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Archive for May, 2010

Last night was a late night trying to get the bike video put together and uploaded.  Today I found an internet cafe downtown that seems to be working a little better for me.    

Yesterday they had elections here in Colombia.  No candidate got more than 50% of the votes, so there will be a run-off on June 20th between the top two candidates: Juan Manual Santos and Antanas Mockus.  Most the people that I have met here support Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants.  A philosopher and academic, his opponents say that while he seems intelligent that he doesn’t have clear ideas, has flip-flopped on ideas, and isn’t capable of being a strong leader.  On the other hand, those who support Mockus say that Santos is too much of a military-style leader.  Serving as President Uribe’s Secretary of Defense, he has been very aggressive toward neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela.  I think Santos will end up being elected as it will seem like the safer vote for many Colombians.  Just like in the US, people were glued to their TVs and radios following the results.

 Anyway, back to last Monday where I had a busy day getting ready for my trip to come here to Manizales.  On top of everything I had to do, I was foolish enough to get locked out of my apartment and lost several hours waiting for the locksmith company that said they would be there in 30 minutes.  I should have hung up with this company after the following conversation:

Woman: Hello? 

Me: Hi, is this the locksmith company on New Hampshire Avenue?

Woman:  Hello?

Me: Yes, hi, is this the number to the locksmith?

Woman:  What do you want?

Me: I’m sorry, is this the locksmith on New Hampshire Avenue?

Woman:  Why are you calling?

Me:  I’m looking for a locksmith.  Have I called the right number?

Woman:  What do you need?

Me:  (now a little frustrated) I need a locksmith…am I calling the right place? 

Woman:  I am not a locksmith, but I can have a locksmith call you back….

Well this went on for a while, anyway I finally figured out that I did have the right number and she was going to send a locksmith.  It would cost $29 to come out to the house and then an hourly labor fee for the work.  I asked how much the hourly rate was and the woman said that the only the locksmith would be able to tell me that. 

So the locksmith arrives and assesses my “simple lock” at $199 plus the $29.  I asked how long it was going to take and he said he didn’t know.  He also wouldn’t tell me what the hourly rate was, but $199 seemed insane.  In the end, I negotiated it down to $29 plus $71 to get the door opened.  He had it open in less than five minutes. 

Ok, enough venting…but hopefully you learn from my experience.  If you haven’t already make sure one or two people have a spare key to your home and if you have to call a locksmith remember that you can probably negotiate with them.

Later that night I was walking through Dupont Circle and saw a couple that seemed to just be enjoying the beautiful night sitting near the fountain.  I stopped to talk to them.  It turns out that Julia and Ken became my first recipients from Canada!  It was not easy at first convincing them that there was not catch to the ten dollars.  Ken was particularly suspicious.  “At the end of all this you’re not going to try to get me to join some church are you?”  Afterall, we were sitting a couple hundred yards away from the founding Church of Scientology.  I assured them that there were no conditions related to my gift and that I just wanted to take some time to get to know them.  Ken cautiously agreed to proceeded.  

Julia & Ken (Photo: Reed)

Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, they had been in DC for 5 days and were leaving on Tuesday.  They came to DC for a small wedding but managed to extend the trip a few extra days and make a mini-vacation out of it.  They were staying a stone’s throw away at the newly renovated Dupont Hotel.  After a full day of visiting the Air and Space Museum, Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, and the National Art Gallery, their tired legs and feet were enjoying a peaceful moment in this urban respite.  They really enjoyed the wedding.  There was a musical group made up of several Ukrainians who were excellent.  “They were only supposed to play three songs but they played all night,” they told me.  While they were at the wedding the met a man who was from Winnipeg as well.  After talking some time they realized that he used to live in the same neighborhood where Julia and Ken also used to live.  After a few more questions they realized that the man actually used to live in the exact same house that they did.  Bizarre right.  What are the chances to run into someone who used to live in your exact house, especially in a different country! Well this couple is no stranger to coincidences.  As we sat on the bench, another Winnipeg couple from the wedding strolled by and said hello.  They weren’t staying at the same hotel even, but they happened to be walking through Dupont Circle after getting turned around after dinner. The $10 they assured me would go to someone else or some organization.  “I promise you it wont be spent on anything for us,” Ken assured me. 

Kelekis, Winnipeg, Manitoba

If I ever get to Winnipeg, they gave me a few pointers on what to see and do there.  Grand Beach, a very shallow sandy beach, is a very nice place to visit in the summer they told me.  Ken added that this beach was once rated on of the top ten beaches by Playboy Magazine (Ken only read the magazine for the articles apparently.)  “You should also go to Kelekis and get a hot dog, they are the best,” according to Julia.  They also have wonderful theaters, symphonies, operas and even the Royal Ballet.  I particularly enjoyed a story that Julia shared with me about leaving Kelekis one time and seeing an old man walking back and forth looking confused.  She approached him and learned that he was looking for the bus stop.  Well, Julia recognized him as Leo Mol, a Ukrainian (they seem to like Ukrainians!) born artist that achieved worldwide notoriety as a sculptor and offered to give him a lift and he accepted.  He was already in his 90s and still working regularly.  There is a sculpture garden in Winnipeg she told me that has several pieces of his work.

