Street Pitchers

God asked me today if I think that panhandlers get together and discuss “best practices.” Have they done experiments to determine the right amount of aggression or the optimal level of pathetic that they should be presenting to maximize return on investment? Have they figured out just how loud to pitch their pleas?

Going about my daily business in downtown San Francisco there’s a gauntlet of these folks that I have to run past anywhere from two to four times a day, depending on what I do for lunch. Well not literally run, I walk. The block south of Market from the BART station that I use, has six fairly regular “donation seekers” with three or four of them there at a time most days. They don’t cluster together but have sort of established stations along the block. There’s one free agent who tries different spots on different days, but the rest seem to each have their spot and if they’re around that’s where they’ll be.

I’m never quite sure of the best way to refer to these people. I could go with beggar, since they’re begging for money, but really they’re more asking than begging. I could go with bum, but that seems to presume more about them then I actually know. I can’t go with homeless, since some of them pretty clearly do have a home that they go to at night. Panhandler seems the best choice, it’s relatively neutral, describes what I do know about them and doesn’t say anything about what I don’t know about them.

But back to God’s question… I really can’t say. At first blush it seems that they don’t, since they aren’t all following the same pitch. Some present a cheery greeting while holding out a cup to encourage us to give what we will or what we can. Some make the pitch that they need money for food. Some little more than mumble leaving not much more than the word “change” loud enough to hear. But then I thought, different people have different natural abilities that they have to work with, so the most effective pitch would be different for one panhandler than another. Some people are naturally intimidating, some are pitiable, so they each have to find what works for them. Even more than that though, by having different pitches up and down they block they’re probably maximizing the overall take. Some of us respond better to one type of pitch than another, so for each of us that walks along that block, there should be somebody there making the best kind of pitch to get us to give.

So do they discuss “best practices?” I don’t know, but they may have figured them out all the same.

RSS feed


No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.