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Archive for April, 2010

Last Monday I was on my way to meet up with a friend for dinner when I came across Doug near the corner of 7th and E in Penn Quarter.  He was sitting on top of a hard suitcase, the small kind that you see flight crews carry all the time.  Next to him was a larger suitcase with a bag on top.  Tied to the handle of the large suitcase was a cardboard sign which read, “Travel funds needed.  Extreme Duress.  Borderline Crippled Due to illegal Activity on ME.”

Photo: Reed

I first walked by him and then stopped to check my watch.  I was supposed to meet up for dinner at 7:30, it was now 7:20.  What the heck, I went back and introduced myself and gave him my $10.

I can’t say that I know too much more about Doug after chatting with him for 15 minutes.  Although he talked a lot, he told me very little.  Most of my questions went unanswered and often he just spiraled into long-winded rants about injustices that he has suffered, the details of which he didn’t care to share.

“I am a semi-long term resident of greater Seattle,” he told me.

According to Doug, he came out here a little over a year ago with the intention on staying for just one month so that he could “get done what I came here to do.”  He kept referring to doing everything in his power to legally make things right.  I probed again about what he was trying to do and he shifted into a rant on how some people take advantage of others.

“I bet some people would intentionally trip the blind just to hurt them, you know?”  “If a blind person were to walk by here I bet some people would try to trip’em just to hurt’em, you know what I mean?”  Getting nowhere, I tried to go back and focus on more basic questions like his age.

“Well, how old do I look?”

I tried to dodge that question myself.  I finally answered that I thought he was in his 50s.  He said, “Well that’s not too bad, not after what I have been through.”  

I told him that I was interested in knowing more about that and he replied, “I don’t want to get into details.”

He did tell me that he planned to use the money to buy some food that night and some coffee and breakfast in the morning.  Who knows though, he clearly has some issues and I am not sure I got a single straight answer out of him.  

I knew that he wasn’t going to allow me to photograph or videotape him, but I figured I had nothing to lose right?  He said he didn’t want to be in any photos, but agreed to me taking a picture of his sign.

He continued to rant about things that made very little sense. 

I waited until he paused for a second and then told him I needed to head on my way and extended my hand toward him.  He said he couldn’t shake my hand as his was full of fractured bones.  We left it at that.

Maybe Ivory from Day 49 knows his story.  Ivory sells the Street Sense just a block or two away and he seems to know everyone around there.  I will stop by and check with Ivory one of these days.

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Filter, 1726 20th St., NW, DC

On Sunday I checked out a new coffee house in Dupont called Filter.  It’s well located, tucked behind Connecticut Avenue on the more laid back 20th Street.  I descended a few stairs and walked into the cozy, hip coffee joint an ordered an espresso.  The prices seemed slightly higher than Starbucks and Cosi, both of which are right around the corner.  Overall I liked the place, despite a guy who was working there complaining that a nearby restaurant manager sent about 10 or 15 of her staff over to get espresso so that they understood what a good espresso tasted like.  He didn’t like that they got it to go and one person reached for a cup before it was ready, etc.  Anyway, when you work in an open atmosphere you need to be cognizant that others can hear your conversation.  As a new location, I would have been thrilled to have 15 customers.

While I was there I met Mark, a graduating senior studying economics at the George Washington University here in DC.  He graduates on May 17th and is frantically wrapping up his final papers and studying for his last exams.  I remember my last week of college.  It was a great feeling to be “finished.”  Little did I know that I was only finished with another segment of life and that new challenges and tests were just over the horizon. 

Mark is from the DC area.  He grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Magruder High School.  

He and I have something in common related to the $10.  Well, in a round about way.  So Mark has a plan to go to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and embark on a bicycling journey all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina.  I asked him how far this was and he said, “I don’t know exactly…several thousand miles.”  Well, I did a little checking and I calculated that it will be at least 11,000 miles!  That is like going across the continental US from ocean to ocean 3.5 times!  Along the way he plans to give people $10 and a self-addressed stamped envelope.  He will ask that they send him photos, stories, poems, etc. to him as well as a note explaining how they used the money.  He sees it as a way to get to know the individuals as well as study the marginal propensity to save (or to consume) in different cultures.

Anyway, watch the video and you will learn a little more about Mark’s interest in cycling, his cycling trip around Spain and France as well as his plans for his upcoming trip from Alaska to Argentina.  I also included a small piece where he talks about volunteering to help an adult read better.  

