Yesterday was a day to pretend we were urbanites without a care in the world, no chores to finish at home and no pressing engagements. My husband and I decided to go downtown and window shop with our son in his stroller. He napped, we ambled. It was a nice way to pass the afternoon.
The rest of our city did to, it seems, and the sidewalks were teeming with people that walked very slowly, or three abreast, or stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to stare at display windows. Stores were packed. People were lugging shopping bags brimming with purchases everywhere. Patios had people sipping beer on them. Patios! in March!
Interestingly enough, the line-up for Beaver-Tails was a mile long, with everyone ordering an “Obama-Tail”. Scores of people were lined up to get those cookies that Obama bought to take home to his kids. It was Obama-Mania, and the vendors were cashing in. We need a leader to get our public that excited, I think. We haven’t seen fervor for a Prime Minister since Trudeau pirouetted onto the political stage to take the helm.
The hope of Spring was in the air and in the sky, the mildness keeping our jackets tucked away in the stroller. For middle March, it was a lovely break from the noose of Winter that, as usual, tightens ever so slightly on our moods and relationships this time of year. People looked relieved to have sun and warmth on their face. Children weren’t small stuffed marshmallows with eyes peeking out from snowsuits anymore. Fingers weren’t freezing off. Breathing outside wasn’t a chore. Clunky boots could be traded for soft, comfy sneakers.
We popped into a french bakery, I introduced my husband to a wonderful kitchen gadget store, and we strolled into little boutique-y places to look at overpriced things we didn’t need. We splurged on seedless oranges and sushi grade salmon and tuna for sushi rolls at home. I bought myself a new wallet that was so adorable I couldn’t resist.
The nice weather also meant that the beggars and homeless folk were out in full force with their beat up tins, coffee cups, and hands out-stretched. One boy was singing (bad) opera with a tupperware container in front of him, another had a small dog with a bowler hat and glasses cavorting around him. Many had beat up guitars, strumming and caterwauling away. Somehow, it added to the strangely energizing cacaphony of the crowds, instead of pushing about our ears roughly. Really, it is just a part of downtown in the summer, you get used to it.
I’ll admit, I have given money to beggars before. I have felt sorry for them on cold nights, and despite my better judgement, I have dropped change into the crumpled coffee cup outstretched by the grizzled hand. I know that money goes for booze, or drugs, or cigarettes. I know that the last thing you should do is give an addict money. But I have anyways.
In the past, near Christmas, I have also handed out oranges or apples to street folk , or handed someone who does look down-and-out my lunch. And if someone is doing something interesting or unique to busk for money, well, ok, I’ll throw in a couple of loonies. I’m not sure, but I think busking is illegal unless you get a permit… so perhaps I shouldn’t… No matter.
We try to donate time, items, and money directly to the Missions and shelters now, giving to a source that can help and make a difference directly. Moreso money and items these days, and not as much as we would like, our own budgets tight with new baby expenses.
Yesterday though, both my husband and I stopped dead in awe of a parking meter painted white, and spouting the words “Kindness Meter”. The beat up and oddly placed thing was in our path, and the sign basically said something about putting the money you would normally give to beggars in the meter, and it would go to the Missions instead of addictions.
Now, we haven’t been living under a rock, but it seems these “Kindness Meters” have been around for awhile, and have gotten a mixed reaction. We had missed the news fracas about these, I guess. Part of me wanted to applaud the idea, being an “outside the box” kind of thing, but part of me looked at the novelty of such a method of fundraising as trivializing to the folks that need our help. I immediately wanted to know if they actually were helping, or were simply a “white albatross” in the downtown area that was a running joke. I also vaguely had a bit of an idea form that perhaps a publicity grab was had when these meters went in. A “look what I am doing to help our city” kind of thing for the originator of the idea.
The paint on the meter was chipped, and looked as if it had seen a couple of rounds with an implement of some strength. A Salvation Army kettle this could be compared to, but it was also not an ideal way to get people to understand the plight of our homeless in this city. I’m not sure how I feel about them. In one sense, it is another source of donations that are so badly needed. In another, it is one more way our city is failing our poor.
As we looked at one another with a mix of humour and incredulity, I rummaged my purse and plonked a loonie into the slot. I figured that I cannot judge a method for fundraising until I myself tried it out.
The meter, flashed, and then read 0:30.
I had, upon buying into the concept of the meters, successfully purchased 30 minutes of kindess for a buck… Not bad considering the price of things lately.
However, a thought came to my head as we continued on our walk. No, it didn’t buy 30 minutes of kindess for someone, because kindness cannot be measured in dollars. I had bought 30 minutes of good karma.
….can that be measured in dollars?