Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Hardest Working Man in the Marina

A little side project. I created "The Hardest Working Man in the Marina" so I could share with the world some of what I am exposed to on a regular basis. Essentially here's my deal -- it's not 100% habitual, but 99.8% of the time over the last 4 years or so I go to Starbucks somewhere between 6:30am and 8:30am. Especially when I am on the later side, I always see (every day) the hardest working man in the marina. Rich, formerly known simply as "Red Face" is a staple of the neighborhood. He's a panhandler, but one with a simpy AMAZING work ethic. Every day. Saturday. Sunday. It does not matter.

One thing you begin to realize after the first 6 months or so you see this (and remember, I'm 48 months into this now) is wow, "he's the most stable homeless person I ever saw!" And then it dawns on you -- wait, you can't be homeless and that consistently stable where you show up for work at the same place and time every day. That's stability!

Indeed, Rich is not homeless and apparently brags to his downtrodden brethren that he's raking it in. I doubt he's raking it in by SF standards, but business is obviously good enough that he's coming to work every day.

I love exposing a fraud and there are multiple frauds here. I've been in acceptance for years now at the truth of this market. Rich does in fact provide a valuable service in that he takes advantage of a system. A system where people will do all kinds of silly stuff to appease their own guilt. Rich preys on exactly this and he does provide a service. When someone hands Rich a $5 bill, they actually DO feel better for having done it.

But I have much experience in "giving money to panhandlers" who claim homelessness, poverty and hunger. I lived in the mission for 2 years and I was constantly accosted on my way to BART by many panhandlers who would say "can I have $2 to get some food?" I'd say, sure, walk into the market with me, we'll get you some. 99 out of 100 times the response was: "No thanks, can I just have the money!?" There once was someone who let me buy them a sandwich. Once.

Rich isn't that guy though. He's been coming to work every day for at least 4 years, that is stability. The fraud with Rich is he'd have you believe he's homeless and destitute, but he isn't. The fraud with the people giving Rich money is they tell themselves they're doing it to make RICH feel better, but in reality they're doing it to make themselves feel better.

The fact is, both are equally fraudulent. That's why it forms such a perfect market. I don't really have a problem with it, though if as a result of my picture taking Rich decided to move off of Chestnut St, it wouldn't bother me at all. It doesn't bother me that it exists as long as I know what the fraud is on each side of the equation. The website is really just a visual documentation of that premise.

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