As you might expect, Mark put the $10 toward his savings needed to make the trip.

I asked Mark if we could help him with anything on the Lend a Hand page.  He said he needs funds to help him make his journey to Argentina.  He applied for a grant from the University but was denied.  I think there is a way to make this happen with corporate and individual donations.  Furthermore, he needs to find a house/apartment in DC for the summer.  He is looking for a place in DC that he will share with three other friends with a monthly rent of less than $3,000/month.  Mark is also looking for a summer job, possibly in economic development but he is also open to other ideas.  He seems like a great guy and would be a good addition to any business.  

Reed and Mark

Before we said goodbye, Mark asked if I would consider being on the finish line in Argentina when he gets there.  I would love that!  We agreed to meet in a couple of weeks and do a bike ride after I get my bike out and get into shape a little.  I was so inspired after our conversation, that I went home, got my bike in working order and took it for a short ride that evening.  Thanks Mark!

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Ok, I am back.  I was out of commission for about 36 hours with a stomach flu.  I am not 100% yet, but feel much better.  I look forward to getting the blog up to date!

What would you sacrifice for others?  What would you put your body through physically to help someone else out…to help people that you don’t even know?  

On Saturday my friend Surjeet and I were walking through Dupont Circle and saw some guys doing what looked to be push-ups.  I remember saying something like, “They aren’t even doing the push-ups right…they are doing them like girls.”  What I saw were four people doing some type of modified push-up…then rising to their feet and doing something like a jumping-jack.  

Manni enjoys a light moment (photo: Reed)

Manni gives his arms and legs a break (photo: Reed)

We went over to investigate.  As it turns out they were doing a challenge to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit charged with honoring and empowering severely injured service men and women.  The four men had taken a challenge to do 3,000 “burpees.” 

They were at around 2,000 when I arrived.  Manni was in the lead.  He took time out of his painful commitment to speak with me.  The last part of the video I recorded about an hour after the first segment.  Manni’s condition in the latter segment has visibly deteriorated.  He was nonresponsive to questions from me and others at that point…just focused on finishing.  

Manni finished all 3,000 burpees in 8hrs 5min.  He later said to me in an email, “It was absolutely the hardest money I ever worked for, and I didn’t get to keep any of it!”

Thanks to all those who participated in the Wounded Warrior Project challenge and to those who generously donated.  Manni is the real deal…he is a guy that you want on your team.  Thanks Manni for your sacrifice on Saturday and for your service to our country.

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Technology is just not being my friend these days.  First last week the display on my point and shoot Canon camera died.  Then that little ball that you use like a mouse on the Blackberry decided it didn’t want to roll to the left.  The WiFi switch on my laptop is starting to fail.  It constantly says that it has been switched to off…causing me to lose my connection.  This is really annoying when you have a daily blog!  What’s next?  Maybe I need to go back to low tech.  I could write up my daily adventures by hand, make drawings of the people I meet, get a mimeograph (now that is old school!) and make copies of everything and then mail them out to you via the post office!

Anyway, last Friday I tried to give my $10 away near Dupont Cirlce to a Hispanic woman who was carrying some bags.  She just looked like she could use ten bucks, but she didn’t want to talk to me at all.  She just kept saying, “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”  I tried in Spanish, but she just kept on going.

Later I found Jona (pronounced Yona) pushing a scooter over to a place to lock it up by the Metro entrance.

The 27-year-old hails from Tirana, the capital and largest city in Albania, but has been living in the US since 2000.  She is a Finance Manager so she probably has some interesting opinions on my Year of Giving.

She says that she likes living in the US, but makes a point to visit Albania every year.  In fact she plans to return to live there some day.

We chatted for a while.  I asked her if there was anything we could help her with.  She said that she herself didn’t need anything but would like for everyone to start doing their part to help conserve our environment.  I asked her what specifically and she said, “Just the little things.  I mean just do it.  People know what the right thing to do is.”  She herself was participating in a very interesting conference that day called, Creating Climate Wealth.

The two-day conference convened respected entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and corporate leaders to provide their insights and expertise on the policies, market frameworks, and programs that will clear the barriers to deliver emission reductions and promote job creation.

