True Stories

Stereotypes, cynicism, and the transformative power of alternative journalism

| September-October 2010

  • David Schimke Sept-Oct Image
    David Schimke
    2009 © Chris Lyons /

  • David Schimke Sept-Oct Image

Bar time  was 60 minutes old when I pulled into the ramshackle shed my landlord charitably referred to as a garage, a one-stall structure that sat 30 yards behind the house in an unlit alley, just a block from an inner-city parking lot where dealers dealt in the dark. Beat from a busy Saturday-night shift, I climbed out of my compact, compact car and did a full-body search for a cigarette. A split second later I saw him for the first time, standing just a few feet away, an inch from the back bumper, blocking my only way out.

He looked to be in his late teens or early 20s. Dressed in a dirty orange tank top, baggy jean shorts, and unlaced high-tops, he had the shoulders of a gym rat and the pallor of a barfly. If I had seen his shaven head in a prime-time crime drama, I would have laughed at how stereo­typical he looked. At that moment, however, I was not amused.

He asked if I needed a light and I said no. He asked if I could spare a smoke and I said yes. And then he launched into his story.

If you’ve ever been solicited on the street, the plot will sound familiar: Down on his luck, he was in Minneapolis looking for work, but his mom was sick and he needed to catch a bus back to Detroit. He’d never done this sort of thing before, and he would be forever grateful for whatever I could spare. If I was willing to part with $40, though, he could be home before sunup.

On the street in the middle of the day, I could have thoughtlessly waved off the request or magnanimously parted with some pocket change. This was different. I feared that I would have to pay, one way or the other. Luckily, I had just stopped at a cash machine and had two crisp twenties in my pocket. I gave them over without hesitation. He said thanks, told me he would not forget the gesture, and walked away.

It turned out to be a solid investment.

11/30/2010 10:07:28 AM

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