Has anyone else been panhandled at a gas station?

Not necessarily by a homeless bum type, but by other car owners?

This happened to me yesterday. An older man (70s) came up to me after I filled up at a station off of I-71 in Northern KY. He said “can you help me?” showed me his ID and indicated that his daughter was in a car accident and that he was trying to make it to Toledo. He motioned to his rather old and run down looking Oldsmobile with his wife sitting inside.

It seemed legit, I asked how much fuel he had already. He said “not much.” Now, scam artist or not, this guy clearly needs the money worse than I do, I thought to myself.

I gave him the last of my petty cash, a 5 in my wallet. I later realized in hind sight that I should have ran in to the cashier and prepayed on his pump so that he didn’t just turn around and buy cigs or lottery tickets but oh well. I said “here, this should get you a gallon or two.”

Unless someone’s story just does not add up or I legitimately do not have anything on me, I try to feel vicarious for someone less fortunate and try to help.

To conclude this story, I am a league bowler and roll every Sunday night. We have a lottery type system where if you have a winning ticket, you win the jackpot if your next ball is a strike. The odds are slim if you consider 80 lanes x 8 bowlers. Regardless, my team mate and I won and collected almost $90 a piece. I feel that if I hadn’t helped out that gentleman, I wouldn’t have won. Call it a lesson in karma.

I know this was lengthy but thanks for reading and I hope you also take away something from my experience.


It’s always hard to distinguish between those that are in need and those that are not. Not so long ago a guy stopped me on a busy main street and asked me for $2 or so for a burger for lunch. Since it was 11:45 I offered to take him to the nearest Macdonald’s up the street and buy him a complete lunch. He said “no thanks”!

Another event took place in Vancouver, Canada on a trip. I was on my way to a nice German restaurant for dinner in a good area of town, when a guy in a designer sweater and expensively styled hair stopped me and asked for money. I was somewhat perplexed, but ended up explaining that a good source of money was a novel (perhaps to him) concept called “W.O.R.K.”

You do things for others and they pay you! He was the only yuppie beggar I ever met!

The self limiting aspect of begging is the compliance. If enough don’t fund you, you’re out if a job ( begging). At least in begging, you put yourself on the line instead of hiring callers to badger someone at dinner time every night. What about the “cheesecake” begging done by girls trying to “sell” a car wash. At the very least, you can say you got something for your money without comming accross as a dirty old man expecting a " Cool Hand Luke " reenactment. Begging goes on everywhere ! But I hate the phone calls most.

But begging at gas station has it’s advantages for a begger. The one being fleeced can’t just walk away till his car is filled. He s at least " engaged" for a while.

I’ve never given money to someone at a gas station, but I have put gas in their tank by paying at the pump with my debit card. I never give out cash, not after seeing a couple of homeless guys buying beer in a grocery store with their donations. I’ve even gone so far as to buy food and bring it to a family that was begging at the side of the road.

Just last week, while sitting in a parking lot, I was approached by a guy wanting money “to get something to eat”. After initially declining, I remembered I had a banana and granola bars. I offered them, but he declined. Guess he wasn’t very hungry after all.

An old boss of mine drove by a guy with a homeless and hungry type sign on an interstate ramp. He ended up going to White Castle to get the dude a crave case. Not only did the fellow decline, but yelled expletives. Not only not hungry but rude. Too bad these guys screw it up for those that are truly needy.


A pair of women, one young, one middle aged, were panhandling at the QT last week. Driving a beat up older car but well dressed. Had the sob story about desperate for gas money to get home for a funeral. With extreme doubt, I gave them five dollars but then told them where the nearby police precinct station was a mile up the street and said the police would be able to direct them to charity resources to help them. Just to find out if I was right that I and others were slickly conned, I discreetly followed them from the gas station as they headed in the direction of the police station but, sure enough, they got onto the interstate instead of continuing another block to the police.

A local tv station did an investigative story a few years ago on several panhandlers who chronically frequent several of the busiest intersections. They work one part of town for a few weeks then move to another section of town. Turns out all of them actually live in very nice homes in good neighborhoods, drive new cars, and are living a comfortable middle class lifestyle on the money they get begging. (So, that said, I still can’t believe I gave the women con artists five dollars last week.)

Oh boy. Yeah its really tough to decide. From a self-defense standpoint you should never let someone get close enough to you to grab or disarm you, yet I stupidly let it happen myself.

A couple days ago a kid came up to me at the gas station and wanted a cigarette. Said he had walked down from the votec but discovered he didn’t have any money. I guess I complied but thats all. Looked legit. I got shook down in Columbus, OH. I was in the store parking lot with Minnesota plates and a black guy came up to me crying that he needed to get to his family in Dayton. I gave him $10. Why me? There was a whole car full of blacks just having a party in the lot that he walked by. He actually put his hand on my shoulder which was really stupid for me to allow.

