Who are the people in your neighbourhood?

The Flower Guy

About 25 years ago when I first lived on the Danforth in Toronto, we went out for dinner a lot. This is because there are lots of restaurants and because I was too lazy to cook after spending all day at business school. Just about every time we were out for dinner, the flower guy showed up. You know flower guys – they walk from restaurant to restaurant with a bunch of individually wrapped roses of dubious quality and try to get men to buy one (or even better, more) for their dinner date. Usually this works best if they are on their first date, or it is very late in the evening and many cocktails have been consumed. I think I did get a flower-guy flower once under the latter scenario, but I think that’s because the guy bought a flower for every woman in the bar.

Anyhow, about ten years later, after seeing the flower guy at least once a week on the Danforth, and refusing his wares on a regular basis, we moved out of the neighbourhood and started hanging out on College St. Low and behold, who should show up the very first time we went out to eat but the exact same Danforth flower guy. He looked a little surprised to see us west of the Don Valley, but recovered enough to offer his product and receive the usual refusal.

I moved back to the Danforth area ten years ago (or fifteen years after the first interactions with the flower guy), and sure enough, the flower guy is still at it. These days I see him most when we are playing trivia at a pub east of Pape. I don’t know if the flower guy has a day job or if he is a money launderer, but I have to conclude that there is money to be made in the cheesy cellophane rose business if it’s worth sticking with it for 25 years.

The Career Panhandler

Another persistent entrepreneur who has passed the test of time is the St. George panhandler. Also 25 years ago, the U of T business school was located on the corner of Bedford Road and Bloor in the same building as the school of social work. Luckily for the social workers, they had no end of research subjects located right outside the door, including the Indians drinking out of paper bags in the adjacent parkette and the panhandlers that staked out the St. George subway entrances. This particular panhander asked for a subway token, as opposed to spare change, at the St. George St. entrance, and moved to the Bedford Rd. entrance to sell the subway tokens he collected for about half of the posted TTC price. He was there rain, shine, snow sleet, all year round.

I finished school and no longer spent much time around the St. George station until about fifteen years later when I started teaching night school courses at U of T. I got off the subway to head to class and there was the panhandler, looking older but not too worse for wear, still gathering subway tokens. I think at this point he had also diversified into tickets.

Then my dentist moved to a building on Bloor near St. George and I am in the area at least twice a year. Not every time, but enough times to verify his continued existence, I see the panhandler still conducting his transit arbitrage. He looks clean and well dressed enough to have a roof over his head so I don’t think you could categorize him as homeless, but clearly panhandling is his day job. And if he is reporting his income and paying CPP in about five years he can start collecting his pension. Now that’s resourcefulness.