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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What gives?

First, I have a bragging point to make: Getting off of the freeway this morning on the way to the Miami Herald to start work, I saw the usual panhandler at the bottom of the ramp. There's a traffic signal there, so often he paces, hitting up the cars that are waiting to exit.

A couple of months ago, I speculated that the panhandlers - I won't call 'em homeless, 'cause for all I know they live in nicer homes than mine - "worked" the freeway ramps in shifts. I was only half joking, 'cause depending on the time of day you exited or entered the freeway there was a different crew.

Well, this morning I'm waiting at the red light at the bottom of the ramp, and the usual guy is there. I catch movement out the corner of my eye and turn in time to see another grown man running up, out of breath, holding a big paper cup, like a fast food cup, or as I like to call 'em change-collecting cups. When he got about three feet from the corner, he looked up and pulled up short. He had seen the regular guy. They look at one another and exchange friendly smiles. The runner says to the regular "Oh, my bad. I didn't know you were 'working' this side. I'll be working over here." He gestures to the on-ramp about 20 yards away and strolls that direction.

I was right. They do work in organized shifts.

Second, there was some computer trouble at the paper this morning, apparently not affecting all computers, but definitely mine. So, since I have a story to finish writing by tomorrow morning I did the expedient thing. I grabbed my laptop and headed to the nearest place as dusty and stodgy as a newsroom: the local public library.

I found a good seat in a corner with a set of four chairs and a center table. I plugged in, whipped out my notes, and started writing. Within 30 minutes I was surrounded on three sides by presumably homeless guys. Immediately they became disruptive. They didn't aim anything directly at me. But they engaged in loud, boisterous conversation, they kicked off shoes and lounged as if they were at home, they slurped loudly from cans and bottles, they whipped out loaves of bread and deli meats and began slapping sandwiches together and passing them around. Leaving bits of food and huge bread rinds all over the place. And they were swearing a lot...with small children walking by.

I tried to ignore and keep writing. Apparently another patron, less patient than me, found a cop on the premises and asked her to do something.

Know what she did? Approached the quad, where the four of "us" sat and proceeded to scold "us" for being too noisy and asked "us," very nearly pleaded with "us" to be a little quieter. Not a word about the food. Not a word about the shoeless lounging. Not a word about the general disruptive behavior. Nothing.

I'm no elitist. Never have been. But if you can't get quiet time in a library, then it's time to put these cats out on their behinds. It's nothing against homelessness. It's not pretending homelessness isn't a problem. This is about making grown folks behave in public. And what the hell good is a cop who isn't gonna police that behavior? She could've told these guys to pipe down or else. I've seen folks get disorderly conduct tickets for giving cross looks to police officers in public. This didn't warrant a warning, at least?

The drama ended when the officer walked away all smiley as if she'd just accomplished something. What did the guy directly across from me say? "I'll bet it was that guy at that table over there who said something. Bet he wouldn't say anything if we smacked him in his mouth."

Yeah, that's gonna generate my sympathy.

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  • Time to start telecommuting, James!

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 5:42 PM  

  • That cop was worthless, I bet the bums wouldn't be so rude and nasty if they got smacked in the mouth by a baton...

    By Blogger Hammer, at 7:01 PM  

  • Most of the so-called "homeless" people I've seen are usually drunks, junkies, and bums. There are some who are not in those categories, but they are in the minority, and usually find a way to better themselves after a short while.

    By Blogger BobG, at 8:10 PM  

  • Holy rip! Time for a couple things to take place there starting with that police officer having the library rules explained in coordination to the duties of being a security person. The next would be for the culprits to be given some serious indoctrination into how to correctly behave in public places. Probably too late for the latter to take hold though I suppose.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 9:52 PM  

  • that is horrid.
    She was a cop-out

    By Blogger Pamela, at 12:27 AM  

  • This is what happens when you exalt personal 'Human Rights' - to the exclusion of everyone elses'.

    Human Rights, yeah, fine. How about exalting the include the Right to curb my actions because they adversely affect other people?

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 6:27 AM  

  • You seem like a patient man, James. I, on the other hand, wouldn't have needed the worthless police chick. I would have told them to shut their traps and put the food away. This ain't no public park. Some people....

    By Blogger Christina_the_wench, at 7:36 AM  

  • I saw a pandhandler pass his handwritten, "...Vietnam vet..." sign to his relief one day. I had just given him a dollar the day before. Man!

    By Blogger jali, at 1:19 PM  

  • Oy. Reminds me of my grandma's constant admonishment that you don't have to have money to have class.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 3:48 PM  

  • Why did that rent-a-cop assume you were part of the ruckus? Can't she tell the difference between you and the homeless guys? I think that would have offended me the most. Does that make me elitist?

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 7:07 PM  

  • I just realized that what it does make me is overly concerned about the way people perceive me.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 7:08 PM  

  • Sarc, I wish.

    Hammer, I'm more peaceful than Ghandi, but I damn sure agree with you.

    BobG, I agree. Anecdotally I've seen evidence that substance abuse is often a problem w/these guys. And the conversation I listened to among these guys the other day indicated at least one of them had a drug problem.

    Jeni, it could be too late. I'm a reluctant believer in the difficulty of teaching old dogs new tricks.

    Pamela, I agree. I wanted to rip that badge from her chest. She didn't deserve to wear it.

    Bronchitikat, those rights have been lost in the PC vacuum. You ask someone today to behave in a way that doesn't cause you harm or create unnecessary offense in a public area and you get accused of being calloused.

    Christina, I have a bad knack for getting into arguments in these situations. And w/my luck it would have graduated to a fist fight. I'm too pretty to go to jail, and the last thing I need is a newspaper headline that says "Reporter charged with beating the crap out of three homeless guys," or "Reporter who thought he could beat the crap out of three homeless guys instead gets the crap kicked out of him."

    Jali, that is connivin'. I believe in karma. That dude - the first one w/the sign - is gonna lose a buck soon for the one you gave him.

    Queen, it's funny you say that. Later that same evening I was in a community meeting w/the police chief and asked him about curbing some of the activities of the homeless in the neighborhood. He replied haughtily that police can't criminalize homelessness. I told him nice try. The issue wasn't/isn't these guys residency. It's how they carry on sometimes - being drunk, disorderly, etc., and usually waaaaaaaay too close to someone else's home.

    Grizz, I just assumed, correctly, I think, that the cop was an idiot for assuming when she approached that I was with that group. If I was as self-conscious as I used to be I might have checked my clothes to see if they appeared raggedy or something. But I knew better. She was just dumb. And she wasn't rental. She was a real cop, a sworn, badge-carrying, gun-toting city police officer, who was lounging at a reading table browsing a magazine when I finally got fed up and walked out of the library.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 10:17 PM  

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