Hartford Connecticut is a relatively big city, geographically very near, with a storied and historic past. But yet, it's rarely ever heard or talked about up here in our neck of the woods. Even though it shares the valley geographically, it seems to be almost completely disconnected, economic-wise and maybe even culture-wise. Maybe the Springfield to New Haven Commuter Rail proposal that's slowly picking up steam will finally take shape and change that...(Heather Brandon at Urban Compass and Bill Dusty at Springfield Intruder have been following those developments closely)..
Personally, while having driven through and by the city countless times, I think I've actually put boots on the ground in downtown Hartford less than a dozen times in my entire life.
But I was working down there a couple days ago, and took lunch break on a quest for a sandwich in the guts of the city. It was around the Main Street area, where glittering financial towers stand side by side with older government buildings and monumentia.
The area is definitely pedestrian-friendly, and the sidewalks were busy with people coming and going, getting on and off buses and crossing here to there. There appeared to be a museum right nearby, and famous Bushnell Park could be seen in the near distance.
It looked interesting and busy enough for me to decide to get out and continue on foot. There's definitely a lot to see down here, and 'in the valley' will be back for closer inspection when there is more time. For now, it was going to be just a quick taste on Main Street...
I parked the truck on a nearby side street, jumped out and was answering a work-related phone call that had just come in, while fumbling with a couple quarters in the Pay-to-Park kiosk. Just then a guy on a bicycle rolled up to me, stopped and held out a fist. Still talking on the phone now tucked into my shoulder, and pulling the little parking receipt out of the machine, I reached out with my free arm and tapped his fist with my fist completing that type of 'urban' greeting that has become so common. The guy politely asked how I was doing, and asked me for some money so he could go get some lunch.
As a qualifier before this goes on:
I don't usually, by default, just fork over money to panhandlers. Sometimes I will, but as a rule I don't. Some desperate, bad luck-stricken people need the help, just to get through another day to be sure, but I suspect some really don't need it that badly; I'll make that call and donate if I think it's warranted. But more often than not, I side with the school of charity that says tossing money to the suspectedly destitute generally enables more destitution. I will more often donate something to street performers since they're 'working' for the money...This healthy looking gentleman who approached me on a bicycle fell into my 'suspectedly destitute' category...
At any rate, the guy stood there on his bike waiting as I unsuccessfully tried to get the person on the phone to hold on for a second. The above disclaimer not withstanding, the guy had caught me by surprise and I reached into my pocket for some change while still talking on the phone. Digging around, I found I had a couple of coins left and pulled them out. Extending my outstretched arm towards the guy, I opened my palm wide to reveal two, shiny...dimes.
It was a paltry sum, I know, even by charity standards. But with the phone conversation still prattling on, all I could do at the moment was add a sheepish half-grin, while waiting for him to take it.
But he 'Harrumphed' me; rolling his eyes and shaking his head back as if to say "you gotta be kidding me". He paused for a second as if debating even taking it, and finally whipped off his glove for me to hand him the dimes. His reaction definitely got my attention off of the phone for a second, and I slowly flipped my hand over, dropping the dimes into his hand. I know it wasn't much, but I thought jeez, beggars and choosers, buddy.
This little transaction stuck with me for a while afterwards...
Was he really needy, and maybe embarrassed at being forced to beg for so little change? Should I have been embarrassed to offer so little? Should I have been angry he appeared to feel entitled to more? Did he even really need it to begin with, and was I just an easy looking mark for some extra money? Did offering those two dimes really help him, or me, in any way?
That quick taste of Main Street had turned into a lunch bag of questions on charity and neediness to ponder; and an appetizer for a return visit, to further explore what this busy nearby city has to offer...