I’m always polite to the drug dealers. Not for any reason. It’s just nice to be polite, my mom always taught me, and so when I’m offered drugs at 6 a.m. in Center City, I say, “No, thank you.”
Center City is a different world when I walk through the city to work at 6 a.m. Gone is, well, most everything. The food carts are just setting up. The newsstands are closed. Only the Wawas and a couple of Dunkin’ Donuts are open. Sex and drugs are for sale on the street in Center City during the day, too, but they’re the only things for sale at 6 a.m. And there are cats! I pass multiple cats most days. It’s not quite West Philly levels of cat saturation, but it’s good to know there are cats roaming all over the city at night.
The best thing about walking across the city at 6 a.m. is moving at a reasonable pace without slowpokers in front of you. The second-best thing is that nobody bothers you. It’s relieving the only human contact I need to do on my walk to work is an interaction with the friendly neighborhood drug dealer. I love the hustle of downtown Philadelphia, the little street theater that plays thousands of stories daily. But sometimes I just need a break from it all. And at six in the morning I can walk to work in silence.
And no one is asking me to give money to charity.
It used to just be Greenpeace, the volunteers with green t-shirts and clipboards attempting to get you to give money to save the earth. Then came redpeace (Children International) and bluepeace (the ACLU) and a whole rainbow of t-shirt-clad youths wanting your credit card number. They spread to 10th and Pine! I couldn’t even go to the Foodery in peace.
When it rains, they set up just outside Suburban Station in the underground concourse. There is no escape.
It’s not that I disagree with political solicitation or with a pretty person stopping to talk to me. It’s the way it’s phrased. The question is always something like, “Do you have a minute for gay rights?” If you don’t stop to talk to this person, you clearly don’t. It’s designed to make you feel bad. It’s like a reporter asking “How long have you been cheating on your wife?” to every person on the street. I like the drug dealers and prostitutes more.
In England, these solicitors are called chuggers, or charity muggers, a term so delightful it should have become popular in the U.S. already. People in the U.K. are even bigger whiners than we are, and so the press there treats chuggers as the scourge of humanity. I find them just a little annoying.
There’s only one way to deal with small annoyances (besides writing a frivolous Philly Post column about them): Turn it into a game. I’ve become an expert in avoiding chuggers. I don’t even have to be impolite to them because they never get a word in anymore.
Here’s the strategy: When I was in college the main campus walk was lined with folding tables of my fellow students trying to get me to go to their horrible a capella concert or whatever. There was nothing I wanted to do less in college than watch some skinny preppy kid pound his chest microphone while failing to hit the high notes in U2’s “Walk On.” (Well, that and attend class.)
I adopted a dead-to-the-world stare off into the distance. If I didn’t make direct eye contact with anyone, I couldn’t be stopped. No one will step into your path to talk to you. This still works! It’s my number one way to avoid having to talk to anyone on a Center City street. If you’re having trouble, I practiced on a friend’s cat.
I can’t guarantee this will stop all chuggers, but this is one problem where the only solution is ignoring it. Or I could stop being a huge baby, but: Nah. Where’s the fun in that?