The red sheath of fabric stuck to the chain link fence probably looked like trash to most folks. But not to Tucsonan Rick Falco.
Falco, 53, was riding by on his bicycle when he spotted the fabric next to the train tracks near Ruthrauff Road. He picked it up, examined it, then folded it neatly for his bike basket.
He said it was a chair back or something and that it might come in handy. You never know – a lot of things have come in handy since he’s been homeless for the past five years.
Although we only spoke for about seven minutes while I was off the train at a break during my Union Pacific ride-along, that was enough time for Falco to share some quick lessons.
Like where to panhandle. If done right, panhandling can make for some lucrative earnings. The most he’s made was $27 in 20 minutes, which comes to a rate of $81 per hour.
Nice. That’s right up there with lawyers, dentists and veterinarians.
Of course, the money is not always as consistent. Earnings depend on where you go, who you meet and the general public’s general mood of the day.
Some days folks are just generous while other days all they do is scowl. Collecting cans makes a good backup plan. People in cars are generally more generous than people walking the streets.
The $81-per-hour spot was a frontage road near Fort Lowell Road, Falco said, with frontage roads making some ideal spots.
You want to pick one with a red light, of course, as you’ll have a better chance at some cash if the drivers are actually stopped. Not many motorists are likely to slow down, pull over and dig through their purse or wallet just hand someone a buck or some loose change.
The frontage roads are also one-streets, a must when it comes to checking for oncoming cops that will inevitably chase you away. Two way streets or larger intersections make it easy for police to sneak up and around at a variety of angles.
Once the cops nab you, Falco says panhandlers go directly to jail. Well, at least he did when he was busted for it. It didn’t help he had an outstanding warrant for not attending court-mandated alcohol counseling for a pervious DUI.
He said the DUI counseling was something like $500, which he never had the money to pay so he never went. That would be a heck of a lot of panhandling hours, even on the Fort Lowell frontage road. He no longer has a car.
The court situation has since been cleared up, but Falco still knows how to watch his back. Cops are not the No. 1 threat for homeless folks, however. Falco said that honor goes to fellow homeless folks. They are the ones most likely to steal all your stuff.
Falco wouldn’t tell us where he has his things hidden – since that would just be stupid – but he did mention he had some dandy items like a TV and some other electronics left over from when he did have a home.
Jobs simply dried up for this long-experienced landscaper. Then he was thrown in jail for the DUI, his cat got bitten by a rattlesnake and died, and he now lives on the streets collecting spare change and cans.
Here comes the biggest lesson of all – this guy is still upbeat. Rather than pining for what he doesn’t have, he focused on what he did have.
“It’s pretty good out here for being homeless,” he said of Tucson. He’s been in Old Pueblo for 30 years and shudders at the thought of being homeless in his native New Jersey.
Falco was riding a working manual bicycle and had a gas-powered one stashed somewhere, probably near his TV. He eats regularly, knows where to make money and finds places to sleep where he doesn’t get beaten, robbed or murdered.
Oh, and don’t forget he got some new red fabric from the fence. Sometimes small things can make us happy – one more simple, yet important lesson.
Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster who was never any good at panhandling. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com and Rynski.Etsy.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you think?
What lessons have you learned from unlikely people or places?
What’s your take on homeless people? Are you scared of them?
Do you hate them? Do you love them? Are you sad?