I’m sitting at the forward end of the car, the last coach on the train, riding backward, on my way to work late Tuesday morning. The door from the next car opens, and a voice says, “Go on–get in there.” A girl of 12 or so and a woman maybe in her 30s come through the door and walk down the aisle, then stop about a third of the way through the car. The woman starts up, and I realize immediately I’ve heard her spiel before.
“Good morning, BART riders,” she declaims. “My daughter and I have been homeless for two and a half months because I am a victim of domestic violence. We’re getting put out of our shelter at 11 a.m. My daughter hasn’t even eaten today. I have a hearing today at 2 o’clock, and I’m trying to raise forty-three ninety-nine for food and a place to stay.”
That’s it. The number catches my attention: $43.99. It’s part of the hustle–a number that’s supposed to be more persuasive for being so oddly specific. I’ve closed my eyes because I don’t want to see what happens next, whether or not anyone forks over some money. When I encountered the mom and daughter a few months ago on BART, I thought the girl looked stricken, humiliated.
The train pulls into the West Oakland station, and the pair get off. Most people in the car are sitting alone with their thoughts about what they’ve just seen. Several people sitting near the door discuss it.
“She does that all of the time,” a man says. “Every day. It’s a good scam.”
“But her poor daughter has to go through that every day,” the woman across the aisle says. A second man: “Her baby should be in school.”
“They use them kids,” the first man says, “they use them kids as a lure. It’s a good scam. She’s probably got more money on her than you have in you bank account. Yeah, she’s got a stash on her somewhere. She’s probably over on the other side right now getting on another train.”