I did something in Vegas that made quite a few passersby uncomfortable. In a city known for tolerating proclivities of all kinds, I take pride in the fact that I literally stopped foot traffic on the Strip. Most people froze; some continued walking but executed a wide berth. A few mouths went slack jaw. One person pointed while another shook his head.
All because I gave money to a homeless person. Never mind Chewbacca and Yoda dressed up in costumes too matted to pass muster at an actual theme park. Ignore the women posing for photos in g-strings and pasties while families scoot their children down the sidewalk. Pay no mind to the men snapping stiff cards dotted with promises of a good time that is one 800 number away. Acknowledge someone’s humanity, though, and you’ve clearly crossed the line.
If you’ve ever visited the Strip, you know that the pedestrian bridges are peppered with all sorts of street performers, hustlers, and people who are homeless. Or appear to be homeless. I know that plenty of people approach beggars and panhandlers with a healthy dose of skepticism. In the most blatant assault on anyone’s good nature, I once watched a woman pinch her child so it would cry more loudly when people passed. I’ve also read the stories of people who outearn me by hustling on the street. I get it. Some people are fakers.
For the most part, I choose to give to organizations that target homelessness. If I do give to actual street people, I tend to carry kits or food gift cards of small denominations. But if you want to know the god’s honest truth, if I’m carrying cash or coins, sometimes I give that, too.
In Vegas, I didn’t carry a lot of cash on me. In fact, I usually never carry cash on me. Period. It runs through my fingers like water. But on our last day, Mr. P and I were panting our way down the Strip in the 111-degree heat — yeah, yeah, it’s a dry heat, I hear you — and I was
sipping drinking chugging an iced tea*. A man on the street was holding a sign asking for money, and our eyes locked for the briefest of instants. Instead of asking for money, he said, “Is that iced tea cold?” If there were more than a few drops left in the can, I would have stopped and handed it to him. Instead, I darted away without looking back.
After barreling into the CVS and assuring the sales clerk that I had already purchased my one can of tea, I scooped up another and paid for it with a small bill and some coins that were knocking around in the bottom of my purse. Then, I walked back to the man, approaching him from behind. He never saw me coming. I called out to him. I offered him the bottle, and he immediately set down his cup of coins and opened it with both hands. “Just what I needed,” he told me as he drew in a long sip. Then, I put the rest of my money in his cup and smiled.
This gesture wasn’t noble; it was necessary. In a world with people so consumed by themselves and things, I fear we’re losing sight of what really matters: each other. In that fleeting moment, I knew that I had to act. Is it possible that I was taken for a ride? Did I let my naivety and gullibility get the best of me? Could that man have sauntered away with pockets full of money? Absolutely. But it doesn’t matter.
I spent three days being swindled on the Strip. Every slot machine lever I pulled, every bet that I placed made me a sucker. And to what end? To entertain myself under the intoxicating neon lights and to line the mile-deep pockets of the casino magnates and hotel conglomerates. Steve Wynn certainly didn’t need an iced tea. This man did. So I bought him one.