Cold French Fries: Can Beggars Be Choosers?

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Mister J's, Chicago

Last Saturday evening was spent roaming the streets of Chicago before heading to the BlogHer CheeseburgHer Party. My intent was to experience dinner at Ed Debevick’s, evidently a popular place with tourists since I saw many wandering the Chicago streets with Ed’s paper caps. This was reinforced upon finding the 50s-style diner and the line of rumbling tummies wrapped around the building.

I’m not opposed to standing in line for a must-experience meal. I withstood freezing temperatures to stand in line at least an hour for Ben’s Chili Bowl while attending Obama’s inauguration earlier this year. But on this particular Saturday night, I was short on time and shuffled my feet elsewhere for Chicago-style grub.

The direction I headed was soon dictated by a round man wearing grubby clothing, staggering down the street and yelling at people. I realized he was probably harmless but I still wanted to avoid contact and slipped into a small hamburger and hot dog joint called Mister J’s (822 N. State Street; Tel: 312-943-4679).

With Chicago-style dog, french fries fresh from the fryer and cold root beer in hand, I saddled up to the window seating and watched the grubby man walk on by. As I savored the deliciously spicy combination of onions, pickles, hot peppers and mustard topped on my dog, a homeless man wearing a “Homeless Coalition” shirt entered the joint and started eating food off a tray left behind by a couple who exited no more than 30 seconds prior. He then came over to the trash and dove for hot dog bun nubs – you know, the end of the bun that never gets to wrap around a hot dog – and cold french fries. He left and stood outside, keeping an aware eye when customers left and as soon as they did, he returned for a second round of trash picking for dinner.

I wolfed down my dog, slurped the root beer and ate less than half of my fries. They still glistened with deep fryer freshness and were warm. My conscious couldn’t toss them and I wasn’t going to tote them back to the hotel. In what I thought was a kind gesture, I handed them to the homeless man hoping it would save him some dignity from eating out of the trash. Before he grabbed them he reached out his hand and showed me two quarters. He barked, “Give me 50 cents.”

Taken aback at his ungrateful reply to my offering, I said, “No. I have french fries for you.”

“No! Give me 50 cents.”

“No, I have food for you. They’re not good for you but it’s food.”

“Hummm. They’re cold,” he gruffed.

“No, they’re still warm,” I said while handing him my leftovers. I wanted to tell him how over the years I’ve paid and eaten my share of cold food and it’s something not only regaled to the homeless but realized as a human, he deserved some respect and I said nothing.

“Hummm,” he replied while grabbing a fry and putting it in his mouth. I’m pretty sure I saw a slight twinkle of surprise when he realized that indeed the fries were fresh.

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Jen, I enjoyed your story. The avatar is way cool too.

  2. reminds me of what happened to a woman i worked with in Vegas. everyday she would drive by this guy wearing a sign that said “will work for food.” and everyday she avoided looking at him if she had to stop for the traffic light where he hung out.

    close to christmas, she decided that she would do something nice. so she got her husband to donate a bunch of his old, but clean and serviceable, clothes. she put them into a box along with some canned and non-perishable foods.

    when she got to the corner where the man was, she called him over and handed him the box. he opened it up, looked inside, and said “F*** you, lady!” and walked away. kinda crushed her holiday spirit. heh heh.

  3. Very interesting and amusing subject. I read with great pleasure.

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  1. Confession of an Irresponsible Traveler | Solo Travel Girl - […] I’ve chastised litterbugs and those molesting animals in national parks and even gave my food to a homeless man…

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