Monday, December 7, 2009

Beggars: Friend or Foe?

The phenomenon of people begging in the New York City subway is not a new one. When one first moves here, it's a true rite of passage to be asked for change - and it's not always in the traditional way, either. There are musicians, dancers, bag ladies, drunkards - it's really a part of the "melting pot" charm offered by living in such a large metropolis.

But, it wasn't until I could barely afford the rent, ate ramen noodles nightly and lived paycheck-to-paycheck and penny-for-penny that I realized how truly scary it is to be in that situation: feeling lost and defeated, as if I had somehow fallen through the holes of the weak safety net of society.

False sense of security? You betcha.

Now, as I ride the "L" train back home each night, I turn down the volume on my iPod and listen to the "stories" told by these individuals - tales of military service, death in the family, the economy.

And I simultaneously feel two polar opposite emotions: sympathy and disgust (or maybe anger is a better word). As these people hop from train car to train car, I toil away in front of a computer, struggling to make a name for myself - to prove that I am "worthy" in the media industry. And I can't help but realize that these select few are probably able to scrounge up more change per hour than I am afforded as an intern.

So, which is more sad: struggling and working hard or struggling and hardly working?

At the end of the day, I still make progress: the net somehow pulls me above the scary divide between success and failure over which I dangle so desperately. And they slip through.

It is illegal to solicit someone for money in the subway here in NYC (see Section 1050.6 b of the NYCMTA's Rules of Conduct) and as a law-abiding citizen, striving and hoping for the best, I turn my cheek. But that doesn't mean I don't notice the beggars' plight. God bless them because I can't help but feel their pitiful pain.