Normally when you think of Atlanta, Georgia, what do you tend to associate it with, besides the Redneck Olympics, titty bars and horrible downtown areas devoid of urban planning or management? You think of the homeless. Normally there are TONS of homeless people out milling around, begging, offering to wash your car windows with a homemade squeegee, or even trading random biblical verses for dollar bills.
That’s right. On any given day there are dozens of people without homes panhandling on the city streets of Atlanta, lying in makeshift cardboard tents or standing outside of liquor stores trying to stay warm. Suddenly, however, on the day we show up laden with fresh Thanksgiving leftovers and overflowing with self-righteous goodwill they are nowhere to be found. Ok, it’s not exactly correct to say they were unable to be found. It’s just that they were already full from about twelve other well organized “feed the homeless” events that offered a higher quality and better culinary fare. Apparently some local church or bunch of goody goody non-profit organizations had already put together a number of barbecue and smoked turkey buffet stations in the parks downtown. Every time we thought we found the “jackpot” or “motherlode” of homeless people to offer up our (by comparison) measly looking Big Lots brown bag turkey lunches, the toothless,disheveled but bright eyed homeless person would politely say, “No thank you sir. Happy Thanksgiving”. Then they would walk off carrying two or three stacked white styrofoam boxes stained with thick barbecue sauce, sweet potato pie crust and giblet gravy. Honestly, like Jimmy Carter admitting to sinning in ones heart, I caught myself considering getting in line at the cardboard buffet table. It looked that good. I even considered “trading” two of my turkey sandwiches and two Dasani water bottles to a homeless person for one small carton of ribs. That seemed reasonable… at the time. I’m sorry, but I was hungry.
We did manage to drive around aimlessly for about two hours and unload about ten sandwiches. Maybe they were just being nice to us and took pity on our plight. I cant really say. We did notice two other cars full of desperate looking suburbanites also trying to giveaway free food and drinks. One of the cars seemed to actually be “competing” with us in finding new untapped and unfed reserves of homeless people. I may have imagined it in my mounting frustration, but I could swear this BMW with two 40 something blonds and a teenager wearing an Abercrombie hoodie cut us off and dumped about a half pallet of free soft drinks next to a homeless looking guy sitting on a bench while reading a book. Well, the jokes on them because I’m pretty sure the guy was a grad student in electrical engineering at Georgia State or Georgia Tech. Still, I suppose with his student loans anything free of charge would be much appreciated.
Eventually we drove to Little Five Points where hippies and homeless people intermingle and make the accurate assessment of homelessness virtually impossible. We retreated to Starbucks and Junkman’s Daughter for caffeine and spiritual renewal. Of course, on the way back to the car the privately employeed Vortex police had booted my car for “exceeding the maximum allowed parking time of 15 minutes” and leaving the premises. I didn’t even know that was illegal, nor did I know they could charge $75 for such a fascist parking policy. Still, staying ever mindful and keeping my wits about me, I asked the “cop” if he wanted a fresh turkey sandwich with homemade stuffing and fake Belgian cookies. Predictably, he declined, but like the homeless folks we encountered, he was very nice about it. On the way home, in a car full of crabby family members, I began to silently calculate how much I would have to charge for each sandwich to make up for the parking ticket, gasoline and labor expended on behalf of the homeless. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret the original intention. It’s just that my mother taught me to never throw out any leftovers that are still “decent food for someone who needs it”. I think I ate four turkey sandwiches for dinner that night, not counting leftover shrimp dejonge, mashed potatoes, gravy and a small plastic bag of cheapass Keebler cookies. Anybody still hungry?