“Hey, Mister, we need some help. We’re trying to get a hotel room for the night and we’re twenty dollars short.”
She approached us from the middle of Don Gaspar as we were walking to dinner at The Shed. The frigid night was biting through my many layers of clothing, our breath a cloud of vapor against the faint orange tint of a street lamp. My wife and I had been walking with our muffled faces down against the cold wind, so the woman had encroached upon us before we saw her. Because of that, I was immediately on guard. There was something about her request that bordered on demand – a little too practiced, her words resonating off the frozen pavement and stucco walls of adjacent buildings. My first impression was that she was way underdressed; my second was that she possibly had Downs syndrome. One eye had a red hemorrhage slashed across the white. She was definitely wired.
“We’re homeless. We need twenty dollars.” She spoke without making eye contact, looking beyond me at other passing couples. Her partner hung back in the shadows, male or female I couldn’t tell beneath the hoodie.
“You’re homeless in Santa Fe this time of year?” I said, seeking a moment to ascertain if she was genuinely in need. Her demanding tone had me thinking it was another panhandle, someone needing a fix or money for a jug.
“Uh huh,” she said, still looking past me.
I decided it was a panhandle, but also deciding it would be easier to give her a buck because of her aggressive approach, like paying a toll. She eyed my wallet as I opened it. Damn…tens and twenties only. Maybe for a person in need but not for this one.
“Honey, do you have a dollar for this lady?” I asked. My wife withdrew a one from her purse and handed it over. The girl held it to the light to determine its value, or maybe to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. She jammed it into her pocket with obvious disgust, never a thanks, already turning her attention toward another couple approaching.
“Hey, maybe a little gratitude…?” I said, not that I expected any.
As we moved on toward San Francisco Street, her demanding refrain echoed behind us in the chilly night.