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Abdul the Hobo in Indianapolis - Some People Just Talk About Change - I Take It!Well, I went and did it. I panhandled in downtown Indianapolis on Friday for a couple hours. It was an interesting experiment to say the least. Let me share my story.

I didn’t go with the total “bum” look. I just wore clothes, that for me were very dressed down. I had my change cup. It was one I got from Victory Field so I could help promote the city with my experiment. And the corner I chose to shake my cup and ask for change was Washington and Meridian. I chose it not only because it was a very busy intersection, but it was the volunteer headquarters for Barack Obama. Insert your own joke here about asking for change.

Abdul’s Panhandler SignI held up my sign (I had four made and would rotate. Each had a clever message about change) and waited for the money to come rolling in. I made it a point to obey the law. I stayed away from banks and ATMs. I never asked anyone directly for cash. I just stood there and smiled. I didn’t go near the street, nor next to another panhandler.

I started panhandling at 11:55 a.m. I had the first bit of change come in at 11:58. A lot of people walked by and didn’t want to make eye contact. The ones that did and read the sign would smile, but the real smart ones got the whole joke about someone standing by Barack Obama’s office and asking for change. They were the ones who dropped the coins in the cup.

I ran into IMPD police chief Mike Spears while begging and he and I were chatting about what I was doing and people still dropped change in the cup. Despite the fact there was the chief and another officer there. Mayor Greg Ballard and Dr. Woody Myers both stopped by. The Mayor gave me a quarter; Dr. Myers, two cents. One of his staffers later brought me a beer in a paper bag, which I did not drink until I got to my downtown place.  The Obama people were cool about the whole deal.  A couple of them came out and took pictures with me.

One passerby asked me what I was going to do with the money, I told him buy alcohol and tobacco (actually a martini and cigar) and give the rest to charity.* He told me was impressed with my honesty and entrepreneurial spirit and gave me a couple bucks. Even some of the downtown panhandlers who walked by were impressed by my operation.

By the time I was done I managed to collect about $30; most of it came between noon and one. $30 for two hours worth of begging wasn’t bad coinage. I made $15 an hour which is slightly less than the average paying job in Indiana. The way I figured it out, if I converted that cash into a real job I either made the equivalent of $31,000 annually in pre-tax income or $44,000 a year if that was my after tax income. Nice work if you can get it.

I now understand why people panhandle, there’s money in it. I was shocked by how much money you can make if this is all you do. Granted some days will be better than others, but if you beg between the hours of 7-9, 11-1 and 4-6, and find the right corner of town you can rake in a lot of tax free money. I’m not even counting big convention events.

But despite all that, the real culprits in the panhandling scam are us, the givers. If we didn’t give, the panhandlers would go away. It’s like why Willie Sutton robbed banks, because that’s where the money was. Why do people beg downtown? Because that’s where we give them money. The city is starting a new anti-panhandling program encouraging the public to give to charity instead of beggars. I agree.

If more people gave to charity and none to the beggars this problem would all but vanish overnight. And I could spend my Friday afternoons at the Columbia Club, instead of standing on a corner asking for change.

*Editor’s note: I am not keeping the money I raised. It’s going to the Wheeler Mission on Monday. They could use it a lot more than me.

  • anonymous

    Abdul, you would have made even more than the $30 dollars if your sign that had “God Bless” written on it.

    Now, let me tell you a little story. When I lived in NYC there were people let out of the facilities found to be dangerous to them, and they were everywhere. There was one woman I passed on the corner of 23rd and Third Ave almost everyday, once I remember her standing there holding a small, white, stuffed unicorn. One day she had a sign asking for change and I got money out for her. I still think of her today and hope she has done ok.

    There are people out there who are forced to live on the streets who cannot take care of themselves. They are the ones who need our help.

  • http://philthevoid.blogspot.com/ Phil Lavoie

    Now if we just had some sort of FairTax system, or national sales tax program, this would not be tax free money.

  • Shorebreak

    Just so long as they don’t entirely outlaw panhandling. When that happens, those who can’t feed their habit at Wheeler Mission will be feeding their habits with goods acquired from our living rooms.

    P.S. – did either the chief or the mayor have any updates on their success in shutting down the criminal peashake operations throughout the city? Oh wait a minute… sorry, that was nothing more than a pipe dream. Status quo continues in MC. Carry on.