I asked if there was anything that we could help them with, but they couldn’t think of much.  “Perhaps some tips for our son who is going to travel through South America for six months,” Julia mentioned.  If anyone has some tips on making the best out of a six-month backpack style adventure in South America, leave a comment for Julia and Ken.

  We said goodnight.  I made a quick joke that I wanted Ken and Julia to join my church and went on my way.

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Ok, so now I am really behind….I am a week behind on posting my blogs.

I have really struggled here with technical issues.  My internet connection is extremely slow and video, etc just does not upload and usually crashes my system.  I will continue to try to get a better work-around in place.

Anyway, last Sunday morning I woke up early and participated in Bike DC 2010. It was a fantastic event where they close down several of the major roads in the DC area and only allow bicycles.  It’s rare that you get to see some of these areas by bicycle. Even the areas that are accessible by bikes are not as enjoyable when you are constantly concerned about sharing the space with cars.

I got down to the starting area at around 8:00am, picked up my registration materials, and got on my way. I shot lots of video along the way.   Although I don’t believe that Oprah’s initiative to eliminate cell phone use while driving specifically addresses photographing while on a biking, it’s safe to assume that she would not be happy with this.  Sorry!

One of the monuments that the ride took us by was the Air Force Memorial in Arlington.  I have driven by it many times but I have never stopped.  Established in 2006 it serves as a memorial to  honor the service of the personnel of the United States Air Force and its predecessors.   While I was there I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and find a recipient for my $10.

I found Joseph, a 17-year-old student currently living in Maryland.  He is not so much of a cyclist, but some of his buddies told him about the event and he decided to give the 20 mile course a try. Despite being tired from climbing some of the hills, he said he was holding his own.  Click on the photo below for a video showing several parts of the ride (including lots of famous landmarks and monuments) and a few moments with Joseph.  (When I get back in the US I will add some music to it.  I discovered that downloading MP3s outside of the US from Amazon and other places is not allowed)

Joseph during Bike DC (Photo: Reed)

Joseph is very active in theatre at his high school and hopes to major in theatre in his home-state of Texas.  In addition to his passion for theatre and music, Joseph is a black belt in Tang Soo Do.  He and his friends rode off.  I took an extra minute to take in the view of DC from the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  Then it was back on my bike for another mile or two to arrive at the finish line.

I highly recommend you to take part in the next Bike DC event. For more information on this event and other biking related events and news in the DC area, check out the Washington Area Bicycle Association.

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Two quick updates.  I finally got video up for Anthony’s post yesterday and Victor from Day 139 posted an update from him on his page.  

Colombian 16 string guitar in need of some strings (Photo: Reed)

Manizales continues to be a wonderful and inspiring place for me to be.  I am trying to catch up on my blog writing so that I can start to share the stories of Manizales with you.  But for now, we have to transport ourselves back to the Georgetown neighborhood of  Washington, DC.  

I had just finished seeing my friend Annie in a production of Rhinoceros…she was amazing and the show itself was really good too.  On my way home I stopped at the Social Safeway to get a few items.  I still hadn’t given my $10 to anyone.  I am not sure how much I really needed items from the grocery store or I just figured that a 24-hour grocery store would certainly have a few candidates for my $10.  Would you believe the first two people I approached refused.  The first woman, Mary Pat, was studying the pet food options when I approached her.  She spoke with me for a while but I couldn’t convince her to participate.  The second person, who was buying paper towels, refused and didn’t tell me their name.  

Angela getting items for the Lost viewing party. (photo: Reed)

The third person I approached was over by the bakery and the rotisserie chickens.  Her name was Angela. 

The 39-year-old is a resident of DC and works as a news writer for a media company in DC.  I didn’t ask which one and she didn’t offer the information.  She said she was on her way home from visiting a friend and since she wasn’t tired thought that she would pick up some groceries.  The next day, Sunday, she was attending a party for the final episode of Lost.  I don’t watch Lost and have never really been interested in the show, but I thought a celebration about the show finally coming to an end was a good idea…although I don’t think most people who were excited about the finale were excited for the same reasons that I was.  For years friends have been telling me that they hoped that the next episode would explain things…but it never does…it hasn’t for something like five years.  “I really hope the finale explains some things,” Angela says to me.  If the past is any indicator of the future, she is going to be disappointed with what the show reveals. 

I on the other hand was not disappointed because first of all, I didn’t watch the show, and second of all, I was busy watching the grand finale of Celebrity Apprentice.  I know it’s a cheesy show, but I enjoy it.  And there is not a constant mega cliffhanger incorporated into the plot like Lost.  Each show is pretty straight forward.  Somebody gets fired at the end.  Despite being a fan, Mr. Trump could make this a one hour show…heck a 30 minute show.  He of all people should know time is valuable.  (actually he does know that and that is why it is two hours.  Time is money and he gets lots of money for the commercials that are run during the superfluous two-hour time slot. 

