How Bad Is It To Encourage Bums on MARTA?
I’m riding from Arts Center to Lindbergh. Even though it’s sortof drilled into my head that I should pay attention to the train number and car number in case of emergencies, I never do, so I have no idea where I am on the train, other than some vague idea that it was a center car, and I was at the door furthest to the front. Or maybe not.
Anyway, from behind me, at the far end of the car, I hear the mumblings of one person talking about how his things got stolen from the shelter. I look around the train and saw a lot of people that I have to imagine don’t ride public transit very often, all looking past me, toward the mumbling. Why do I imagine they don’t ride very often? Well, because they paid attention to the mumblings.
Then, harmonica kicks in. In tune, actual notes harmonica, playing a jaunty little tune of made-up origin. I looked back to see an old black dude with eyes so squinted, I thought he might have been facially deformed and/or blind, just playing the hell out of his harmonica. I really don’t like harmonica; it always sounds slightly off to me. But this guy had notes. I turned back to look at all those people who don’t normally ride the train looking back at that guy, and they were smiling. Like, if we were in New York, someone would say “Only in New York!” But obviously, this would have to be “Only in the city that we’re kindof afraid to go into!”
The man stops and begins a spiel of mumbling for money, removing his hat and holding it out. I put my sunglasses on to avoid making eye contact, even though I’m not sure he can see, because I’m now automatically annoyed. The way he stumbles down the car, both hands on his hat and without holding the rails, makes me think that no, he can’t see. Or he’s drunk. Or both? I let him pass me.
A girl of about ten digs in her kiddie coin purse, but her mother lays a hand on her shoulder to stop her. The man turns back and passes me in the other direction. Everyone is still smiling. My stop is coming, and I realize that despite my attempts to be annoyed, I’m smiling too.
As we pull into the station, I ran down the car and grabbed the guy by the shoulder and gave him a dollar. “You made me smile,” I said. “You made me smile!” He said. I was just saying what no one else was going to say, doing what no one else was going to do. We’re all encouraged not to reward people with our pennies in the street or on the train. Sometimes, I think it’s okay to break that rule, to encourage them to break that law. I can’t give a why about it, except that he offered entertainment in exchange, and it was good, and it made a full car of people smile. I think that’s worth a dollar.