Adventures in Streetwalking

The sidewalk scene in Boston is as predictable as a Real Housewife, Snow White-style—you never know if you’re going to get Drunky, Crazy, Whackjob, Doped Up or High as a Kite. I’ve seen a woman dressed like a caveman steal a wheelchair-bound man’s socks, a seemingly normal-looking man walking around with a snake draped over his shoulders à la Britney Spears and a woman having a full-on conversation with a mailbox. And that was just in the last two days. (Disclaimer: I live in Central Square. OK, so that’s Cambridge, but it’s close enough.)

Neandrathal kleptomaniacs aside, the most bizarre sidewalk incidents I’ve personally experienced have one thing in common: sidewalk fundraisers. If you work in the Back Bay (as we do at marlo), you have been accosted by at least four fundraisers on Boylston or Newbury Streets already today. Whether the cause is saving the whales (Greenpeace), saving the kids (Children’s International) or saving women’s rights (Planned Parenthood), these people are relentless when it comes to striking up a conversation.

Alas, the mean streets of Boston are not so kind when it comes to engaging strangers in conversation and then willing them to part with their money. (I think homeless people may be more successful in “fundraising” than these clipboard kids, but that’s a study for another day…) Thus, the roadside fundraisers have picked up a few tricks of the trade along the way. My favorite (read: hated) tactics of all-time include:

  • The Joker: The guys usually pull out this maneuver more than the girls. It usually starts with something observational (“Nice blue shoes!”), then quickly morphs into the guy doing a Dane Cook impression much to the amusement of his partner positioned about 10 yards down the sidewalk.
  • The Friend: One of my least favorite moves, this one involves the fundraiser making eye contact as you’re walking towards them and then sweetly saying “I think we could be great friends!” More often than not, this maneuver makes me want to punch them in the face.
  • The Aggressor: Another unpopular ploy is to ask a rhetorical question (“Don’t you care about dolphin safety?!”) and then, when the person ignores them and continues walking down the sidewalk, take it as a “no” and start berating them for being dolphin-haters.
  • The Undercover Operator: Knowing full-well that their pinny renders them invisible and/or highly avoidable to the public, this kind of fundraiser likes to mask his identity and ask something innocuous like “Hey, can I ask you something?” Before you know it, they’re launching in to a spiel about deworming orphans in Somalia. (Yes, that’s a blatant steal from Legally Blonde.)

In exposing these hated tricks, I hope I didn’t just blow the cover off the carefully-crafted street team manifestos of these lovely organizations. While the message is always a good one, it’s the delivery that’s lacking in finesse. And considering that I’m a pretty nice person (at least I think I am) and the clipboard kids drive me to want to inflict physical harm on them, I can only imagine how everyone else feels. I sincerely hope these non-profits offer some sort of personal defense training before unleashing these kids out onto the streets. You know what they say about the messenger…

Posted by Amelia

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