    And if I could keep you for just one more second, there’s something else on my radar regarding financial management in MC. Bonds and derivatives, for example. With Jefferson County (home of Birmingham, AL) and Orange County CA both on the verge of declaring Chapter 9 as a result of their public finance fiasco, how does Indy’s investment strategy weigh against theirs? Jefferson County financing was hailed nationally as the municipal model. Is Indy one of the city’s who is following them into their grave?

    I’d love to hear some input and maybe some comparison/contrast between local investment leveraging, and the recently hailed strategies in Jefferson County – that are now resulting in the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.

    Bloomberg covered some of it here:

  • Really

    Wow Abbie. Things have gotten that bad since Mayor Bart has left office you have resulted in begging for material for your show. How much did your boss Spangle make begging? You need to have a “beg off”. Hell, make it a reality show. Homeless in Indy. Who would last, Abbie or Spangle? My bet is that Abbie would last 8hrs then the martini withdrawl would kick in. Spangle virtually lives on the street based on his wages/earnings so the transition would be easy.

  • Buzzy Whitlow

    Hey Abdul, I’m glad you found a job you’re good at! :-)

  • Jacob

    Abdul, What did the other signs say? And was anyone bitter?

  • http://www.shepard2008.com/ Sean Shepard

    Phil – good comment … it’d be “tax free” to the contributors but not to the receiver when they spent it – although they would likely also be getting the pre-bate to zero them out up to poverty level.

    And Shorebreak my friend – should we crack down on the peashake houses or just make gambling a legal activity? I’m sure hundreds of friendly poker games with $20, $40 or $100 buy ins happen every week in Indianapolis. I wonder, do those people deserve to be fined or put in jail for their activity or should we just make it legal?

    It almost seems like the problem with the peashakes is anyone in the burbs operating a private club with gambling would probably get busted so there is uneven enforcement.

    $15 an hour or so, tax free. We better watch out or Spangle IS going to make a downtown corner his residence. ;-)

  • Jon G

    From the common sense police-give to a charity that helps the homeless, then the pan handlers will get the help they need. Everybody wins.

  • patriot paul

    The picture is worth a 1000 blogs. You should share this with the Star News. Next time, let the rest of us know. We’ll join you in a beg-a-thon and live radio broadcast from the morning show. For twice as much $, try a wheel chair and a push cart.

  • http://www.hoosiersforfairtaxation.com Melyssa

    Genius, Abdul…simply genius. I love how when it comes right down to it, you are not above street begging to make a point. And a point you made, indeed.

  • varangianguard

    This could be the start of a new trend.

    Blogger panhandlers.

    Downtown would never be the same.

  • http://www.hoosiersforfairtaxation.com Melyssa

    Question Abdul…did you feel even a tiny twinge of public humiliation out there? Hoping you did.

  • varangianguard

    Question Melyssa…do you really think that Abdul could be humiliated over (just about) anything? ;)

  • Abdul-Hakim

    Any humiliation I might have had went away when my cup ranneth over with change. :-)

  • Wilson46201

    …and conveniently close to Nicky Blaine’s?

  • Bob Miller

    This stunt was not exactly necessary.

  • Eric

    Interesting post! Keep up the good work. I was particularly entertained by the 2 cents from Dr. Meyers.

  • Hey Dear, Yours Truly

    Blah BLAH…. blah BLAH…. blah BLAH…. anything to get your picture taken. :)

    Good show, Dear. Your genius still continues to baffle me after all these years.

  • http://indianapolsnewgoverment2008.blogspot.com/ DavidM

    The Mayor only gave you 2 bits? Shame on Greg.

  • varangianguard

    Is “Hey Dear, Yours Truly” an ex-girlfriend? Sounds like it.

  • Susan

    No way! Only $30 bucks! Who could resist that big goofy smile on a sunny day in Indy? Now take it another step, try living homeless for a day, or two!

  • StatlerNWaldorf

    Hey Susan….does he have to be drunk and high too??

  • anonymous

    DavidM, shame on Greg? He knew this wasn’t a real panhandler. Gimme a break.

  • Darla

    Who is that handsome guy?

  • Nancy

    What a fun read…I’m all smiles..even after knowing you so long you never cease to amaze me.