Taking public transportation has the distinct advantage of exposing me to areas of the American culture I'm not completely in tune with. The train ride to the airport, although similar to the train ride out with the mix of people frome bums to young people, scrawny to beyond obese, gorgeous to butt-ugly, was interestingly more pleasant than the ride out from the airport.
Instead of catching the red train from the convention center, I caught the blue, and took it to where the two line separated. Near the exchange point, a black man came by and asked for my change. His request was different from most change requests I normally get: his eyes were missing the usual "deranged" (in quotes, because that's not quite the right word) look, his manner wasn't desperate, and he was softspoken. When I gently shook my head no, he nodded thanks and moved on.
I watched him for a moment, and did something I rarely ever do: I dug the change out of my backpack and handed it to him as he walked back to the back of the car. He nodded thanks again.
The change wasn't much: maybe fifty cents. Money I would most likely never miss. At least I sincerely hope I would never miss.
The change started me thinking: I had one hundred dollars in my backpack from a trip to the ATM yesterday. It was my lunch and spending money for the week. Would I miss twenty of it? Handing it to a beggar wouldn't be the best use of it, but losing twenty dollars isn't any better.
I dug the twenty out of the back of my pack, folded it into eighths, and handed it to the man as he was eying a woman's three bags of recycling.
He didn't realize it was a twenty, but saw that it was paper, and thanked me. A minute later, recyclables in hand, he came up to me to thank me again.
Would he spend that money on drugs? Would he buy alcohol or cigarettes? Would he buy something I generally disapproval of, or something he needed.
I decided I didn't care.
If he needed that cigarette to get him through the day, then that's what he needed to spend his money on. Because it was his money now to spend.