1 Almost Bought a Guy a Bus Ticket | The Billfold

Almost Bought a Guy a Bus Ticket

On Sunday the restaurant was slow, so I got cut from work early. I walked toward the river. The sun was starting to set and it was very pretty, and there were lots of people playing with babies and running and stretching and lounging in the grass. Some people were staring at the water and some people were staring at their companions and some people were staring at other people, like I was.

I walked along the water for awhile and thought about sitting in the grass, but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to actually sit in the grass, so I kept walking. The path curved away from the river, I was getting to the piers now, the piers that are actually gyms and event spaces, so I walked away from the water, cut over. Maybe I’d head a little bit uptown to a rooftop bar I knew, sit with a cocktail. Or maybe I’d take a train home, sit on the fire escape with the bottle of rose in the fridge. I could go to a movie, it was hot, and I hadn’t been to the movies in awhile. What was playing, I wondered without touching my phone. So many options. Too many. I kept walking.

The further I got from the water, the hotter it got, the slight breeze dissipating. It was maybe 6 p.m. I passed some boutiques, some chain stores, a makeup store that I usually find it hard to resist, but I walked by. Well, there’s a decision, I found one thing I don’t want to do.

Then I walked by Mr Jonathan. He was sitting on a pipe, or an electric meter, a hydrant, his large body propped up on a stool that wasn’t a stool. He was wearing a football jersey, jeans. He was sweating. He looked hot. He looked miserable. Another lady was shaking her head no, walking away, when I made eye contact and stopped. I was waiting for the universe to give me something, and well, here it was, it gave me Mr. Jonathan.

“Thank you for stopping, ma’am, I wouldn’t normally do this, but I’m so hot and hungry, I don’t have anything, I’m just trying to get some food in my belly, I haven’t eaten anything all day but a cupcake, I’ve got an awful headache.”

I tried to picture the cupcake. Not designer. Unless, it was designer? All he’d eaten was a $5 two-bite confection that a PR girl had bought for herself, a morning treat, about to bite into it, when this man, Mr Jonathan, asked if she could spare some change. She’d pause. I don’t have change, she’d say. But here. Take this cupcake. I shouldn’t be eating it anyway. Thank you ma’am, he’d say. No thank you, she’d say, down the street with a spring in her step anyway. She avoided the calories. And done a good deed. Or maybe this wasn’t an episode of a television show and the man had just bought himself a cupcake.

I didn’t ask what kind of cupcake.

“I’m really sorry you’re having a hard time.” I was looking for a dollar. At first not having a wallet seemed like this great, liberating idea, but really, I just couldn’t ever find anything. What was all this shit in my bag, anyway. Receipts and papers and crumpled up menus. Was I going to empty out this whole bag, to find a dollar. Old metro cards, notebooks.

“Can you just listen to me? More than a dollar, I just need someone to listen.” I’d found a five, success. I held it in my hand. I closed my bag. I apologized for not listening. Then I asked him to tell me about his life.

He had been in New York for eight days, or nine days, he couldn’t remember. He’d come in from Flint, Mich. on a bus. He didn’t know anyone here, but there wasn’t work in Flint, and people said, if you want those city jobs, you’ve got to get to New York.

I asked him what kind of work he thought he’d find here.

He was hoping to get a job as a cook. That’s what he was doing in Flint. Well first he was in the factory, then that closed. Then he was working for a car wash, a good car wash, and he left there on good terms. Then he was working as a cook. But there wasn’t enough work. So everyone said, come here.

I was trying to follow along, but it was a little confusing. Did he know anyone here? He did not. Did he have any connections here? He did not. What did he think was going to happen when he got off the bus? I didn’t ask him that. I don’t know if sleeping on the street had been part of plan. The timeline is a little fuzzy. But sometime between getting off the bus and now, his suitcase was stolen. “What was in your suitcase,” I asked. “Everything,” he said. Money. Wallet. Phone. Everything. He’d been sleeping on the streets since. Where? “This little porch over there,” he cocked his head.

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know, Ma’am. I really don’t. I need $80 to get a bus ticket back to Michigan, and at this point I’d do that in a second, but that would take me a month to get, at the rate I’m going, and at this point, I just need food and water. And nobody will stop. You’re only the second person who has stopped all day.”

“That’s really hard, Mr. Jonathan, I wish you the best of luck.” I shook his hand and gave him $5, apologized that it wasn’t more. Then I walked away.

