She was as innocuous as a tree or road sign—just another person at the top of the freeway exit ramp here in south Minneapolis. It’s a popular place for panhandlers. As I drove closer, though, her sign this morning stuck out:
Most say something about being hungry, anything will help, and God Bless. Plus, for whatever reason, she seemed someone to interact with. So I rolled down my window. (Have to make this quick; that light can change any second.) And speaking of change, I minded her sign and dug out a portion of what I had in my car’s coin holder. There was even one of those discontinued dollar coins in there.
I reached my arm out and as she approached to take the money, she felt compelled to give me more of an explanation for her need. Maybe she felt weird about her Obama-inspired marketing ploy. She said her mom’s house burnt down. In fact, she even had that written on the other side of her cardboard sign; she showed me:
She was wise this morning, though, to go with funny message. Interesting how it was more effective–with me anyway–than the genuine plea for help.
I had a few extra seconds at the pokey traffic light, so I asked if it’s been a good morning to her. She said I was the first to donate and that she’s been there an hour. Not doing too well, actually. The light changed, and I made my left. I went about two blocks further when I turned back around. I wanted a picture of her.
I parked nearby and approached on this breezy, 30-something degree morning. She was hanging out with a young boy who looked about nine or ten. I proposed the photograph:
“Sure”, she said with no worries. Then added, “It’ll be a dollar, though.”
Luckily I had a couple singles with me.
I snapped the photos you see above, and just as I did so another gentleman stopped to reward her sign with some change:
After donor #2 drove off, I asked about her situation. Her name is Angela Bowen. That’s a married name from her third husband, a Caucasian. Her first two marriages were with Native Americans. Each produced children, and now she’s a proud mother of 10. She mentioned her daughter living in “northern Minnesota”. Myself a native of the north, I asked where.
“Bemidji”, she said.
I responded that I’m from Blackduck, and she said her father used to head to Blackduck all the time. He was a Red Lake Indian and her mother a Leech Laker. Leech Lake Indian is how Angela identifies herself.
I then asked her the most obvious question—and in this fashion:
“I gotta believe you get this all the time from people driving by, but I have to ask about work. Can you not find a job?”
She said that she has MRSA, a condition that affects her leg muscles. Seeing her there, though, and knowing she’d been there an hour, and talking to her and seeing she was a smart person, I said she seemed capable of a lot of different work. She responded in a matter-of-fact way saying she could do a sitting job part time. She didn’t seem against the idea of having job; she didn’t seem to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement. She simple seemed to be out there because it was a quick way to try and get some money. Also, someone had to watch her son.
“He got suspended”, she said. “For three days.”
More than anything, though, her mother needed care. Angela told me a little about her mother who sounded like quite the person. She was a chemical dependency counselor, and had a big hand in the development in the Minneapolis American Indian Center. Angela capped it off by telling me about how her mom got to visit the White House because of all the work she did for the Native American community.
After all that, I had to get going. That’s really about it. Nothing too crazy, but it’s not everyday you talk to a panhandler–especially one that some roots where you do as well. I still didn’t know what her meant, though. Was it a slam of the president or in support? My last question as I walked away was if she was an Obama supporter.
She responded, “Oh yeah! Of course I am. 100 percent.”
to new plateaus,