Saturday, March 29, 2014

Panhandling Angels


My sister and her girls are visiting this week for Spring Break {hooray!} and so yesterday we planned a trip to see the Modern Masters exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. We love art museums. Denver just happens to have a fantastic one, especially for families and kids, but that's a whole other post. 

I wrote this out on Facebook yesterday and almost hit "Post" when I decided it was too long and should go on the blog instead. Here is what happened on the way to the art museum: 

I dropped off some Dunkin Donut coffee for Justin at his work, and then headed toward a gas station. I had 35 miles left in the tank, said my Volvo. I sometimes wait to fill up until I have 15 miles left, but last week I got low and the car started to shudder like it was about to run out. I made it to the gas station on time, that time. Justin said we probably had a batch of bad gas in the car, and we brushed it off. But just in case, I didn't want to run out again. 

I TOTALLY ran out of gas. 35 miles left? Yeah right. 

I was 1 1/2 blocks away from Conoco. I could SEE Conoco. I could not get there. I was stuck at Alameda and Lincoln--and if you know Denver then you know this is a crazy-busy intersection, just south of downtown. 

I'm curious and I always want to ask people their opinions, but it seems rude to ask, but I will anyway...do you give money to panhandlers? 

I had sat at that light for a good 3 minutes, avoiding the stares of a man and woman--a couple, I assume they were married--holding cardboard signs asking for money. Sometimes in the past I've given money. I don't always have it on me and that seems like an easy out. Women, mothers, and pregnant women especially, sometimes get me to open up my wallet. Sometimes I ignore them too. I have mixed feelings. I've watched enough episodes of Intervention to know that many times--not all times, but many--the money goes directly to drugs. I've also read the articles in the paper about the person who lives in a nice house and earns $55k a year by standing on street corners asking for money. It's troubling to many of us, I think. To give or not to give? Who am I to judge? Is it just my job to give when I see a need, trusting God to make use of it? 

We go with our church to the Denver Rescue Mission to serve supper every once in a while, so there's that, right? That's enough, right? Hmm...

Anyway, back to Alameda & Lincoln yesterday... I was late for the art museum, my family was calling to see where I was. The light turned green, traffic started to move, and my car died. My shoulders dropped along with my eyebrows and I groaned. Then, I acted fast, I dialed Justin and hit the hazard lights button at the same time, rolled down my windows and began to wave people around me. At least there were two lanes. Traffic was super heavy. I was so embarrassed. 

Luckily, Justin was only about a half mile away at work. Unfortunately, we're a one car family. He bummed a ride off a co-worker and--at my not-so-loving encouragement--went fast toward the gas station. 

The female panhandler walked over to my car and asked if they could help push my car. I told her no, that my husband would be there any minute {I hoped} and thanked her. I didn't want to trouble them, honestly. They'd have to push my SUV across a busy intersection and into an alley. 

Then, people started honking. It was taking Justin "forever" {this was one of those moments when seconds slowed to hours} to come rescue me. I was worried a cop would come along. I was worried everyone passing me was thinking, "Dumb blonde runs out of gas."

Probably a good 100 cars passed me, it was that busy. Many of them honked. Not a single person stopped to offer help. I don't know why that surprised me so much. Justin, being a car guy, cannot pass a stranded motorist without stopping to offer help.

And seriously, what kind of person honks at a lady with three babies in a stalled car? They were honking as they passed me, as if I can suddenly decide to make a stalled car work just because someone sounds their horn at me? Grow up and go around me, is what I say to those people. In the moment, however, it was humiliating.

Noticing my dismay at the honking, probably also seeing how I was hiding my face with one hand and waving angry drivers around with the other hand, the female panhandler came back. 

"Are you sure you don't want us to give you a push?"

Another angry motorist honked.

I accepted her offer. She waved her husband over and they started pushing me. Suddenly, people appeared out of nowhere off the streets and about five street people {homeless? vagrants? panhandlers? beggars? street urchins? there is no kind word for them, it sadly seems} became my angels {there's a kind word for them}, pushing my car across Lincoln. It took the entire green light cycle for them to make it across.

I just hope some of those would-be-honkers and angry motorists were watching as the homeless stopped to help. I was certainly humbled in that moment. 

I tried to stop once I made it barely into the alley, they insisted on taking me further, into the parking lot of an auto parts store. That involved pushing my car over a curb. 

One of them turned my steering wheel for me, as the power steering was gone and we had to turn it as far left as it could go--and he apologized when his cigarette smoke got in my face. As if that was what I was worried about at the moment. 

I thanked them profusely, but they disappeared quickly after shaking my hand and wishing me well. The couple was the last to say goodbye and I quickly reached for my wallet and gave them what little cash I had on me, feeling ashamed that I hadn't given them that cash before the entire fiasco had even started. A couple of "God bless yous" and "thanks yous" later, they were gone and Justin was there with a gas can. We then filled the car up at the closest gas station off a non-busy street {I insisted} and Justin could tell there was still 2 gallons in our car, so apparently the something is off and needs to be adjusted. Whatever. I don't speak auto, but I'm glad my husband does.

Those panhandlers also saved me from the embarrassment of having my husband show up with the gas can in front of Denver's most angry motorists. For all those motorists at Alameda & Lincoln know, it was the carburetor. {Honey, does our car have one of those?}

A half hour later I was wondering through the Denver Art Museum with my family and thinking about how blessed I was just to be there.

All that to say, I now think differently of panhandlers. They were unlikely heroes, helping me when they didn't have to, while many other also-capable people only gave me angry honks or passed me by.

That is all. 

Heather


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