I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cleaner city than Indianapolis, Indiana. And one morning, looking out the seventh-floor window of my Hyatt Hotel room at the ridiculous hour of five a.m. (four Central time), I discovered why: as a beat-cop checked doors to make sure they were locked, another city employee walked around with broom and dustbin and swept the sidewalks and alleys. Maybe they do this in all large cities, I don’t know, but I was certainly impressed.
Downtown Indy has some incredible restaurants and sights. Virtually everything is within walking distance, including my new favorite place on the planet, the Chocolate Cafe. But one thing this lovely city has in common with other cities is its population of vagrants.
Apparently there are laws dictating the behavior of these poor souls; they rarely bothered us. Oh, a couple of times we were serenaded by one or two who thought they could sing, but otherwise, they were harmless. They never pursued us as we walked past, were never overtly engaged in begging other than holding up a sign or rattling coins in a can.
We did, however, learn some things I never would’ve discovered without this trip to Indiana, because I don’t go to large cities. The first lesson, which amazed me, was how organized professional vagrants are. MSB actually stumbled across a “meeting” in which participants discussed the Christian writer’s group holding a conference at the Hyatt. For the rest of that day and for the duration of the weekend, the signs held on virtually every corner had a reference to God in their roughly-written pleas. Well, except for one man’s: “I won’t lie. It’s for beer.”
Their techniques were far more sophisticated than I imagined. On the way to the zoo the Monday after the conference, one young man approached us and told us a hard-luck story as we walked. My heart would’ve gone out to him, for his woeful tale was truly feasible, had it not been for an encounter a friend had. Another man held some money in his hand while telling our friend he’d been traveling from one town to another when his car broke down in Indianapolis. He needed a new battery, and he already had thirty-five dollars for it–all he needed was another twenty. What clued our friend to the hoax was the fact that a battery for the vehicle the man mentioned cost more than fifty-five dollars.
I’m sure there are people on the streets who don’t use their positions as a career choice, who truly are down on their luck or ill or suffering from whatever it was that landed them in such an unenviable circumstance. But this was an eye-opener for me.