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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Where is Mohammed?

I am not referring to the Mohammed the Prophet. I am referring to Mohammed, the panhandler who hangs out in front of the Metra Station at Riverside Plaza in Chicago.

Mohammed has a cool strategy. He sits on an old milk crate right in the flow of foot traffic. Everyone who exits through the revolving doors at Madison and Riverside Plaza must glance at him as they dodge past. Mohammed never says a word to anyone - he just holds his cup and looks into the faces of the people. If he locks eyes with you, you are toast.

Mohammed is older. He tells me he is 68 and that is possible. His hair is white, and he lets it grow out in a mid-1970's 'fro. He has a longish goatee. He is a blue-eyed African American man. His eyes are set deeply and his gaze is full of meaning. He has a very slight hint of a smile on his lips at all times - sort of an ironic little smile. If it is cold or wet, he throws a yellow hooded jacket over his shoulders and head.

I stormed past Mohammed for weeks when I resumed my train commuting to Chicago's Loop. I sometimes engage with panhandlers, but usually not during my march to the office in the morning. One morning, I looked at Mohammed and he locked on me. No words passed, but I dropped a bill in his cup. Soon, dropping alms in Mohammed's cup became part of my daily ritual.

After a few weeks, I worked up the courage to ask him his name. After that, we greeted each other in the morning. We even small-talked about the weather, the Bears, whatever. He told me that he stays with a friend in the projects - doesn't have his own place right now. He once said to me, "Today's my birthday!" This is how I learned that he is 68.

Well, I haven't seen Mohammed at his spot for many days. Where did he go? I miss this guy and I am worried about him. Can a guy named Mohammed take a Christmas break?

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