Late one night a girl came to our door saying she had run out of gas on the freeway and needed to get home ten miles to the next town to the south. I said I just used the last of my gas in a can but would go get some and meet her back at her car. I was very leary, hid my bill fold, etc. When I got to her car, put the gas in, got it started again, but there was a guy sleeping in the back seat. I think she was legit but just with a jerk. Never sent any money for the gas yet.

I worked on campus and a white kid hit me up for $10 and some change. Always be careful if they ask for exact money like $13.20 or something. That’s a tip off. He took my work address too but never gotten any back in over ten years. Maybe when he is a successful lawyer or something. On my way to Ohio in Indiana, a white kid hit me up for gas at a station. I probably would have done it but I had failed to put a travel note on my debit card and they cut me off so it wouldn’t work. He just picked a bad time is all. He seemed legit too but who knows.

I was having lunch with my BIL at a truck stop as he was just passing through town late at night. There was a kid who had eaten but was getting hassled because he didn’t have money to pay for the meal. My BIL just paid the tab saying, “haven’t you ever been hungry?”. I was a little ashamed that I hadn’t stepped up the same way.

I give to the Sal Army and others and I know the local police have access to funds for emergency fuel, food, and lodging, through the Army and local churches. I think they are a better judge of whether its legit or not but still when its cold out, you have plenty, and others seem in need, its hard to draw the line. My actual biggest concern is the personal safety issue by allowing someone to get close enough that could have a knife or a gun.

I wonder how many cruel teenagers have given homeless people contaminated food as a prank. To be fair, I can see why some people would hesitate to take food from strangers.

In 1990 I was on a road trip out west. In Albaquerque NM, while filling up at a gas station, I saw a woman in an old car with two small kids. She had just carefully put only a couple dollars of gas in her tank and was in tears because the kids were asking for food. She didn’t ask anyone for money, she wasn’t begging. Simply in tears. And her face and arms were covered in bruises, some fresh, some fading. I had very little cash, no credit cards, and just enough travelers checks for me to get home to St. Louis on but I walked over and gave her $20. She broke into sobs of thanks. I watched her move her car to the adjacent grocery store parking lot and walk into the store with the kids. I went to the nearby pay phone and called 911 to report I thought the woman and kids needed help. While waiting for the cops to arrive I watched and saw her and the kids come back out of the store. She sat the kids in the car and fed them. She’d bought inexpensive but practical food. Bread, bologna, bananas and milk. She fed the kids but she didn’t eat anything herself. She kept looking at the food, at her change from the $20 I’d given her, and was obviously calculating how far she could get on that food and the couple gallons of gas she’d bought. Fortunately the police arrived before she drove off. She seemed ashamed but relieved to see them. I believe that $20 and the dime I spent for the call were the best money I’ve ever spent.


Back in the day, when I was about 18 years old, I was driving home from my job at Miami International Airport. The Chevy van I was driving was leaking coolant, and I made the mistake of stopping at a Shell station in a bad part of town. I got shaken down for my tip money by someone who physically intimidated me. I was 6’2" tall and weighed about 155 lbs. Since that time, I don’t let any stranger get close enough to put a hand on me. My response is, “I don’t carry cash” which has the virtue of being true. The closest I ever got to a panhandling stranger since then was when I drove a guy who ran out of gas back to his car after he already had a filled gas can and was ready to go, and I only did that after making him prove he wasn’t armed.

In my younger days, I got into enough trouble, and saw enough friends get into danger, that I learned to spot signs of danger and avoid them. Now, if someone approaches me for money, my body language says, “stay back or you might regret it.” It helps that I’ve put on some (a lot of) weight over the years.

I have helped people that have asked for it, and some that have not.

There was a lady hanging around a gas station here in town a few months ago asking people for a dollar (Remeber when people would ask for a quarter?) Well I could just tell she was scamming so I told her no. I have helped some people who asked for money, it just depends.

One time I was in the gas station getting a coke and a very attractive lady (despite her abundance of tattoos) was at the cash register and had three dollar bills, a stack of quarters, nickles, dimes and was down to getting the pennies out. She ended up with 7 dollars worth of gas prepaid on a pump. I got my coke and was heading out to the far end of the parking lot and seen her putting gas in a very rusty 91 explorer, there was another lady and two kids in the back seat, I seen from their license plate that they were from a far away county. I overheard her telling the other lady that she wasn’t sure that the fuel she purchased was going to be enough to get them home. I figured if she was down to rounding up pennies she was probably at the last of her money.

At this point she had her 2 gallons of fuel in and she was putting the pump back up and I told her to hang on, I busted out the debit card and fueled the explorer up to full, She was almost in tears and was truly thankful, she said she was scared and had no idea how she was going to get the fuel needed to get home. I didn’t ask, but she volunteered that they were from northern Indiana and visited downstate to bring her son to visit his father who was housed in a correctional institution ( you can’t make this stuff up.) I remember thinking that I hope the rusty explorers tank can hold this much fuel since it probably hadn’t had a full tank in years.

She thanked me again along with her friend and I gave them two twenty so they had some money to get some food on the way home, plus I wasn’t sure if a full tank of gas would get them where they were going, the explorer didn’t seem to be in the best tune.

