Did a lot of panhandling in my youth and, of course, kept the proceeds. This year, the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park gave me an opportunity to panhandle for a more deserving cause.
At Doc Ryan’s, I received my orange vest, two collecting cans and two hundred packets of peanuts. Before sending me to Circle Avenue and Madison Street, Eric Connor said to expect about $50 per hour in donations.
My predecessors at the intersection further schooled me. There was heavy traffic on Madison Street but many were passing through and didn’t care about Forest Park Kiwanis. They suggested I work Circle Avenue instead, because it was used by so many villagers.
I gave eastbound Madison a try anyway. They were right. There were lots of cars but most of their windows remained rolled up. I switched to southbound Circle. The response was dramatically different. I saw dozens of familiar faces and burned through my first box of peanuts.
I had warmed up for my three-hour shift by walking nine holes of golf, prompting a veteran volunteer to remark, “That was stupid.” She was correct. After the first hour of trudging up and down lines of cars, my right hamstring started to go. I was walking a quarter-block every traffic sequence, which I think added up to 37 miles.
My mind was working just as hard. It kept leaping to conclusions about which segments of society were generous and which weren’t. I was sure that luxury car owners were cheap, until a Jaguar driver handed me a five. I had written off commercial vehicles, before a cabbie stopped and gave me a buck. One by one, my prejudices were disproved, though I did find women drivers to be less tight-fisted than men.
Motorists who didn’t want to give often sat stone-faced, staring straight ahead, like I didn’t exist. I’ve used this avoidance technique myself. Now I saw how ridiculous it looked. A simple shake of the head would have sufficed.
After I filled my first can, donations slowed somewhat, as did the hands on the bank clock. When 5 o’clock finally came, I walked the line one last time. A male driver, unable to find something smaller, handed me a ten, my biggest bill of the day.
I gave my remaining peanuts to a volunteer working eastbound Madison Street. She had been treated rudely by two drivers: two more than I had encountered.
I limped back to headquarters, where Eric counted my cans. I had gathered $150.34, almost exactly fifty bucks per hour. Overall, the peanut drive netted $3,100.
I plan to be a repeat Kiwanis panhandler. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than being continuously inspired by people’s generosity. I’m just hoping next year our traffic engineers can make the red light for Circle Avenue last a little longer.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.