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The Homeless Gentleman and the Bus Ticket

A couple of months ago, while walking back to the office, I encountered a homeless gentleman. This is somewhat of a rare occurrence on this side of downtown; there is not a ton of foot traffic, and so those looking for spare change generally tend to cast their nets elsewhere. He flagged me down. He was polite, but urgent. So I stopped, and he told me the story of the bus ticket.

His hands were trembling as he showed me the ticket, dated a day or two prior. His eyes were just this side of tears, and looked like they had been on the other side in the recent past. He had a beaten-dog voice, sad and panicky and very lonely. His story was this:

He had arrived in Dallas earlier that day — from where, he didn’t say — and his final destination was Abilene — for what, he also didn’t say — via Greyhound. Neither detail was essential to the story. But he wasn’t allowed to board the bus to Abilene, because the ticket, which someone had purchased for him online, was for the wrong day. Or the wrong bus. Or the wrong something. Even he wasn’t sure on this. The ticket didn’t work, was his point. (Given the date, and since I was generally buying his story, because I have a heart made of cotton balls and water vapor, it was easy to see from the ticket that he was simply too late.) So he was in a city he wasn’t familiar with, desperately trying to figure out a way to get on that bus and on to Abilene. And he had walked across downtown, looking for some help, and had thus far received none. Could I help him? he asked. He didn’t say he was homeless (permanently or temporarily); the story did that.

His story took several minutes to unfurl, and I let him tell the whole thing, even though I knew the last line. He needed money, but he also seemed to want someone to just hear him out. Thanks to the ticket, and his generally bewildered state, it rang true. Everyone has, at some point, heard the shop-worn story about a car running out of gas and the need to get to some distant location, or, more often, the simple, straightforward plea. The former is generally delivered perfunctorily, like they feel they have to say something to give you an excuse, and the latter is all about volume. This was different. Maybe I’m just a sucker — okay, I’m definitely a sucker — but it was different.

At any rate, I couldn’t help him. I didn’t have any cash on me. I walked with him down to the end of the block and — the Downtown Dallas security detail probably won’t be happy about this — I tried to point him in a direction where he might better be able to come by some cash. I told him about the shelters I knew of, in case he was stuck here for the night. I wished him well, and he trudged off. But he stuck with me for a bit, his wet eyes and choking voice lingering. I felt for him.

And then, two weeks later, he showed up on the same corner, around the same time, and he told me the exact same story.

He had the same ticket, but he still told me he had gotten off the bus that morning, and all the rest of it. Well, for as much as I listened. I gave him a couple of quarters and continued on my way. I felt like a bit of a chump, because I am, and because I had not only bought the original story but let it affect me. (I’m sort of predisposed to be affected, having done enough stories on our city’s homeless and knowing so many who have died.) I walked off wondering: was any of it true, ever? Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe he did miss that bus to Abilene at some point. I guess the key was the ticket, and more than likely, he had merely fished it out of the trash at the Greyhound station. I will say this: the second time he delivered the story, it was just as believable as the first. Had I not heard it before, I may have bought it then, too — even though now the ticket was wildly out of date, shaking a bit of the story’s foundation.

I didn’t see him again until last week. He was on Flora, behind the Belo Mansion, and he had someone else hooked on his tale. When I got close enough, I saw he had a bus ticket in his hand. I’m not sure if it was the same one he showed me; it looked like it, plus two more months of pocket wear. If it was, and if he was able to get anything out of the guy he stopped, he’s probably the best actor I’ve ever met. And I have to say, I hope the story still works on someone. He’s earned it.

49 comments on “The Homeless Gentleman and the Bus Ticket

  1. Ha – I ran across the same guy about a month ago near Griffin. Same story – missed the bus to Abilene. I had just put my coins in the meter and I truly felt sorry that I didn’t have any cash on me. Damn. He needs to find work in the theatre! “Acting! Thank you!”

  2. It’s got to be the same fellow who’s told me the same story twice as well. First time I heard it was more than a year ago. My heart must be much harder than Zac’s, as I never believed him.

    The guy tried to pitch it to me a third time, but I was in a foul mood that day and I didn’t even pay attention to his first line.