I thought about what I could do for him, get him a job? Research shelters? It seemed like too much. I had my own problems, not dire ones, but ones. A bus ticket though. I could do that. I looked up the bus ticket from New York to Flint. $80. Like he said. I started to go through the process, on my phone, just to see if it was even possible to buy someone a ticket for pickup, just to see if I could. $18 gift fee. That’s bullshit, Greyhound. That’s bullshit. But still, what’s a $20 difference in handing someone a life rope when they need one. I clicked through, got to another screen, the button that should have said “pick up” wasn’t there, only the one that said, “print now.” But it had just said … I was troubleshooting. I’d start over. Or I’d go back to work and print the ticket there. Oh don’t mind me I just have to use the printer to print this bus ticket for this guy.

I’d backtracked and retracked, trying to get to the option to “pickup with a password,” when he walked by me and sat on a bench. He was smoking a cigarette. Maybe someone gave him the cigarette. Or maybe they’d been in his jeans. That’s fine. People smoke. Then he turned and I saw he was on a cell phone. I watched him for a bit, he’d listen on the phone, push in some numbers, listen some more.

Opening line possibilities: I was just buying you a bus ticket. I was just looking at the bus ticket site. I was going to buy you a bus ticket, but now I’m questioning the validity of your story.

He didn’t owe me the truth. Maybe he’d discovered that the one detail that made people actually ache for him, actually want to help him out, was if he had lost his phone. Somehow the story without having lost the phone was less tragic. So he had to lie. Had to. He put the phone back in his pocket. I waited a beat and approached him.

“Hi again, Mr Jonathan. I stopped to check my email and got distracted by this sunset.” It was really very pretty, a cloud highlighted in sun, just lovely.

“Oh I just found this phone.”

He saw that I saw he had a phone.

“Well good luck with that sir. And with everything.”

Later I’d tell my therapist how close I came to buying him a bus ticket and he’d look at me and say, “Well, you wanted to spend the hundred dollars. And if he’d made it just a little bit easier for you, you would have. But instead he made you pause. But I bet you spent it anyway.”


I walked around for another two hours. I walked over to the the High Line. I hadn’t been since winter. It was so lovely in the summer, lush, there are spots where it’s overgrown and you have to duck under the branches and it feels like you’re actually in the wild, instead of where you are, a park on some elevated tracks in a city full of people.

I got off the High Line at the end, got a Slurpee at 7-11, walked to the train. I got off near my house, took a detour and walked by my favorite restaurant, decided that if my favorite bartender was there, I’d stop for glass of wine, if not, I’d keep walking. He was there, and one glass of wine was two, plus the tagliatelle (“What’s in this that makes it so good? Butter?” “That’s the secret to most of our dishes, actually.”). Leave a tip and that’s $50. There’s half your bus ticket right there. Which purchase would have made me feel better? And which, you?


17 Comments / Post A Comment

daysgoby (#3,610)

This is lovely.

bgprincipessa (#699)

This really was lovely, Logan. And a little sad. I’m not sure which purchase would make me feel better.

RM (#4,487)

I had to sign up for an account after lurking on this site for months (every day. for months) because I had the same experience. Except I could never have written about it so beautifully. I felt badly for a long time after not giving the “3 months pregnant, trying to get back to NJ” girl money. Then I was hit up by her with the same story nearly a year later.

This is a great post, Logan. I did a similar thing when I was visiting Dallas. I had a guy hit me up for a bus ticket outside of the medical center. He said he had been a patient there for weeks and had just been discharged and just wanted to get home. My boyfriend told me I was just being a gulible Canadian for buying him a ticket, but it was $8 and he didn’t even have shoes that fit. That story might have been bunk, but if he didn’t even have proper shoes it’s not like he didn’t need that money for SOMETHING and what’s $8 in exchange for not having to worry that he was telling the truth and I didn’t help him out?

On a day when I was in the car with my mom running errands, we passed an old man in a suit with the hood of his car up.I was 12. Seeing him coming up, I insisted to my mom that we needed to help him because he looked like my grandfather. An alarm bell should have gone off when we pulled over just as a tow truck did. He waved the truck away and approached us. He told us that he had flown here on business but had lost all of his bags. He had just found out his son was in the hospital and had no way of getting back since he couldn’t buy a bus ticket and his car broke down(which is odd since he flew here?). We drove him home, and when we relayed the story to my dad, he immediately said, “This guy is a con artist, but I’ll do it anyway.” He bought the guy an $80 ticket and drove him to the station. Later, checking up on the status of the ticket, he was told it was exchanged for a cash refund. He now says, “At least he wasn’t an axe-murderer.”

j a y (#3,935)

Solid psychology on the guy’s part – I wonder if he needed a ticket. Most people wouldn’t consider buying the ticket and just give him money ‘toward’ it.

I’m a cynic who needs to be more charitable, but in general, I prefer to give to institutions.

Interesting and enjoyable read.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

Logan, next time you’re wandering around with some spare time, set yourself up so that you can watch one of these blokes in action. It’s quite educational.

