SPOKANE — We all like to think that we’re in control of our destinies, but are we really?
Take John Fisher, for example. The 49-year-old Spokane Valley man swears he never planned on launching a one-man crusade against the panhandlers that prowl his hometown.
The hours of his day, he said, are full enough with learning the machinist trade through daily classes at Spokane Community College.
Then one day, Fisher drove past a shabby character holding a cardboard sign on the sidewalk at Sprague and Sullivan. It read: “18 dollars short for a bus ticket to Mesa, Arizona.”
Fisher didn’t think much of the man’s travel woes until he kept seeing him — four days in a row!
Who can say what happened to Fisher at that moment?
Call it a tipping point. Call it a flash of motivation. But something clicked on in the part of Fisher’s brain that controls civic activism.
Fisher went home. He drew his own double-sided sign that featured the word “Panhandling” surrounded by a large red-slashed circle. Then he tacked his sign to a stick and aimed his red Ford pickup back to where Arizona Man was trolling for suckers.
Fisher spent the next two hours shadowing the panhandler.
In that time Fisher says he learned:
1. The guy said his name was Mike. 2. Mike claimed he made better than minimum wage panhandling. 3. Mike said getting a real job was for losers. 4. Whatever Mike was making, it was enough to afford a cell phone, from which he took incoming calls from a panhandling partner working another location.
One session of this madness would have been enough for most people. Especially considering the way some drivers reacted to Fisher’s anti-panhandling message.
“Three people still gave him money, even though I informed them that he never changes his sign, and that he has no intention of going to Arizona,” Fisher stated in a letter of explanation that he hands out to anyone interested.
Funny thing. Meeting Mike only calcified Fisher’s resolve.
Fisher scrapped his homemade sign for a couple of professionally made placards that read: “Stop the Panhandlers, Keep Your Change.”
In the last two months, Fisher estimated he’s gone anti-panhandling at least three dozen times.
His aim is to eventually get the Spokane Valley City Council to pass tougher begging laws or, should that fail, at least get council members discussing the problem.
In Fisher’s eyes, panhandling is a nuisance the Valley needs to crack down on. Nobody can accuse Fisher of not doing his homework.
He has logged time, he said, in all the prime panhandling areas, which include: Sprague and Pines, freeway on and off ramps and the Walmart parking lot, where beggars often use the old empty gas can ploy. This is where a gas can-toting scammer will approach a shopper with a hard luck tale about running on empty.
Fisher is an articulate, affable guy on a Don Quixote-like quest.
“I hope I’m not tilting at windmills,” he said.