She said that Virgin’s Richard Branson was there launching his new venture the Carbon War Room.   I found a statement from Branson on Tonic that said, “Almost 50 percent of emissions can be eliminated without adding any burdens to consumers through improved market structures and enhanced policies.  Climate change solutions represent the largest wealth creating opportunity for our generation. It is also the biggest win for governments with respect to economic development, job creation, increased property values, etc.”

Jona said former Costa Rican President José Maria Figueres was on the panel with Branson and had a great comment.  He was talking about how in business and our personal lives we make a plan b in case things don’t go the way we hope.  “There is no planet B!” he said.  Figueres was able to pass a carbon tax in Costa Rica in the 1990s!  He credits this to Costa Rica having a single term presidency and not being sidetracked by re-election efforts.  Commenting on the importance of carbon taxing, he went on to say, “As long as the price of a tree standing is less than the price of a tree cut for timber, we won’t save the forests.”

I wish I had known about this summit. I would have loved to have participated.

Jona didn't want her picture taken, but said I could take a picture of her scooter! (Photo: Reed)

At the end of our conversation, Jona gave me the money back.  She said, “I am going to give $10 of my own money to the guy who sits in front of the Johnny Rockets on Connecticut Avenue.”  She asked me to use that $10 to help someone else out.  I did not give it away that night.

On Sunday I saw the man she was talking about.  His name is Travis.  I used that extra $10 that I had to buy him dinner: Cheese Steak sandwich platter with everything on it and french fries.  I let him know that Jona would be by to see him one day too.

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Last Thursday my friend Rick got some cheap tickets to see the Nationals play the Colorado Rockies so I went to the game.  I figured it would be fun to give my $10 to whoever was sitting next to me at the game.  We had tickets in section 309, row C, seats 1-3.  So, I figured whoever had seat 4 is getting $10!

It turns out nobody was sitting in seat 4…but there was a woman who had 5.  So I offered her my $10 but she refused.  I gave it my all to try to convince her but I was unsuccessful…she wouldn’t even tell me her first name.  Oh well.  I then found Jimmy.

Jimmy, Nationals Ballpark (Photo: Reed)

Jimmy is a vendor who climbs the steps of the stands all game long hawking snacks and beverages.  This is not an easy job…you are constantly carrying around a backbreaking container of goods navigating your way up and down stadium steps.  And get this, there is no salary.  That’s right, Jimmy said he only gets commission and tips.

He works for a company that places him in a variety of different stadiums.  Hailing from Baltimore, he said he is not that much of a Nationals fan.  Actually he says he likes football more than baseball, especially the Baltimore Ravens. 

I couldn’t keep Jimmy too long.  After all, he was working and his wages are a direct correlation to how much he sells, so I didn’t want him to lose potential income.  The 28-year-old says a good day he brings in a couple of hundred dollars.  My $10 was going toward gas he said.

Check out this short video of Jimmy in action!

The Nats ended up losing the game 2-0.  On an upside though, it was Earth Day and the ballpark had a special offer that if you brought recyclable items to the stadium you could buy a future ticket for half price.  I did just that and will be going to see my favorite team, the New York Mets, play when they come to town in May!

Don’t forget to tip your servers and vendors for good service!

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I had two sightings of previous recipients this weekend.  Yesterday I saw Carlos from Day 118 about a block from my house and he let me know that he would donate the $10, along with additional funds, at the end of the year because then his employer will double the contribution. 

Today I saw Ron from Day 24.  He was sitting in the same spot where I originally met him in January.  I was going to get some lunch at Chipotle and asked if he wanted anything.  He took me up on the offer and I got him a garden burrito. 

Last Wednesday night I went to the Velvet Lounge to check out Machines on Vacation, a local DC band that mixes a string quartet, guitar, and vocals with electronic beats and sounds.  It’s hard to describe their genre…it’s unique and totally worth checking out.

The opening band was Deb Felz with a percussionist whose name I believe was Dan.  Dan plays the cajón, an Afro-Peruvian box drum that you sit on and slap to produce a wide range of rhythmic beats.  Deb plays guitar and sings.  They were quite good together…you can check their music out here.

Ethan and Machines on Vacation at the Velvet Lounge (Photo: Reed)

The main event, Machines on Vacation, took the stage around 10pm.  My friend Melanie plays violin for the group.  The other members are Ethan (vocals, guitar, and electronics), Amanda (cello), Kellie (viola), and Theresa (violin/viola).  I love that they have such a unique sound.  It’s really refreshing to hear somebody out there exploring new territory in music.  I particularly like Paralyzed Paradise, Oh No, and Light on My Doorstep.  You can find some of their music on their Facebook page.

