14 November 2006

64 dollars

There was an unusual – unprecedented, in my experience, though the use of the word unprecedented makes the incident sound more portentous than I mean it to – occurrence on Amtrak train 155 Saturday morning. While still boarding at Penn Station (I was headed down to DC), a middle-aged woman with red hair came on and tearfully asked for help, something terrible had happened to her, she needed $64 to get to her family.

You need to show a ticket to get down to the Amtrak tracks – how did she get there? Maybe because she was white, or because she was crying and seemed legitimately desperate, people gave her money – much more than she would have gotten with the same plea on the subway. No one would ask for $64 on the subway. Maybe that was it; the amount, being large, seemed plausible. By the time she got to my row – the eighth in – she had $8. I gave her another two. If she managed to elude the train conductors for another few cars, she might have gotten the whole 64. But then, five minutes later she was back, saying she needed $27 more, and had no other way of getting it, so please if anyone could, etc. It was true that she was unlikely to be able to get on another Amtrak train, and she could spend a whole day on the subway without begging that amount.

I heard her get another $5 before she was out of earshot. I don't know why I didn't give her any more. I had more to spare. I wonder if she got it; I wonder if she's home by now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It kills me every time. I want to help, but I just can't force myself to believe them. The more convincing their distress, the more cynical it would be as a performance. I try my best to avoid eye contact - I can't hide my disbelief, and I don't want someone in legitimate distress to see that in my face.

Also, allude/elude.

9:52 AM  

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