hustler – a person who employs fraudulent or unscrupulous methods to obtain money
One of my favorite things to do is see the Dallas Opera with someone I love. There was a new-ish opera based on the novel Moby Dick aptly named Moby Dick. I’d never seen an opera from this millennium, and so I didn’t know quite what to expect, but it didn’t really matter because I would be seeing it with my twin brother. We would have fun, no matter what.
Although I love to see the opera, I do not like the journey there, other than stopping for a fried pie in the Arbuckle mountains on the way (apple, raisin, pecan, by the way; a seasonal offering). It is the most stressful drive I make on a regular basis. Although I’d never been late once, I was always worried that I would miss part of the show. I left from Oklahoma City at 2:30, which should have gotten me there around 6:30; an hour early.
Mistake #1, I left without a phone charger. Mistake #2, I left navigation on the entire trip. Mistake #3, I listened to a few hours worth of The Moth story-telling podcast. My battery was all but drained. All I’d really needed navigation for was the last 30 minutes of the trip to get from I-35 to the Windspear Opera House in the Arts District of Dallas and I had wasted it on a straight shot down the interstate
I began to panic. I switched my phone to ultra power savings mode, which would save it from dying but would prevent me from using the navigation app. I intended to switch it on at the last minute, but as I approached I realized that I would not even have enough power to do that. I called Paul and asked him to talk me in.
Paul had been a resident of Dallas before and now he lives near Garland. It was a simple trip to him. He told me what exit to look for. By now it was dark and the traffic was slowed to around 10-miles-an-hour because of construction so I was a little disoriented. I didn’t make the exit. I was on the road to Waco. Paul told me that I might not make it in time. I prayed this prayer.
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change.”
I relaxed a little and decided to take the next exit and buy a car charger. I found a dive of a convenience store. As I pulled up, I could see that I was about to get hustled. There was a ragged looking man hanging around the front door. As I approached he opened the door for me with much aplomb. He was clearly pretending to be blind. His eyes were closed, but he would take little fluttering blinks to, presumably, see where he was going. I knew that he was going to hit me up for something eventually.
When I entered the shop, I could see that it was Pakistani (or some such) mom and pop store. Minimum credit card charges required, English second language clerk, tons of sketchy energy/potency products, plexy-glass enclosure around the counter, AND a million cheap phone chargers hanging off the front of the enclosure. There were two guys hanging around the register, not buying anything. As I searched for the right charger, I said, “You guys go ahead.” But they didn’t pay me any attention.
I tried to slide the charger under the plexy in the change dish but he already knew the price, or was making up the price. When I came outside, there was the “blind” man furiously wiping off my perfectly clean windshield with the sleeve of his filthy jacket. He said, “I cleaned that for you, mister” I pushed past him to the door and he said, in a raspy voice, “Hey man! I got chargers, too.”
Curtly, I said, “No thanks. Goodbye.” And I almost said, “I have an opera to attend.” But really? How bougie would that have been?
These were the lamest attempts at hustles I’d ever seen. There were two poorly constructed hustles. The concierge/door man and the window-wiper. In the concierge hustle, a guy pretend’s to be an employee of a business who should be tipped for his service. He holds the door, carries your bag for you, and gives you directions. And in the window wiper/lawn mower/car watcher/whatever, they perform a service that you might have paid for otherwise and they make you think you should pay them. But he didn’t have the will to follow through with it. Honestly, he would have done better with me asking for money for drugs.
I was late to the opera so I had to watch the first half on a screen in a little auditorium off the lobby. The opera was fantastic, both in the auditorium and in the house. When I left, I was on cloud nine. It was past eleven, and I had a three hour drive ahead of me so I stopped at another mom and pop to get some caffeine. I pulled up next to a beat up old Chevy with an old black woman and a young man. Already, I was suspicious at anybody hanging out in a convenience story parking lot at midnight.
When I came out, the very typical gas station hustle began, but with a twist. The woman hung her head out of the window and said with great command, “Young man! I say young man!”
I made a mental calculation of how much money was in my wallet, three dollars. There was something about being called young man by a formidable, albeit strung out, black woman that triggered something in me. I don’t know if it was some sort of latent white guilt, or a respect for the elderly, but I reached for my wallet expecting the typical hustle.
“Young man, my son and I have a long ways to go, and we need some money for gas. Anything you can give will help.”
“Well, I have a little bit, but not much, ” I said as I handed her the money. But without even saying thank you she shoved a clothes iron still in he box in my face.
“See now, it’s still in the box!”
I waved it away, and walked to my car. I don’t know exactly why I thought so, but my immediate assumption was that she was trying to legitimize herself to me in some bizarre show of affluence. An hour down the road, the more rational but no less peculiar idea occurred to me that she was luring me in with the need-money-for-gas hustle into the peddling-irons-out-of-her car hustle.
The journey back was more or less uneventful. I drank Red Bull and coffee, listened to an odd selection of Gloria Estefan and The Bengals all the way home. The heart wants what the heart wants. When I got home, I took two Benedryls and fell to sleep immediately with the song “I’ll do anything for you” in my final thoughts.
I’ve been hustled in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Jamaica, and at home. One guy, also black, started his hustle by showing me a tattoo of a swastica scratched on his forehead. Yes, a black man with a swastica. It still haunts me to think of how it got there. Here’s a fictionalized account of the real story. Lost and Found Street Hustle. I don’t really smoke Marlboro and wear boots as the character in the story does, by the way. I just wanted it to be gritty. He thought I looked like the kind of guy who had a little weed on him. Once, a guy one tried to grift me with a tuba. I almost bought it. But most of them are too strung out to come off as believable. I feel compassion for people trying to make it on the streets. I help when I can, but there’s something about the dishonesty of a street hustle that makes me a little less generous. The most honest panhandler I have met sat on a corner in San Francisco with a sign which read “Too lazy to work. Need money for weed.” No hustle, no lies, just straight up begging. I gave him five bucks and thanked him for his humility and honesty.