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TimeSpace: Half A Tank
TimeSpace: Half A Tank

Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

Paper cups and Swarovski crystals


Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

WASHINGTON--Distant memories of tobacco fields behind him and the uncertainty of tomorrow before him, Robert Crawley was panhandling on a Georgetown sidewalk when Michael and I approached him about noon. He had 97 cents in his paper cup and $2 in his pocket.

“It’s a bad day,” the 67-year-old said. “People are tight because they scared they won’t have no job. I used to come out here and get $15 easy. Now you can sit here all day and not get $25.”

Crawley, who grew up working in the tobacco fields of Emporia, Va. and had problems attending school because he “didn’t have the right shoes…didn’t have proper clothes,” said he came to D.C. 35 years ago in search of steady employment he never quite found. He worked at a meat delivery plant that shut down and then took sporadic jobs as a day laborer. A stroke, he said, has now limited his options to panhandling.


If the recession has stormed into most American’s lives, uprooting foundations that took years to build, it seems to have been gentler to Crawley, if only because life has been harder on him. Less money lands in his cup nowadays, he said, but he didn’t have a house or job to lose. He didn’t go from knowing success to suddenly struggling. “Never had that,” Crawley said.

In the District, where it’s easy to find extreme examples of wealth and poverty right next to each other, it is also easy to see that these economic times are not affecting everyone in the same dramatic ways. Before Michael and I saw Crawley, we toured the Four Seasons hotel across the street from where he sat. Business at the luxury hotel has leveled but not dropped since the recession started, General Manager Christian Clerc said.The Royal Suite, at $12,500 a night, has remained steadily booked since it opened in time for the inauguration. Its clients include celebrities and politicians.


Walk inside and it's clear the economy has not chiseled away at some comforts. Elaborate fixture made of Swarovski crystals hang in several rooms, windows are made of bullet-proof glass and the light switches don't just turn on and off but are labeled “bright, “entertain, “romantic” and “evening.” Even the chocolates are beautiful, wrapped in paper displaying art from the hotel's collection.

Last we saw Crawley, he was crossing the street toward the hotel, crate and cup in hand, hoping for a luckier spot.

By Theresa Vargas  |  June 1, 2009; 6:25 PM ET
Categories:  Scene along the Street  | Tags: Four Seasons, extremes, homeless  
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After reading this, it made me wonder how one can sleep peacefully in a $12,500 luxury suite when there are homeless people all over the nation sleeping under bridges, on sidewalks or on park benches due to job loss and other economic struggles. I'm sure that people who can afford to stay at the Four Seasons may feel that they have earned the choice to sleep wherever they please since they have worked hard to earn their paychecks, but what about the destitute? Did they all earn the privilege to a lay in a bed made out of concrete and sheets made out of newspaper?

Posted by: mrsg_0105 | June 2, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

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