Working the Street
By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributing Editor
Friday, August 6, 2010
Photo by Rick Gush
As a teenager, in a struggle to make ends meet, I used materials like these to clean sidewalks in exchange for donations. I used the money I earned to buy work clothes for a farm job.
When I was 19 years old, I found myself in a strange city with absolutely no money. I arranged for a place to sleep in a half-abandoned chicken coop on the outskirts of town, but finding something to eat was a more difficult task. I did have a flashlight and figured out that I could go out at night and steal a few vegetables from some of the big fields and private vegetable gardens. But then the flashlight batteries exhausted, and I had no money to buy new ones.
Living in the chicken coop was an adventure. I had my hammock strung up from one wall to the other, and that was fairly comfortable. The dozen half-wild chickens didn’t mind my presence at all. They seemed to enjoy perching on the ropes that held up my hammock and sleeping there while I slept. Unfortunately, when I had to get up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break, the hammock ropes would go slack and all the chickens would fall off, with lots of squawking and clucking to express their displeasure with their inconsiderate roommate.
A friend of mine in a similar situation suggested that I come along with him into town and beg for spare change. Desperate, I reluctantly agreed. I stood on the sidewalk for a few hours with my hand out and managed to get enough money to buy batteries and more, but I hated begging. At the end of that first day, I spent the rest of my meager coins on a little whisk broom and a knife from a second-hand store.
The next day I went back into town, to the same corner where I had begged the day before, and started cleaning the gum and crud off the sidewalk. I made a little cardboard sign that said: “I’m working for you and will appreciate any help.” I worked for four hours on the sidewalk and made about five times the money that I had the day before. Many people thanked me for cleaning the sidewalk. I went back every day for a week and managed to clean the sidewalk on almost the whole block, and I made enough money to buy the boots and all that I needed to get a real job at a local farm.
Today, I saw a few beggars on the streets in downtown Rapallo, Italy. We get a lot of illegal immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe begging on the streets during the tourist season. Remembering my own experience, I went to the hardware store, bought a few supplies (for less than five euros), made a little sign and gave it all to one of the guys begging on the street. The trick worked for himm, too, and when I went back an hour later he told me he had already made more money that he had in the previous two days. He also mentioned that cleaning the sidewalk was actually a lot more interesting than just standing around with one’s hand held out.
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