Culture: Empty pockets?

The other day went out to eat. I try not to eat out too often as it is a bit expensive. Yet, now and then, it is nice to eat out and leave the work to someone else.

On this occasion, I was dining alone and enjoyed the meal.

It came time to pay the bill.

That is when it happened ... reached into my pocket and found a few bills ... not the Jackson kind but the George kind. Grrr ... searched the other pocket and ... gasp ... no wallet!

I thought to myself: I know I had my wallet today! It must have squirmed out of my pocket while I was driving.

I told the food server, I think my wallet is in the car.

I wonder how many times he has heard that explanation?

I left a few items on the chair next to my table as collateral so I could go search my car for the errant wallet.

Indeed, it was there and I paid my bill.

It was a brief moment of anxiety. I wondered what would have happened if my wallet were not there?

Would the police have been called and I would be charged with petty theft?

Would I be sent to the back to do dishes for one hour to pay for my meal?

Would the manager have talked to me and figured out I do have a job and it just so happens I didn't have my cash or cards with me and let me go. If so, I would have returned to pay my bill later.

One time I was at the dry cleaners in the morning and I was a few dollars short in paying my laundry. They gave me the completed clean clothes to me. I made sure that afternoon, I went back and paid the rest of the bill.

Living in the big city, seeing panhandlers is an almost daily part of life here. I see them outside fast food restaurants, 7-11 stores, markets and at busy intersections.

I don't suppose they ever go to sit down restaurants, have a meal and then plead inability to pay. In most cases, the way they are dressed, the hosts and servers at the restaurant might deny them a seat because they suspect inability to pay.

I have no consistent "policy." I have on occasion given money. On a few occasions I would buy a couple of hot dogs (if at the 7-11) or some other packaged food items (Ralphs) in addition to what I was buying and give it to the person. Most times though, I don't do anything because I have the feeling the money I give goes to alcohol or drugs. I don't feel right about enabling destructive behavior.

For a few minutes when my wallet was missing, I felt a tiny bit of the despair such individuals feel. It is an awful feeling to know I can't pay my way.

What do you do?