  3. I’ve seen the same guy, twice. Someday I want to buy him bus ticket to Abilene, and wait around until it’s supposed to leave; just interested to see his exit plan. Like how Danny Ocean gets out of the casino…

  4. There’s a similar fellow (or maybe the same one) that turns up around Mockingbird Station once or twice a month.

  5. Another frequent offender is a well-dressed older woman who claims that she was supposed to meet her duaghter at one of the nicer buildings downtown for a ride home and her daughter forgot her and flew out of town on business. She needs money for a cab or bus to take her home. She stands at a garage exit during evening rush so cars are stacking up behind you honking. Very clever!

  6. Ran across what sounds like this very same guy at Field and Commerce. Showed me his ticket, and something about $15 for a change fee. He also threw in something about going to the funeral of his daughter who died in Afghanistan. I have a strict ‘no-nothin’ personal panhandling policy, but I wondered if I had become too cynical living downtown. Glad to know I didn’t actually strand some guy on the way to his veteran daughter’s funeral.

  7. I wonder what would have happened had you walked him down to the station and bought him a ticket to Abilene…? You’d be out about $46 bucks (…better upgrade that to the $53 refundable ticket…) but that might be worth it for the sake of a story…

  8. @Stephen, I may have seen her the other night on Ross and St. Paul. Does the one you’re talking about have a Bluetooth? I was confused by her story or what she needed, but basically she didn’t want to be stuck downtown during the night. I wanted to help, but I no longer carry cash, because I am a sucker. (There’s that time I went WAY out of my way to get $40 for a not-so-good actor.)

  9. After all is said and done, the question still nags at you: what should we do about folks like this? Ignore them? Berate them? Bribe them? As a bleeding-heart liberal, I want to think that a guy like this should be helped, but as a long-time cynic, I know that he is just gaming the public.

    Is he the guy who uses our public downtown parks as his personal toilet? Screw him. Is he the guy who was never right in the head after he came back from Vietnam? Take care of him. Our laws and our churches are great with platitudes, but they don’t really help us deal with people like him on a one-to-one basis. Sad.

  10. I ran into this same guy at Field and San Jacinto one morning!

    Didn’t buy his story, but I do admit his watery eyes and quivering voice almost had me. In his story to me, he had been thrown in jail (I don’t remember what for) and missed his bus.

    This guy is good!

  11. The one who got me once was a woman who was hanging around the West End DART station. She said she had just been released from Parkland (briefly showed me her ID bracelet) and needed money to get home. I kept seeing her there from time to time for months after that and felt really, really stupid – and angry.

  12. @Bob, as a stone-hearted conservative, I want to think that a guy like this should clean himself up and get a job and quit preying on the bleading hearts, but as a long-time believer that what you do for the least of mine, you do for Me, I have a hard time not slipping a guy a buck or two.

    That said, I think the answer is to call his bluff and offer to accompany him to the bus station. When he defers and offers some excuse about why he can’t/won’t go to the bus station with you now, then you have the answer.

    Of course, if the allegedly homeless guy displays a command of authentic frontier gibberish, he gets a whole sawbuck for his troubles.

  13. He hit me up as I was parking my car at Field & San Jacinto several months ago as well. He almost sold it but that bus ticket was pretty worn out. Someone should hook him up with a local acting troupe.

  14. Heard this from someone once about these situations:

    “It is between God and me if I am charitable. It is between God and him if he is honest.” (feel free to replace God with your moral compass of choice).

  15. I fell for the man with the out of gas/pregnant wife in car/ etc. story and gave him a few bucks. Then a few weeks later at a different but near location the same guy tried it again. When I told him I fell for it once but not again he denied it and moved away pretty quickly but I’ve seen him since still trying the same story. Both times were in grocery/retail parking lots.

  16. I once got approached inside Target late at night by a well-dressed guy, around 30yo, wanting cash for the bus. I made a commotion, hoping to alert a staff member, but I ended up ushering him to the door myself. He had those pin-point pupils that addicts have.

  17. Walk one block from the downtown library, any direction and you’ll hear 20 stories exactly like this. They seem to know where the allowable zone stops.