I wanted to tell her that she probably needed a more fuel efficient vehicle, probably should not have spent the money on the pack of marlboros in her purse, and could have banked the money that she had invested in tattoos. I was also going to suggest budgeting the next trip a little better, But I kept my mouth shut… I just hoped the old explorer would make it the rest of the trip. And yes, even if she wasn’t so attractive I would have helped them.

Panhandled? Close acquaintences (relatives on my ex wife’s side) in NYC an din Miami over the years have had a hard time understanding why I don’t take it for granted that I’ll occasionally be mugged and/or have my house robbed. They just consider it a part of life.

On the other extreme, most people in the plains states probably have never even used the terms “panhandled”, “mugged”, or “robbed”.

Me, over the years I’ve spent plenty of time in Boston, NYC, Jersey, Miami, and Chicago. Been panhandled plenty of times.

Come out to the San Francisco Bay Area and you can learn how it feels to be a target. I get panhandled about every 4th time I buy gas, along with a couple of times a week walking on the street. There are people set up at traffic lights, with signs, in the middle of the street. Not just worn out older men; young men, women; people with kids. Lots of them have dogs or a cat.

The gas pumps have signs on them that remind you to hang up the hose yourself. One scam is a panhandler comes to a person and offers to pump your gas for you, then fakes hanging up the hose and sells gas to the next driver, on your credit card.

No one has ever tried any of these things when I’m riding a motor scooter, but with a car it’s a lot. After a while I find I give a buck or two if the beggar has a good story.

I live in San Francisco in a neighborhood with a lot of street denizens so get panhandled daily (multiple times, usually.) I’ve only met the more sophisticated con artists a few times, with their elaborate stories of woe and how they just need another ten dollars to get their car out of the impound lot and if they don’t they will lose their job. Yeah, right. Possible. Unlikely. But I won’t give money to anyone.

If I end up with a doggy bag with something tasty I usually offer it to a street kid who looks like he hasn’t been on the streets for long and doesn’t seem to be flying on whatever. Very rarely have my leftovers been declined, and often they’ve act like they were in just the mood for my leftover Chinese. Of course, in San Francisco, cheap Chinese is more common than burgers. Everyone eats it, as well as our other quick and cheap specialty, the Mission-style burrito. It’s an SF invention, the size of your forearm, full not only with your choice of meat and choice of beans, but also lots of rice, choice of salsa, and if you get a ‘super’ you get cheese, sour cream, and guacamole (sometimes whole avocado as an option. So when you move here you quickly learn your taqueria order. Mine is ‘a super carnitas, refried, light on the mild salsa, guacamole (if they also offer whole avocado), extra sour cream’. Some of the more Americanized taquerias offer fancy variants, but I like proper hole in the wall places that sell menudo on the weekend. You can find them in every neighborhood, but more in the Mission (the neighborhood near Mission Dolores, our local Spanish mission). A burrito like that is a full, balanced meal and truly delicious, too, much nicer than the traditional burritos more common in Southern California. A bit off cars, but I’m hungry and it’s too late to go out.


Growing up in Buffalo, getting my bike stolen, my house broken into, and getting mugged were normal. Most people don’t understand why I also refuse to take it for granted that I will be mugged or have my house broken into. In fact, people look at me like I’m crazy when they see how seriously I take security. Whenever I move into a new apartment or home, security is the first thing I think of. Securing the windows and doors is one of the first things I do.

I’ve been panhandled a number of times over the years at restaurants (and INside a restaurant!), gas stations, on the street, by white and black (but never Asians nor Latinos… hmm), men and women. The best story I was ever told was the “broken Fiero, need to get back to Cleveland” story told to me in Dayton, OH. Best presentation I’ve ever heard, but I knew the story was BS. I gave him a $20 for the entertainment value. Gave $5 to a pretty young lady in a gas station who instantly disappeared once she had the money. Most people get cut off before they get to deep into the beg but some catch me at a weak point.

The only time that I can recall being panhandled was in San Diego, near the historic RR station.
My friend & I were approached by a sad-looking man and a little girl, and my initial reaction was that they were pulling a scam.

However, after viewing them from a distance for awhile, we came to the conclusion that this man and his daughter probably were just as they appeared to be–truly down on their luck and not out to pull a scam.

About 30 minutes after initially being asked for money, I walked up to the guy, handed him $20, and told him that I expected to see him buying a meal for his daughter. Sure enough, they made a bee-line for the nearest snack bar, so I have to assume that they really were just what they claimed to be–an impoverished hungry man and his daughter.

I see panhandling all the time when I’m in Boston. It’s extremely rare here in NH. Even in Manchester (out biggest city). Plus in Boston we have the impromptu street performers. One guy at this T-Stop who plays and sings all Hispanic songs is REAL REAL good. Real good guitar player…and very good singer. I’ve given him a few bucks every now and then.

Street performers are almost always “busking”, not pan-handling. They can be very proficient in their trade, although the lack of talent in some artistically puts them in the pan-handling group. They are usually not impromtu acts, as they can be found in the same spots on a regular basis.