Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keep the change

Strolling along Union Square in San Francisco one weekend, we passed a beggar. Steve dropped a couple of coins in his hat. Next thing we know, he was right behind us, hollering, "You can keep your nickel." I take it he was insulted. Steve told him to give it to someone else if he didn't want it. I was relieved when he eventually quit trailing after us.

"I can't believe you gave him a nickel," I told Steve. "I gave him a nickel AND a quarter," Steve clarified, but he'd been too flustered to point it out to the man.

Who the heck gives a beggar such a paltry sum? But what nerve for the recipient to reject it. Doesn't he know it's not a beggar's market?

The church of St. Peter and Paul was a few blocks away. We entered and took in the grandeur of the interiors. Stained glass, balusters, columns, carved wood confessional booths, the works.
"There's something comforting about old churches built in the grand style," I whispered.
"Yes, this one reminds of me  Las Vegas," Steve  said.

By golly, he may be right. Doesn't one of the hotels recreate a baroque outdoor scene indoors, with convincing clouds on the ceiling and a thunderstorm?

"The clink of change dropping into the candle box sounds like the slot machines," he added.

Suddenly a short Chinese woman thrust a $5 bill at me. "Do you have change?" she asked softly. Turns out she wanted to light a candle, and the sign asked for $3. I thought, goodness, if you want a prayer granted that badly, just drop your $5 in and say, "Keep the change." Same thing Steve kept trying to persuade the beggar. Out loud, I apologized for not having change.

Buying our return ticket on the train, Steve was approached by an older man accompanied by his daughter.  They were from Baltimore -- "Baltimore, Maryland" he specified, as if I might not know where it was. "Welcome to California!" I said, and they ignored me. We showed them how to make sense of the route map and the fare chart. Steve kept telling him he could just drop $20 and get two tickets, and the change would remain on the tickets for their next time on BART.  But I could tell he didn't want to spend more than he had to, so I asked, "You'll likely be getting on BART again, won't you?" "Never," he said. Poor things. They didn't seem like they had a good time in California thus far. They just wanted to keep the change.

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