  18. Why are media people usually such naive bleeding hearts?

    I would think they would be more aware of reality, since they are supposed to be “the smart ones”, so well-educated, so worldly, so sophisticated, living and working in their urbanist hipster paradise.

  19. I’ve encountered this guy multiple times.1st time was the Thursday before Christmas. He had a good story with kids names in Abilene and all. His boss at the church he did some work at bought him the ticket but he misread the date and came a day late. I offered to meet him at the greyhound station in 15 minutes to help him out. I showed up, he didn’t. He is good, but a liar. Won’t give to individuals anymore, just legit charities.

  20. and old old scam perpetrated thousands of times a day across the fruited plains of our country.

    talk about gullible.

  21. Here’s the one I fell for. Met a guy in a well-tailored suit. It was in Uptown, so my guard was down. (Plus, I had seen him on TV, so I figured he was telling the truth.) Something about Japan’s government debt being 203% of GDP (whereas Greece’s was only 136% before their wheels came off). The play was buying interest rate caps and betting against the yen. He was totally believable — no quiver in his voice, no telltale pinwheel eyes. Yanked my pants down. Doh! Oh, to be gulled by a mere worn-out bus ticket.

  22. Obviously he’s good at his job.

    Years ago I worked as a night security guard for a building at Bryan and Harwood. After 2 am, there were only paper deliverers, security guards and homeless people (back in the mid 80′s, when downtown was dead). I rarely gave them money, but bought a lot of sandwiches at Great American Hero, and gave some warm clothes (one guy got my old leather jacket that I saw him wearing for years afterward).

  23. Oh, Lordie, this sounds like the guy who roams the parking lot at Wal-Mart in OC. We’ve been there twice in the past 2 months and he’s approached us both times. We saw him one other time, getting out of the back seat of a car at the traffic light at Communications Drive and Cockrell Hill Road. He jogged across the street to the WM parking lot. Sounds like a well-organized, highly mobile cast of characters.

  24. When are people going to understand that giving them money does nothing but allow them to get their next fix and remain on the streets? If the money dried up it would force them to either get help or move on.

  25. Been hit up by him multiple times by the Arts District garage. THere is another one who sits on the wall right by the door to the stairwell of the garage. He asks everyday, everyday I say no and everyday he calls me A**hole as I shut the door. My favorite one is the guy in a suit, with a briefcase. Says he had a job interview and his sister coldnt make it back to pick him up from the interview and take him home to Ft Worth. He wanted a few bucks to catch the bus that was pulling up. I gave him $2 and went on. Boy was I irritated to see him on the corner still begging for money as I pulled out of the garage and saw that he never attempted to catch that bus

  26. @Mike – I don’t care if he’s a “lying con artist.” If I happen to have change or a single, I’ll give it to him. If I don’t, I won’t. But I have empathy.

  27. I hear variations of that story all the time. The latest was over the weekend, and the guy had just gotten a job out of town somewhere, but didn’t have the bus fare to get there. I don’t usually give any money because I’ve heard all the stories about it hurts them more than it helps. I told him I didn’t have any cash on me but good luck with the job. He walked off muttering “If I can get there.”

    I live near the intersection of Field and Commerce so I see a guy selling “Street Zines” all the time. I bought one the last time because of the fact that he is actually doing something to help himself instead of just asking for money. There was an article in it about how it worked and they have to show up and get their papers and they’re all registered and get to keep everything they make. The back page was pictures of all of them with their ID # underneath. It makes them seem more able and willing to do something for themselves.

  28. @Zac: so, are you consider a fool because you dropped outta high school? stereotypes of a white male misunderstood?

    And I have some lovely beachfront property in both Northern Arizona and South Florida is any of yous suckers are looking for a vacation home…

  29. I’m with Adam T – my volunteer time and money is sent to a downtown shelter that helps the homeless and working poor. My bleeding heart want to help people but isn’t strong enough to support dishonesty.

  30. There was no veteran’s angle? There’s usually a veteran involved somehow.

  31. @jrp….are you saying that there is NO beachfront property in S. Florida? I better alert Miami! p.s. got any spare change, spare any change sir

  32. @Mike – yep. That’s it. You’ve pegged me. If I really had empathy, I’d probably give him a stern talking to about his bootstraps.