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Panhandlers on DART Trains: In Your Face NYC.

Cognitive dissonance: Remember when times were flush and Dallas' city leaders had goals other than keeping the lights on at City Hall? It wasn't that long ago when all the talk was "world class city" and we were assured that Dallas was a few fancy suspension bridges, a toll road and an opera house away from being New York City on the prairie.

Well, for those with civic self-confidence issues, Buzz has evidence that Big D is back on track to world classdom: We were hit up by a panhandler while riding the DART Green Line train last week. That's right, our mass transit system is successful enough to support beggars. Perhaps Buzz has been in Dallas too long, but we felt a surge of civic pride rise up when the skinny guy with a peeling nose walked down the aisle, asking for change so he could get something to eat. "Wow, Dallas really is growing up," we thought, while straining to avoid eye contact and keeping our change safely tucked away in our change purse. Oh, we are so Mr. Dallas.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons says a few panhandlers have cropped up on trains, but he laughed when we told him that seemed a sign Dallas was creeping toward the big leagues.

"What we encourage customers to do is decline the request and call DART police," Lyons says, since panhandling is illegal and your basic beggar probably doesn't have a train ticket. Besides, train riders can be discomfited by panhandling, particularly newbie riders unfamiliar with the mix of incomes, classes, odors and levels of inebriation found on big-city buses.

More than half DART's riders have their own vehicles, Lyons says, so it looks like DART is drawing a broader customer base. That included Buzz for the past seven months, when we moved and started riding DART.

We're back in a car now, but we learned a few things that we hope will encourage the inexperienced suburban dweller to take up public transit. First, if anyone asks, tell 'em you take the train, not a bus. While trains are acceptable, many Dallasites consider riding the bus akin to eating government cheese. Second, not every sportswear-clad black male under age 35 is, in fact, a gang member, despite what North Dallas thinks. Third, most schizophrenics are harmless, and it won't kill you say hello. Last, that odd smell on the bus is humanity. If it bothers you, don't worry. It probably won't cling to you.


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