The actual corner

I’m definitely smiling more at strangers since the month started. Something about giving away money puts me in a really good mood. This morning I was about to get off the bus when a man in a wheelchair got my attention. “Ma’am?”, he said from behind me. I turned around. “I just want to say that you have a beautiful smile.” “Thank you”, I said. “You have a pretty nice smile yourself” (which was true, despite a few missing teeth). “I always like to point it out when I see a beautiful smile”, he continued. “It’s one thing I can do to make the world a better place, and we all have to do our part”. Wow! I thought.

If I’d been quicker on the draw I would have loved to give that guy $100 but we pulled up in front of my office building and I got off. Also, I was planning to make today my random giveaway day, it being October 11th and all.

I was downtown near Pioneer Courthouse Square during the lunch hour. The farmer’s market was going on and there seemed to be a lot of tourists about. People were lined up at the food carts as well as just lounging about, almost as if it were still summer. I took care of an errand and then decided to get serious about giving away $100. I was headed to a corner on the south end of the square where there was a good amount of foot traffic. On the way I passed panhandlers and people slumped in doorways, as well as a woman with a suitcase who was arguing with a couple of cops outside Peet’s Coffee.

I had decided to give the money to the 11th person who walked by, so when I got to the corner I stood there expectantly. People were rushing by from all directions and it was hard to get an accurate count. OK, I told myself. The 11th person to walk by headed east. And they have to pass right in front of me.

Suddenly it was as if the lunch break was over, because the foot traffic almost completely stopped. I stood there for a long time and missed my train back to work. I finally got up to number 7 but it was taking forever. People kept veering off at the last minute and walking behind me. Number 9 eventually passed and I could see two fairly nondescript guys headed my way. They weren’t together but were walking at a similar pace.

The suspense was killing me to see which one would walk past me first, blowing his chance at $100. Finally Mr. Number 11 walked by and I took a step toward him. “Excuse me”, I said. “Can I talk with you for a minute?” The man froze for a split second and then started walking faster. “No!”, he shouted over his shoulder.

I thought about running up to the guy and telling him I had been about to give him $100, but I thought better of it. He seemed to be having kind of a bad day as it was. So I had to start counting all over again and the traffic was still light. Two young women and a small boy of three or four walked by in the other direction. The women were both smoking and the kid was walking between them, talking and gesturing excitedly. “He’s Laserman! When he takes off his glasses, lasers shoot out of his eyeballs!” He acted this out convincingly.

A few more people walked by. A man with a cat on his shoulder crossed the street and passed behind me. Then I saw the two women and little kid headed back in my direction. It looked like one of them was going to be Number 11. The first woman and the boy walked by, cigarette smoke wafting behind them. As the other woman passed in front of me, I stopped her. “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?” The next train was coming, and I knew I didn’t have much time. “OK”, she said. “Until the train comes, anyway.” I told her a quick version of what I was doing and that I had been waiting for the eleventh person to pass. “It’s me?”, she asked with a smile. I gave her the $100 and asked her if she knew what she was going to do with it. “I’m going to spend it on that little guy right there!” The three of them got on the train and I could see her talking and smiling.

Choosing randomly was interesting and a surprising amount of work. I get a lot of satisfaction out of making my selections based on some combination of intuition, observation and imagination. I probably never would have picked that woman otherwise, and I like how it worked out today.