A Holiday Guide To Downtown Panhandlers 

Getting to know your favorite sidewalk charities.

In his khaki waistcoat and blue trucker's hat, Jo-Jo, pacing pensively on Ontario across from Key Tower, is just another panhandler having an average day. Cops and lawyers, bankers and accountants -- they all converge on Tower City about lunch time, and Jo-Jo doesn't mind asking them for a few dimes. He could have a steady stream of people to solicit if he stood in front of Terminal Tower. But too many kids, white men, and black women populate that space -- all the people least likely to give.

Jo-Jo isn't pushy and always offers thanks. Tell him to get a job, and he may cuss you out. Otherwise, he's warm and conversational. But he doesn't have a lot of time to talk -- time is money. The trick to this game is pitching everyone and playing the odds. "Ain't no secret to this," says Jo-Jo. "People give you what they can."

Rita walks by and drops a few quarters into his coffee cup -- he can always depend on her. She's what's known in hobo parlance as a regular. She knows Jo-Jo well; he lives in her neighborhood, where he begs door-to-door about once a week. "Yeah, everybody gives him money. Why not?" She shrugs. "Everyone needs a hand sometimes."

Downtown has been a battleground for pedestrians and panhandlers since the late '90s, when merchants unsuccessfully lobbied Mayor Mike White to pass anti-panhandling laws similar to those in Cincinnati, Dayton, and other cities. They were particularly concerned that aggressive mooching was driving away shoppers and tourists. "I hate the panhandlers around Public Square," says Jenita, who works downtown and won't give her last name. "One time, this guy called me a bitch, right after I'd just given him a dollar."

But the ACLU reminded the city that nonaggressive panhandling is a form of protected speech. "There is a fine line where the right of the panhandler ends and the right of the pedestrian not to be harassed begins," says the ACLU's Gary Davis.

Ray Jay, who has been working the corner of East Ninth and Euclid for 10 years, understands the problem. "I hate those guys that follow people down the street and hassle them, because they make us all look bad," he says. "If one of those guys fucks with you on Ninth and Superior, you'll be so angry that you ain't gonna wanna give me any money by the time you get up here."

Most panhandlers use a passive-aggressive approach consisting of salutation, pitch, and the shaking of a cup. But occasionally, this congenial request for a donation can go bad. Some people make extreme sport of tossing cheap shots at bums, assuming they're too catatonic to react. But a good many of them are like Rick, a 44-year-old ex-con, who stakes a claim to the front of the Subway shop near East Ninth and St. Clair. He doesn't expect a glad hand, but he won't tolerate any disrespect.

Once, an asshole from the 'burbs started making monkey noises and told Rick he'd give him a quarter if he danced a jig. "I said, 'Look, muthafucka, I can get crazy too. Don't make me have to get in dat ass." His eyes widen as he recounts the story. "I told him flat out: 'I will whup dat ass, man.'"

A young white girl in a Liz Claiborne suit drops a handful of coins into his styrofoam coffee cup. "My secret?" he says as he accepts a fistful of coins from another young white lady. "I just stand here and let these white women take care of me."

The fact is that many of these guys have better customer-service skills than Nordstrom's clerks and are wholly employable. One even claims to hold a master's degree from Case Western Reserve. While it's hard to know whether your contribution will go toward food, a little liquid heat, or illicit smokables, these guys nonetheless offer as good a charitable target as any. After all, at least you know your money's going directly to the poor, rather than to administrative overhead. So for those who are kind of heart, Scene offers this holiday guide to downtown panhandlers.

Sweet Spot: In front of the old Dillard's, Tower City
Preferred Cup: KFC
Age: 45
Previous Occupation: Incarcerated for weapons violations and drug trafficking; lost leg in car accident
Education: High school
Daily Take: $4
Secret: "I just shake my cup, man. Either these muthafuckas give or they don't. If you ask 'em all polite, they still won't give you shit."

Name: Isaac Goldstein, aka Ike G.
Sweet Spot: Prospect and Ontario
Age: 59
Previous Occupation: Child development psychologist
Education: Master's from CWRU
Daily Take: $50
Political Affiliation: Republican
Best day: $459, after World Series
FYI: Erudite and always clean and pressed. Nine times out of 10, he's dressed better than you.

