I think I was the intended victim of a panhandling scam.
I'm walking home from a late day at the office last week, going up Homer street by the Vancouver Library. It's around 7:30pm.
My mind's already in neutral thinking about things like whether or not my eyelids close at the exact same time when I blink.
I'm roused from my stupor by a guy walking behind me having a monologue in an English accent, like he's talking on a cell phone. He sounds like he's getting closer, and just as he passes me, he says something like, "Right, so you can't tell me where on Georgia street? - ok, well that's no help...thank you very much." - He ends his conversation and mutters to himself like he's upset.
We come to a red light and he turns to me and says, "Excuse me, would you know how long Georgia street is?"
ME: [Friendly smile] "Pretty long."
English Patient: "Well do you know where the tourist information center is?"
ME: "No I don't, but there's a travel agency on Robson just a block away that is open late and I'm sure they'll know."
English Patient: "Oh right...I was just there, they didn't know. I've tried several travel agencies."
ME: "That's too bad."
English Patient: "...so do you know where I could get these traveller's cheques cashed?"
ME: "Nope. Not this late."
English Patient: "See, I have a flight to catch in an hour and a half and I just drove back from the airport with my rental car [holds up a key] and I can't get 411 [holds up his cell phone] to give me any useful information. I need to cash a cheque so I can get the money to pay for that stupid airport improvement fee."
ME: "Ah. I see." [Right now, I'm starting to think this is a scam. I purposely put on my hemrroid sufferer face and I show him my eyes scanning him up and down looking for clues that would indicate he's a bum. His hat's a little too dirty, and so are his hands.]
English Patient: "I have no idea how I'm going to get that money. Without it, I can't get on an airplane to go home".
ME: "Why don't you go to a Western Union and get your family to wire you some money..you have a cell phone right there".
English Patient: "...Uhmm, well those places are open here, but in the UK they're closed right now because of the time difference."
ME: "Really? I'm pretty sure those places are open 24 hrs in all major cities aroung the world."
English Patient: "No, they're not, I already tried. I'm at the end of my rope here, I'm almost about to cry."
ME: "I'm sure if you go to the airport and explain your situation, someone will help you out there."
At this point, I could tell the guy was starting to lose interest in me as an easy target. I guess he thought I was just going to give him $20 with his story so far. He was running out of lines. There was an awkward silence.
So I wished him the best of luck and gave him a pat on the shoulder and walked away.
OK, so maybe this isn't a scam. Maybe the guy was genuinely in a predicament. My problem is that working downtown I hear this crap so often that I don't trust anybody anymore. These street con men have turned me into a cynic that has a hard time believing these stories.
Did I do the right thing or not?
Has anyone else had the same story given to them on a street corner?
- maybe if you hear it now, you'll know it's a scam.