At roughly 1:00 pm on a brightly sunny November-in-Texas Friday afternoon, after a full morning of meetings, I was standing on a street corner, waiting for the traffic light to change so I could cross the street to the parking garage. Daydreaming about the morning, I was vaguely aware that two men had joined me on the corner. We stood in silence for a few seconds.
“That’s a great bow tie you’re wearing,” one of them said to me. “Did you tie that yourself?”
“Thank you and, yes, I did.”
I turned to look at them. One, probably 40 years old, bearded, baseball cap, Kelly green T-shirt, rumpled khaki pants. The other, probably in his late ‘20s, T-shirt and jeans. They looked pretty ship shape.
“Do you know the word ‘posh’? Do you know where that comes from?”, the bearded one asked.
Thinking he was making a reference to my appearance, I responded, “Yes, I do. Port Out, Starboard Home… Instructions to well-to-do travelers from England to India on ships so their staterooms would be away from the sun.”
He smiled widely and raised his arms in a congratulatory gesture. “Very good!” he said. “Yes, that’s right!”
“But…”, he said, challenging me again, “do you know where the term ‘highfalutin’ comes from?” I didn’t. He explained…
… and then continued: “Do you know why pirates wore an eye patch?” I didn’t. [He covered one eye with his hand and, in his best pirate voice explained, “So we can see in the dark when we ransack below decks.” ]
“Huh!” I said… and he went on… “Do you know the origin of the tradition of clinking drinking glasses? … Do you know why pirates used peg-legs? …Do you know where the term ‘high roller’ came from?”
Entertaining and quick…. we were still waiting for the light to change.
And then he said, “Look, we’re just a couple of homeless guys looking for some financial help. Could you help us out with a few bucks?”
By that point, I wasn’t completely surprised. I could connect the first couple of questions to my natty threads. After that, his questions seemed more random…. thoroughly entertaining but random. After the fifth or sixth question, I prepared for the pitch.
Although I gently replied “no” to their request for cash and “no” to their request I withdraw money from an ATM for them, I completely dug their act.
They picked a great starting point – an ego-stroking, enthusiastic complement about my bow tie. They distracted me from their primary ‘call objective’, challenging me with a half-dozen snappy trivia questions and encouraging me (and educating me) with their animated replies. And, their pitch was clear and “quid pro quo” – We brightened your afternoon, please pay us.
Now that I’ve thought about it for a bit… if I see them again, I will pay them a few bucks. They were relaxed, warm, playful, creative, congratulatory, and immediately informative. They drew me in. They amused me. And I’ll remember them.
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