My daughter got mad at me a couple of years ago for posting a blog entry here complaining about the panhandlers on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Baltimore.
Doing the daily commute from Baltimore to D.C. at that time, I was beginning to feel oppressed by the mournful looks of the panhandlers shuffling by me at every stoplight on Martin Luther King Avenue. On my way to work. On my way home.
My blog entry was supposed to be clever, light-hearted. My daughter thought it was churlish.
You don’t want your daughter to think you are churlish.
Although I am no longer commuting from Baltimore, I do pass through Union Station every day, and Union Station has its own problems with panhandlers.
Also crime: I have represented many people accused of having committed a criminal offense at the station, including a recent stabbing. I know where every surveillance camera is located. I can’t help walking through the station without feeling that I am being watched, without imagining what my image looks like on the small TV monitor in the control room.
I am still churlish, particularly when it comes to the more aggressive panhandlers who approach your table at Chopt or Chipotle.
But I do make an exception for this one particular guy. I hesitate to call him a panhandler because he never actually asks anyone for money. Instead, standing by the top of the escalator down to the metro station, he bids everyone who passes him a blessed day.
I have a problem with people telling me to have a blessed day. (Didn’t my daughter accuse me of being churlish?) I don’t like to have people’s religious beliefs foisted on me.
I let this pass for a couple of days. Then, not being able to help myself, I gave him my traditional “allahu akbar!” response.
I thought I might be the only person who finds that clever. But he got it immediately. He laughed. He patted his heart. And then we bumped fists.
The next day we had the exact same exchange, except this time, having done his homework, he extended it. “As-salamu alaykum,” he added. And then: “Have a blessed day.”
Again, we laughed. We bumped fists. I had to ask my son for the response to this: “Wa alaikum assalam.”
This guy and I have been best friends ever since.
It has gotten to the point where I look forward to seeing him every morning. We do our little exchange, our private joke, and then we fist bump, and I continue onto the metro smiling and in much better spirits.
On the rare days he is not at his customary post, I am disappointed. Usually I can hear him wishing people a blessed day before I can see him. One time I came around the corner to find he was not there. Then I heard a laugh behind me: “You were looking for me,” he said. “Weren’t you?”
Of course I was.
As-salamu alaykum. Have a blessed day.