“Stranded in Chicago, Please Help”

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If it’s August, it must be CST: Chicago Stranded Time. You know them: a diverse band of scruffy youths and assorted bums sitting on the pavement up and down State Street (Field’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond are prime spots) holding up a worn cardboard sign with the message scrawled in black marker: “Stranded in Chicago, Please Help”.

Oh my, oh dear. Oh bullshit.

Is it just me, or is this always the same sign in the same handwriting? It’s as if a gang of highly cooperative low-objective grifters trade shifts with the sign throughout the workday. I don’t buy the pitch. Why? Well…they never seem to get unstranded and go home.

There’s hip-chick with the sullen face. There’s faded angry-white-male drunken bum. Sometimes there’s hip-chick-and-husband working as a tag team. Oh, and then there’s the dog. Always the dog. ‘Cause you know, people can be starving and urban dwellers will walk right over them, but who wants to kick a dog when he’s down?

When you live downtown, you see beggars all the time. Funny thing, you don’t develop a cold shoulder about begging. People in the outer nabes think you do, but that’s not it. Instead, you become more incisive about the pitch. You get better at discerning motives, figuring out who is truly in need and who is a slumming DePaul student trying to avoid writing daddy in Highland Park for another blank check. I am firm in my conviction this year’s Stranded Family is squarely in the latter camp.

So the next time they pitch you, do yourself favor and ask them. Where, exactly, are you stranded from, anyway.

And then ask them who walks the dog.

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