January 18, 2014

Lunch-time in the nation's capital

Just went to the Shake Shack up the street from work to grab a hot dog and fries for lunch. Placed my order, took the beeper they give you, and went  over to the other counter to get napkins and mustard and such. Homeless dude standing there with a beeper asks how I'm doing. I said I was fine and, out of courtesy, asked how he was. He said he was ok and complimented me on my hair-color. So I complimented him on his hat (which was really very cool, I'd love to have one like it). He then asked if I had any change. I told him I'd just spent the last of my cash. He asked if I had any plastic. I said "Yeah, that's what I'll be using the rest of the day". He said "Will you buy me a burger?" Sucker that I am, I said "Sure", despite the fact that he had a Shake Shack beeper in his hand already. We went back to the counter and I could tell from the clerk's face that this wasn't the first time he'd rung up an order like this for the homeless guy (whose name was Ronald, by the way). While my transaction was being processed, Ronald pulled out a gigantic wallet to show me his last name on his driver's license, and I teased him that he had more plastic than I did (though I couldn't tell whether any of it was credit cards). Transaction complete, I took my receipt, handed Ronald the beeper for his order, then went to sit on the bench next to the other counter where you pick up your order. Ronald stayed by the cash register fiddling with his huge wallet. While he was there, a family of tourists (so they appeared and this is DC, after all) came up to place an order and I watched Ronald finagle another burger (his third, remember) out of the father while the mother just stood there staring and I sat on the bench cracking up. A couple of the people who were already waiting when I sat down chuckled, too, so I assume they had caught on to his racket as well. So then Ronald is called to the counter to pick up his first burger, after which he comes over to the bench and asks if we can make room for him. The guy on my right stands up to let him sit and he plops down right up against me. So I told him that he needed to move over because I don’t let guys sit that close on the first date. He scooted way on over and made a big show of how he was being respectful to me, and then added a quip about “because he didn’t want me to smack his face”. Then he goes on to tell me about how he went to high school with Eddie Murphy at Roosevelt High in Long Island. Then he starts showing me how prepared for the elements he was- First telling me about the hat I'd admired, which was waterproof wool with pull-down ear flaps, then pointing out his waterproof North Face pants and Helly Hansen shirt (which he kept covered with another shirt so that no one would rob him of it). Oh, and then he began telling me about how a lot of people think he's black, but he's not-- Both of his parents are German, and his mother is part Cherokee Indian.  So I asked how he ended up with such dark skin (he was a fairly light-skinned seemingly black dude).  So he explains that it's not black, it's Cuban. So I started to ask him where the Latin blood fit in, but then he was called up to the counter to pick up the burger I’d bought for him. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the guy who bought Ronald’s third burger explaining things to his wife. Through all of this, I was still cracking up. When Ronald sat back down, I teased him about the racket he had going, and he started to tell me something about how he liked to help people out and we started talking about “paying it forward”, then he decided he had to go to the bathroom. He got up and started to head towards the back of the place, but stopped to talk to someone else along the way. Just then, my order and that of the tourist family were called, so we put the burger the father had paid for into Ronald’s bag with the one I’d bought for him. By that time, Ronald had apparently made it all the way back to the bathroom, so I asked the clerk to keep an eye on his stuff on the bench and I took my hot dog and went back to work.

See, kids? It's not always wrong to talk to strangers.