I’ve had it up to here with bums on the Plaza. Well, bums in general, to be sure, but their presence on the Plaza is especially irritating to me, since that is an area I otherwise enjoy (evil bunnies notwithstanding). Plaza bums seem to be as permanent a fixture – and as common a topic of conversation among midtowners, I’ve found – as the fountains and statues. A few have even achieved a certain celebrity status.

Plaza bums make me think twice about visiting (and spending money there…hello…). I love going to Barnes & Noble, and I enjoy the opportunity to support the local economy. (Yeah, B&N is a chain, but at least its employees are local, as opposed to the people who otherwise would fill my Amazon.com order those days I just don’t have the patience to be harassed by bums.) I sure don’t mind having to wait outside the Classic Cup’s front door for a table to open up, but not if it means being hassled by an aggressive bum who made a special trip across the street just to hit me up for change. (Yes, exactly that has happened to me – more than once.) The Plaza is one of the best places to take a stroll in Kansas City – rather, it would be without bums staked out on every other corner. A friend of mine who lives next to the Plaza won’t cross it on foot to go to work, because she meets too many bums along the way who make her feel unsafe. So instead, she drives the five blocks everyday.

The encounter I hate the most is the hit-up when going to B&N, and I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about: You park in the garage next door, and as you walk the breezeway between the buildings toward 47th Street, you are sure to spot a bum on the sidewalk, right at the breezeway entrance. That’s a choice spot, because there is a lot of steady foot traffic from all four directions. And of course, the bum gets you twice, being positioned between the store and the garage.

But on the way from your car, you and the bum can see each other the whole time during that walk down the breezeway, so it only makes that leg of your trip seem longer and more uncomfortable. It’s like being stuck in time, because you know what’s going to happen when you get, oh, six feet away from the bum (when the proximity-activated rattle cup is triggered). You’re tied fast to a railroad track, and there is nothing you can do but wait for the inevitable, while the whistle blowing a mile away just gets louder.

I may have a billion other things on my mind, but during that walk they are all preempted by my fantasy of replying to “Help out the homeless?” with, “You know, from where I’m standing, it looks like you have two working arms, two working legs (except on those days I notice you’ve dragged the crutches or the wheelchair out of the prop closet – how do you decide on that in the morning, by the way?), and an obvious capacity for strategy, given that you’ve not only located a prime spot for begging but show an aptitude for social engineering, i.e., acting and speaking so as to best play on people’s emotions. So there you sit/stand/lean, a human being capable of locomotion and at least some higher reasoning, asking me to just hand you money. For nothing. Well, I have all kinds of sympathy for people who get smacked hard in the face by bad luck. (Been there – got the t-shirt.) But that pretty much disappears when I see your one – and only – response, day in and day out, is limited to asking someone to just give you money. Are you sh*ttin’ me? And do you think the economy being in the tank somehow makes it particularly acceptable to give you handouts? That’s not exactly the kind of “self help” I was taught made America great. Not for people who look to me to be able to help themselves just fine…”

It’s the kind of diatribe that would just degrade further into unfocused, mean-spirited garble if that walk were any longer. Thankfully, it is not.