While watching the group I decided to give my $10 to one of the band members that I didn’t know.  I approached Ethan after the show and introduced myself and asked if he would accept my $10.  He didn’t hesitate.

I asked Ethan how he would describe Machines on Vacation’s distinctive sound.  “I have no idea,” he said, getting a laugh from me.  Seriously he said that its hard to describe but he offered a couple suggestions: “A melody-focused band that thrives on either embracing or rejecting the tenets of minimalism, sometimes in the same moment of a song”, “The music of the 22nd century – which is oddly just a mix of music from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st”, and “Pop music for nerds but not geeks.”  Check out this video for some of Ethan’s comments on musical influences and his obsession with asymptotes. 

Leading a group seems to come natural to Ethan.  When he is not being the front-man for Machines on Vacation, he is the CFO/COO for Elysian Energy, a DC/Baltimore energy efficiency firm that helps homeowners and businesses lower their energy bills and carbon footprint.  The company sounds like it provides a valuable service today as individuals and businesses grapple with energy efficiency strategies, sustainability, renewable technologies, and carbon impact reduction.

Ethan is a fellow Washington Capitals fan (Let’s go Caps!) – they play Montreal Monday night in what is hopefully the final game of that series.  He had already checked his phone I think Wednesday right after he finished playing to see if they had won, which they did that night. 

I asked him what he thought he would do with the $10.  “I feel like I should do something ‘good’ with it, instead of just using it to buy lunch tomorrow.” He and his wife have actually been discussing starting to give in a more organized manner.  He said he would think about it and get back to me, but that it would most likely get used to help a person or organization. 

Here is some video that I shot of the band playing Oh No at the Velvet Lounge.

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On Tuesday I met with my group of unemployed colleagues that meet weekly to help each other in their career search.  This was the day the AOL news report hit…my blackberry went berserk with a barrage emails and comments coming in just as I entered the meeting.  After the session, I was anxious to get back to my apartment to start responding to the comments, but I needed to find a recipient for the day.

"Emanuele" in front of a statue of David G. Farragut, a Union admiral in the American Civil War famous for rallying his fleet with the cry, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" (Photo: Reed)

I walked over to Farragut Square to see who was in the park.  It was there that I spotted an African-American man with short white hair sitting on his knees, barefoot, hunched over a park bench.   I sat down a short distance away and took a few pictures of him.  After watching him for a few minutes, I decided to approach him.

As I got close to the man I noticed that he had what looked like a scrap book or a book that you sign in on at a wedding reception.  He was entering some notes into the book.  Next to him was a small composition book, a bible, two bags, and a pair of old flip flops.  

I introduced myself and he accepted my $10.  I asked if I could ask him some questions and he became nervous and asked me to walk a few steps away from the bench to talk with him.  He spoke with an accent that made me believe that he had moved here from Africa in the last 10 or 15 years.  

We walked about 10 feet away and he explained that he couldn’t talk there because there were too many people watching and listening.  He mentioned that the park was full of CIA and others.  He suggested that I come back on another day and if he was on the west side of 17th Street, then he would be free to talk.  If he was in the park, then it would be too risky.

We walked back over to the bench.  I asked him his name and he gave me a look like, “Hey I just told you I can’t talk here” but told me that I could call him “Emanuele.”  He let me look at his book.  There were three paragraphs on the left side of the page.  I couldn’t really understand what he had written, however,  I saw a social security number and he said that that person had now been arrested based on intelligence that he had passed along.   

"Emanuele" (Photo: Reed)

We only spoke for about 10 minutes and then I left.  I didn’t get to ask him any of my normal questions that I ask, but he did offer some information.  He showed me a construction area on the northwest corner of K Street and Connecticut Avenue where he explained that three buildings used to exist.  They have been torn down and construction is started on a new building complex there.  He spoke about several conflicts that the previous owners have with the city about how this was handled, however I only understood about half of what he said.  

I agreed to come back and see him when he was not being monitored in the park.

As for the $10, he said he was going to go to McDonald’s and get him a couple of cheeseburgers.

I headed back to my apartment to find almost 1,000 emails/comments from you guys!

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