I don't remember how many times I used my I'll-buy-you-a-burger ploy, but I do remember how many times someone took me up on it: three. Most of the time the offer was declined, sometimes politely, sometimes not.
The second time someone took me up on it I was in Santa Barbara with my wife and we ended up having a very interesting chat with this fellow who turned out to be nice enough but a bit, er, loopy. He was wearing homemade rings fabricated from discarded wire and broken bits of glass. He very matter-of-factly explained to us how these were his gods, and every week he would worship a different color of glass. 'This week I'm worshiping green" he explained proudly as he showed us his green glass ring and munched on his cheeseburger and fries.
The third time there was no McDonalds nearby and we ended up at a Subway instead. This turned out to be problematic because there are lot more choices to make. What kind of sandwich. What kind of bread. Lettuce? Onions? Mayo? Mustard? Salt? Pepperoncinis? It goes on and on. It took us fully fifteen minutes to get through the line, and by the time we got to the register my patience was starting to wear a bit thin.
I paid. We left. He walked away without a word, not even "thank you." And as I watched him go, he walked up to a trash can and threw away the unopened sandwich.
I was stunned. I briefly contemplated going after him and saying something, but decided against it. Instead I vowed that I would never buy another sandwich for a panhandler.
I kept that vow for nearly ten years. And as it happens, I probably should have kept it longer. But that story will have to wait until the next installment.