grandpaDuring this month’s visit to NOLA here’s where our money went. The street mimes who do little more than hold a pose generally don’t get top dollar. The kids tap dancing or beating out a rhythm on a plastic bucket got some change, unless they were really good and had their heart in it. Then they got paper money. There was a group of five young men who did a fantastic demonstration of break dancing and attracted a very large crowd. I don’t know how much they earned in an evening but they didn’t just have one bucket, they had four and the crowd didn’t hold back in sharing some of their vacation dollars. Musicians hold top spot on my earning list. If you’re singing a song or playing an instrument you’re assured of a tip. On this visit we sat inside the Cafe du Monde, sipping café au lait, eating beignets,  and listening to a sax player doing jazzy renditions of Christmas music. We all tossed something into the bucket.

Now that you know what I do like here’s what I don’t. I don’t like those who are expecting a donation while doing nothing to earn it. Places like NOLA and the French Quarter are havens for those on the make. Street hustlers and beggars are common at traffic

intersections. They all have a sign, they all have a sad story, and they all tug at your heart and make you feel guilty if you don’t roll down the window and hand them a buck.  The problem is, how do you tell the deserving from the not deserving? Many are smoking, some have a brown bag bottle in their hand, one woman was wearing high dollar Nike shoes and a man, sitting on a milk crate with his sign at his feet, was toying with his iPad. Do these people really need help or are just scam artists?

I’ve had this conversation before and some people are firmly against reaching into their pockets. Others are just as strong in their willingness to not question and offer some help. I’m someplace in the middle. I’m mostly skeptical but if there’s sufficient evidence of genuine need I’m willing to help.

There’s another group of people who just piss me off and I would never fork over any money. In fact, I find it difficult to not verbally abuse them. They are the ones who in someway convey the message that I owe them something. Best example of this was a group of four young people sitting on a French Quarter side street. They were blatantly passing around a joint, having a good time, and as I walked by said something like, “Hey man, give us a break,” while holding up a sign that read, “Give a fuck, give a buck.”

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