Name: Jo-Jo
Sweet Spot: Ontario and Superior
Preferred Cup: Any coffee cup
Age: 53
Previous Occupation: "I did anything for a buck."
Education: Associate degree
Daily Take: $20
Political Affiliation: "Democrat, 'cuz Republicans horde all da gott-damm money and start wars . . . like dat goofy-ass president we got."
Best day's take: $60, during the World Series run
FYI: If you talk shit, may cuss you out.

Name: Charley
Sweet Spot: Tower City, tailgate parties
Preferred Cup: Empty beer cup
Age: 42
Daily Take: $15
Previous Occupation: Painter, panhandles between gigs
Hobbies: Avid Browns fan and cyclist

Name: Martinez
Sweet Spot: Browns Stadium
Preferred Cup: Beer mug
Age: 47
Previous Occupation: Truck driver; broke both his legs in car accident
Daily Take: $50
Worst Moment: "I hate the attitudes of people, all the dirty looks."

Name: Reggie, aka Rick
Sweet Spot: East Ninth, between Superior and St. Clair
Preferred Cup: Generic
Age: 44
Previous Occupation: temp,
Education: Fisk College, where "the
white teachers didn't understand
Daily Take: $15
Secret: "Put a cup in your hand and let them ladies take care of you."

Name: Marvin
Sweet Spot: Journeyman, but likes Tower City
Preferred Cup: Generic
Age: 38
Previous Occupation: Incarcerated 17 years for felonious assault on a cop
Education: Associate degree in computer science
Daily Take: $20
Worst moment: "Yesterday, a white guy looked at me and said, 'Nigger, get out my face before I bust your fat lips.'"

Name: Rolo, aka PhiShaun
Preferred Cash Receptacle: Backpack
Age: 44
Previous Occupation: Professional marathon runner
Hobbies: enjoys sewing, carpentry, and working as a day-care provider
Best day's take: $10,000 (may be a slightly inflated figure)
Trade Secret: Browns fans give more than Cavs fans.

Name: Brandon
Sweet Spot: Wendy's, at East Fourth and Euclid
Preferred Cup: Generic styrofoam
Age: 38
Education: "All of the above."
Previous Occupation: "Racism has kept me unemployable."
Weekly Take: $25

Name: Richard, aka Phil
Sweet Spot: Tailgate parties, sporting events
Preferred Cup: Generic
Previous Occupation: Construction, carpentry, painting
Education: Tenth grade
Daily Take: $20
Worst moment: "This moment . . . every moment I am out here."
Political Affiliation: "I like the Republicans."

Name: John, aka James
Preferred Cup: Panera
Sweet Spot: Tower City
Age: 55
Previous Occupation: Welder, got laid off
Education: Ninth grade
Daily Take: $50
Political Affiliation: "I don't worry about votin' one way or the other ... ain't nobody done nuthin' for me."

Name: Slim
Sweet Spot: West Ninth
Preferred Cup: Red beer cup
Age: 59
Previous Occupation: Factory worker; spent 22 years in the joint
Education: Degree in psychology from Ohio University
Daily Take: $5
Hobbies: Enjoys discussing current events over a fine cigar.

Name: Greg
Sweet Spot: "Well, the cops told me that the best place to panhandle is right up here, in the center of Public Square."
Preferred Cup: McDonald's
Age: 43
Previous Occupation: Worked at Burger King, got fired 20 years ago
Education: Proud East Tech grad
Daily Take: $15
FYI: If you hit the skids, Greg will kindly show you the ropes.

Name: Sharon
Sweet Spot: East Ninth, between Superior and St. Clair
Preferred Cup: Subway
Age: 38
Previous Occupation: Ameritemps
Daily Take: $8
Secret: Smile, be nice and
FYI: Would like to work, if someone would hire her.

Name: James, aka Jimbo
Sweet Spot: Public Square and sporting events
Age: Thirtysomething
Previous Occupation: Plasterer
Education: Two years of college
Daily Take: $30
Best day's take: $60
Favorite brewski: Jimbo drinks Amstel, hates domestics.

Name: Ray Jay
Sweet Spot: East Ninth and Euclid
Preferred Cup: No preference
Age: 56
Previous Occupation: Bank robber, incarcerated 26 years
Education: High school
Daily Take: $30
Hobbies: Tells war stories and shows corresponding wounds upon request.

More by Jimi Izrael


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