There’s a fair few of the con artists in the CBD where I live. (Obviously not all public beggars are con artists, but I think a fair percentage are.) Based on my experience, there are three price points.

First, the beggar will simply ask for cash. It isn’t a big time investment and you don’t need to get a high percentage of acceptances to get a pretty good return on your time.

Second, the beggar may ask for money for a meal. In these circumstances, I offer to walk the person to a suitable store and buy a meal. If the person accepts, I buy the food, the person eats it and we’re both happy. In my experience, the majority of beggars don’t want me to buy them the food — they want me to give them the cash equivalent. (In one case, I bought the food at a McDonalds, walked away from the counter and when I looked over my shoulder, the beggar was trying to sell the food back to the McDonalds employee.)

Third, the beggar will ask for a train or bus ticket. This is a real score, because the ticket can be cashed in and they’re often in the $30-100 range.

I use a relatively simple way of determining if the person is genuine or not. If the person is genuinely hungry, the person immediately takes me up on the offer of food. If not, then I don’t believe him or her. Second, regarding the bus or train ticket, if the beggar is kind of hazy on the story (as this person was), I believe that the story is almost always bogus. People should be expected to know their life history, especially if it’s only a few weeks or months old. If the story isn’t well though-out, then it usually falls apart and you can go your separate ways.

It’s possible that I may have turned down a genuine beggar and I’d regret that. However, I think there are quite a few con artists taking advantage of people’s wish to help those who are in genuine need.

Where I live, quite a few people in the CBD sell The Big Issue. It costs $6, of which $3 goes to the vendor. I don’t like the magazine, so I just give the vendor $3. If a person is willing to sell The Big Issue, then I feel confident that my money is going to a person who will use it appropriately.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@WayDownSouth You’ve taught me the term “CBD,” which coincidentally are my initials, too.

Vamos (#4,489)

Absolutely great read. Being an adult with ADD at times I find it hard to read through a full article at random. Usually the article will peak my interest (as yours did) but then halfway through I just scan for the next article that will certainly hold my interstest. Your discription of your day, thoughts, environment and so forth kept me engaged bc I could relate to how the story started. Kudos for keeping my attention to the point where I signed up to write this comment.

Now, as I read your story and the part where Jonathan was telling you about his, my heart bled for him. I felt so bad. I felt that that person could have been me asking for a ticket home. Maybe under different circumstances but the end result would be the same. The fact that you not only gave him money but went through the “trouble” of looking up info on purchasing a ticket for this random stranger with intent to buy it for him was sheer kindness. I could relate with your actions up to that point because if I had the money, I would have done the same thing however I don’t feel I would have been as cordial as you were discovering the fact that he was a con artist.

I am always iffy of those begging for money. Sometimes they look like they really do need it. Others look like they don’t. It is hard to decide I guess. I do hope that this one person did not let your kind and charitable self ruin it for those that ask of you who are in dire need. As for your question, purchasing the ticket would have made me feel better.

lizard (#2,615)

honestly i feel for people but anytime someone wants a ticket its a scam.

wallrock (#1,003)

When I was twelve my family took a summer vacation to D.C. and I had my first interaction like this. We were in between Smithsonians and we’d gotten a couple slices for lunch on the Mall. I was finishing my can of root beer when a man came up to me and asked me if I was “done with the soda?” I didn’t quite pick up his accent correctly and I thought he asked me if I was from Minnesota, so my response of “No, Wisconsin actually” just ratcheted up the confusion. After he left I told my father about it and he explained that he wanted the can for the aluminum. I felt so bad and ran back to give the man all of our cans.

tussock (#1,296)

The part of this story that is really making me think is the idea that Logan wanted to spend the $100, in her therapist’s words. In a way I read this less as a story about a particular man who might have been a scam artist, and more about Logan’s relationship to money. She wanted to have a reason to spend money in a way that made her feel good about herself and fostered a human connection of some kind. Instead of $100 on the bus ticket guy it was $50 on pasta, wine, and the bartender. Was it the right choice? Was it the choice she wants to be making? I like that the story doesn’t offer a clear moral but instead captures the complexity of the emotional realities at play.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@tussock I don’t go to bars often, so I was confused about the reference to the $50. Does a plate of pasta and two glasses of wine cost $50 (including the tip)? That seems to be quite expensive. Is that a normal price in NYC?

liznieve (#37)

Yeah, it’s unfortunately not unbelievable. $18ish pasta, $11ish a glass, plus tax and tip. Plus, assuming because the bartender is a friend and probably gave her a little bonus wine, and therefore Logan wanted to return the favor with a bigger tip. Food here is awesome, and sure, you can certainly find some cheap eats, but that quality doesn’t come cheaply.

honey cowl (#1,510)

This is top-notch.

