For those of us who work downtown, the 16th Street Mall is our food court. Midday, legions of 9-to-5ers spill onto the 15-block promenade to grab a bite or just get away from the grind for a short while.

Like most downtown food and shopping districts, the Mall is a great place to watch people—or try to avoid them. I’m not talking about the occasional rant-and-ravers or the amped-up packs of roving teenagers. I’m talking about the do-gooders.

Because the Mall invites such a crush of pedestrians, and because it’s an election year, the entire stretch is dotted with activists. They are usually upbeat 20-somethings, working in twos, doing their best to corner you. Their causes are noble—the environment, Planned Parenthood, suffering children—and their devotion is earnest.

I’m sorry to say, it’s also annoying. You’re walking along, either alone or with friends and colleagues, trying to enjoy your only free time of the day, and every few blocks these smiling assassins accost you with cheery openers like, “C’mon over and talk to me about the environment,” or “You look like a guy who cares about poor kids.”

I’m relieved to know that I exude such an air of empathy, but when the line is delivered with a vibe that a snake-oil salesman would find a little phony, its impact is lost. What happens, instead, is that we devise whatever techniques will get us through the gauntlets unscathed—zig-zagging across the street, pretending to get a phone call, or just plain ignoring them.

Whoever is instructing these activists on their sales techniques must realize the guilt-the-masses approach needs work, because lately they’ve started extending their hands as you walk by. Yes, that’s what I want to do: Shake hands with a stranger—who may or may not be wearing shoes—on one of the most cootie-infested stretches in Colorado. And then go eat.

As I said, when it comes to these causes, the aim of the promoters is true. This is a thankless job. I just wonder if there’s a way to identify the passers-by with something like an “I voted” sticker, one that politely lets these true believers know that their pitch has been asked and answered.

I’m open to suggestions. In the meantime, please keep your hands to yourself.

In our May 2011 issue, we found out that the petitioners aren’t going away any time soon. Read why.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.