Several years ago during another economic downturn, Jim and I had just left Wal-Mart. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we had carefully selected enough groceries for the week. We stopped in a line of traffic waiting to pull onto Highway 50. A scruffy looking man carried a sign that said “Will Work for Food.” Several cars in front of us rolled down windows and handed the man money.
Jim said, “Roll down your window, Honey.”
Jim was a generous sort of man so I thought he was going to give the guy some money. We knew what hard times were firsthand. I began to rummage through my purse looking for a few dollars. Jim beckoned the man to come over, and the man leaned into my window.
Jim said, “Hey, I have a lot of work that needs to be done at my house. I can keep you busy for several days.” It was true that we could use help. Jim and I were building our house with sweat equity, and we had worked on it for months, and had many more to go.
I thought maybe Jim had lost his mind. No way did I want this man at my home with my family. Besides I watch a lot of TV and was pretty sure this guy looked like serial killer material.
The man got a strange look on his face and no longer seemed the humble job seeker of a few moments before. He looked to the right. He swept his gaze to the left. “I have to go,” he said. “Those people in the next car want to talk to me.”
I rolled my window up and slammed down the button to lock the door in case that Charles Manson looking character changed his mind. “Are you crazy?” I asked Jim. “I wouldn’t want that man to even know where we live, much less hang around for days!” I was huffy.
Jim just laughed. “Hell, there’s no way that guy wants to work. He only wants a handout.”
I always hated it when Jim was right. It would have suited my personality to hand the guy some money, but Jim was a man with quick judgment who could spot a scam artist a mile away.
We pulled onto the highway. “You still took a chance,” I said. “I would have been scared to death if that guy had climbed in the van with us.”
“Wasn’t going to happen,” Jim said. “You don’t look for a job standing out on the street holding a sign.”
I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the man back at the corner with his “Will Work for Food” sign held high as another car rolled to a stop and the window came down. Sometimes it’s easier to hand over money than to judge character. In hard economic times, scam artists work hard to take your money and steal donations that could go to people who really need it.