Blitz for Ravens gear crowds out panhandlers

The Baltimore Sun

We can probably all agree that being a panhandler is no fun.

Most of the time, people pass you by as if you're not even there.

Or else they shoot you dirty looks because they think you're running some kind of scam.

The scam theory is one that I never really understood.

Look, I see panhandlers out there in the rain and snow and freezing cold.

I see them out there when it's 95 degrees and the humidity would make a mule keel over.

Would you really be out in that kind of weather if you weren't desperate?

I'll tell you this: If I were running a scam, I'd be doing it at room temperature.

I'd do it someplace with heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer and a water fountain.

Maybe a nice mall, with a lot of gullible shoppers with money in their pockets.

Or a bar, where people have had a few beers and feel more inclined to be generous.

If I did run some kind of panhandling scam outdoors, I'd only do it in the spring or fall, when you can count on better weather.

Which brings me to a new problem that might be facing panhandlers: Ravens Fever.

I say this because at some intersections these days, the panhandlers seem to be getting squeezed out by people selling Ravens merchandise before Sunday's big game.

Last week, for instance, I went through the intersection at York and Padonia roads in Cockeysville at rush hour.

As often happens, there was this down-and-out guy holding a cardboard sign that read: "Homeless vet. Please help."

Naturally, most people were ignoring him.

It was late afternoon and people were hurrying to get home to watch The Bachelor and update their Facebook page and do other important things.

But when I passed the same intersection at the same time this week, the homeless guy was nowhere in sight.

Instead, there was a young guy in a snazzy Ravens jacket pacing up and down a concrete island selling Ravens flags.

It looked like the guy was making a killing, too.

He carried a wad of bills that would choke a hippopotamus. And he seemed to be in a great mood.

And why wouldn't he be? People were rolling down their windows and practically throwing money at the guy to get their Ravens flags.

One woman actually tried to attach the flag to her car right there at the intersection.

Not only that, but she was talking on her cell phone at the same time she was trying to attach the flag.

Plus it looked like the guy was trying to give her change.

You talk about multitasking. If she were smoking a cigarette at the same time, I would have been really impressed.

But suddenly the light changed and people started laying on their horns.

To tell you the truth, I was laying on my horn, too. The nerve of some people. Why can't they get their Ravens flags where the rest of us do, at overpriced sporting-goods stores?

In any event, the woman tried fumbling with the flag for a few more seconds. But you could see she was getting rattled.

Of course, the motorists laying on their horns didn't seem as irritated as they do when someone slows down to give money to a panhandler.

You want to see people really lay on their horns, oh, that'll do it.

Finally the woman gave up and threw the flag on the seat and drove off in a tire-squealing cloud of dust.

The whole thing gave me an idea, though.

Maybe what we need to do is put the homeless to work selling Ravens merchandise at busy intersections.

Give them a nice warm coat and a cut of the profits and let them go to town selling Ravens flags, caps, T-shirts, you name it.

You talk about killing two birds with one stone. Has anyone talked to the social services people about this?

A couple of hours later, when I drove through the same intersection, the guy selling the Ravens flags was gone.

Maybe business was so good that he ran out of merchandise.

Maybe he drove away in a nice, shiny SUV and headed home to his nice, comfortable house in the suburbs.

Maybe he was watching The Bachelor or updating his Facebook page.

On the other hand, I haven't seen the homeless vet back at the corner of York and Padonia since.

Maybe he'll be back Monday if the Ravens lose and no one wants any more flags.

I hope the weather's better for him.

Right now, it's kind of cold out there.

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