MoneyMatters (#4,494)

WOW. This is a great story…

OK, full disclosure: I hail from the land of the “New Age” so there are certain ideas floating around that I am WELL acquainted with, shit like lack and abundance and western-style/appropriation of “karma,” and “the universe,” basically some eastern philosophy filtered thru a western mind with some sufi thrown in, native americana and a whole lot of drugs (obvs), with a fuckload of psychology (favoring jung over freud).

Initially, I had started out heavily weighting logic and reason above all else as the roadmap to intelligence and understanding. There is a slight problem to favoring this approach, which is: humans don’t actually operate primarily in a logical or reasonable way. Logic and reason will bear this finding out, and it’s illogical (to the point of absurdity) to assume otherwise.

So, I took a dip in the gobbly-dygook of “new ageism” because I also experienced some “freaky-deaky” type of coinkydinkys that seemed pattern-related, and not just in my mind in a try-not-to-think-of-a-white-elephant type of way.

I kind of “went with it”.

And even if you use psychology as your primary guidepost… you can see there is some weird stuff going on when it comes to our behaviors, (and our interactions). I think of the angels’ work of domestic violence counseling where so much of the work is to help people (women mostly) to stop “going back to it” for more…

Money has always seemed to me a primary vehicle thru which these hidden/inner forces and dramas play out. This self-created stuff of life that supersedes the logical and becomes a medium thru which we express our beings. And often we feel like “there isn’t enough” which has little (nothing) to do with what is actually available, and everything to do with our perceptions of what is available, which has little (or nothing) to do with “reality” — although it then becomes “our reality”.

This drama that we then play out causes us a great deal of angst and anxiety — perhaps by design to destract us from the infinitely more frightening and real reality of our death (or, if that were precluded in some way and our lives extended indefinitely, of simply our lives and the weight that is consciousness).

I mean, it’s so weird. In theory — we, potentially, “have enough”. And yet we squander and organize in such a way that scarcity is the ever-abundance. So that even in the vastness of our wealth, we are so little truly generous to ourselves and others, to partake and celebrate in the richness of our experiential ride thru life. We can elevate, but it isn’t necessarily intuitive, or if it is, it’s a much deeper intuitiveness, on not a superficial one.

So often, what people “need” cannot be provided thru external means. How do you stop hitting yourself and others? You have to stop feeling the need to punish. Money is often used, not as a legit means of exchange, but as a devisive weapon. The currency carries our intentions, and our intentions are so often not good, not well understood, and basically a means of “acting out” like little kids (with grown up powers and means).

This was a great little story of insight for you to share with us, not the simple “you can’t trust people, especially often desperate people who’s poor prior choices may have lead them to their current desperation”. But a bigger look into your motivations and your story, as it intersects with Mr. Johnathan’s.

Because at the end of the day, what you truly have to give to another person is inspiration (and perhaps hand-in-hand, hope). Enthusiasm, motivation and drive. These qualities are both tangible and intangible, and they are transmittable. Emotions are contagious. But they are much much less “available” and harder to have to share/give than a dollar, ten dollars, or even a million dollars. Resources are truly less scarce than our ability to not wild-out and mismanage our resources, using them to punish ourselves and others.

This fear, of existence/death, if you will, is most likely biological because the same quality can be seen in some species of chimpanzees who will fight if there is not enough food, but also will start up beef if there is too much food, and only when their day to day existence is made up of enough food not to have to fight tooth and nail for it, but no extra to give them ideas about the future and planning. We take it to some next-level shit because we know money can influence people’s motivations and actions, and in our childish and child-like desire to control the world (and get our way) we become hoarders (or conversely, martyrs, or both.) Money representing power, but we’ll never truly be able to have power over another person, and the truth is we wouldn’t want to. If I can control you, life becomes infinitely less interesting… there’s no surprise, there’s no delight, there’s no dynamic interplay. And yes, there’s no love.

I don’t know what that guy needed… but often a dollar is not really a dollar… it’s something way more meaningful and significant. So in a new age-y type of reading of that story, that dude gave you something on that day. Not the information that “you can’t trust people” but something more important and more meaningful… what do you have to give? He asked you to listen to him. In listening to others, we hear ourselves, too. What do we want? What do we need? What are we missing? What do we already have?

MoneyMatters (#4,494)

* correction: it is probably more truthful to say that logic and reason with regards to human behavior are embedded very deeply within Byzantine corriders of the structures of people’s minds. Like, if you trace it thru far enough, somewhere, somehow, it will “make sense” and be logical, given the parameters and inputs, etc. basically being summed up as x did y because x was crazy in afaikfubarsmdh…z specific (and, more or less predictable and understandable) way. Not logical, but logical, if you see what I mean.

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