Anyway, sorry, I got off on a tangent.  When I am typing nobody brings me back on track. 

So Angela told me that her life and job was pretty “regular” and that there was nothing particularly interesting to share.  Just after saying that though, she mentioned that through her job she did get to join an interview session with the legendary Ray Charles.  

 “Everything that I had ever hoped about meeting someone of his stature came true.  He was the smartest guy in the room.  He was very nice, but he was clearly in control of everything that was going on.” 

photo: Reed

Working in news, she said other stories have often stuck out in her mind for long periods after the story is over.  She mentioned a story from Frederick, MD about a student basketball player who rarely got to play and was put in a game finally and finally made a basket.  The crowd went nuts.  It reminded me of this story!  I love it.  I even made team members at my last job watch this! 

Angela had a caring nature about her.  It really showed when she shared that she was going to donate the $10 to the Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization that provides pet adoption in Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland.  They find homes for dogs and cats rescued from high-kill animal shelters or whose owners could no longer care for them. 

It was getting late and I had to get up early the following morning to ride in Bike DC.  We parted ways and I went to check out in possibly the slowest checkout lane in the world.

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Manizales has been great…despite the almost constant drizzle and heavy fog.  This morning I visited one of the schools that the group I am consulting for is working with.  The kids were amazing.  It was sad, when I left they all gave me a massive group hug.  I am actually going to see them tomorrow too…but they don’t know that!  Check out this video of us working with some of the children who are in a bilingual choir in one of Manizales public schools.

I am still writing up blog entries from last week! 

Photo: Reed

So I told you in the previous blog posting about my trips to see the Mets vs. Nationals games last week.  After the game I was sifting through the crowds a the subway station platform trying to position myself so that I would make the next train.  I walked by Anthony who was leaning against a short wall that overlooked the lower level of the station where another train line runs.  As I walked by he leaned his head back as if to rest it against the wall, but there was not wall behind his head so his head went back further than he expected and his sunglasses fell from their resting position on top of his baseball hat and fell 20 feet onto the tracks below. 

“Did you just lose something,” I asked him as I saw him quickly look over the side of the wall.  Shaking his head back and forth he smiled and said, “Yeah…my sunglasses.”  We both peered over the wall to see if we could see them but they were gone.

“They were cheap.  I paid like $7 for them.”  He shrugged it off and I continued my way toward the other end of the station.

I wasn’t ten feet away when I realized he should be my $10 recipient for the day!  I rushed back to see if he was still there.  He was.

Anthony is a 40-year-old Caddie Master at a prestigious local country club.  He was born and raised in Maryland.  After a few minutes I realized that he was a Met’s fan as well!  Let’s go Mets!  We reminisced a little bit about the days of the 1986 Mets.  “People even used to say that I looked like Dr. K when I was younger,” he said referring to Dwight Gooden, the former star pitcher for New York.

It turns out that Anthony he himself is a former professional baseball player with the Texas Rangers’ farm team.  He spent two years with them from 1992-1994.  He also played on the USA national team and won a bronze medal in 1996.

Below there is a clip of us talking about Anthony’s attitude toward life and his experience with the Texas Rangers.  You might catch a glimpse of his father directly behind Anthony if you look close.  They had went to the game together.  I still like to go to games with my dad.  In fact, he and I went to see a game the last year that Shea Stadium was being used and then the first year of their new stadium, Citi Field.

Anthony is a really nice guy.  I love that I met him and it is sad to think that if I had not been doing this project, I might not have stopped and spoken with him.  With every person I meet through the Year of Giving, my life becomes much richer.  An interesting irony given the negative cash flow of my current situation.

Oh, I almost forgot.  You guessed it.  Anthony is going to buy some new sun glasses with the $10 I gave him.

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View nearby where I am staying in Manizales, Colombia (Photo: Reed)

I have arrived safely here in Manizales, Colombia.  I am a little behind with my posting but that is somewhat acceptable if you consider what my internet set-up might be in such a beautiful location like this.

By the way, I have been thinking that it would be a good idea to document the giving experiences from Colombia in both Spanish and English.  For one reason, if a recipient doesn’t read English very well they won’t be able to read their own blog posting which just seems wrong.  Given my schedule, it would be great to have a native speaker “guest translate” for each of the days that I am here.  If you are interested, let me know.

Last week the New York Mets baseball team was in town to take on the Washington Nationals.  I grew up a huge Mets fan.  Living in Central PA you would think that I would be a Philadelphia Phillies or Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  The only explanation that I can give is that I started to follow them because we got WWOR Channel 9 from Secaucus, NJ which carried almost all of the Mets games at the time.  It certainly wasn’t because of the team’s record back then.  I started following them in the early 1980s when they were not a pretty sight.  They got better though and went on to win the 1986 World Series.  My father took me to game 5 of the National League play-offs that year against the Houston Astros.  It’s one of my fondest childhood memories.

Anyway, I made it to two Mets games last week.  My friend Chris and I were leaving the game and getting on the Metro when I saw a young guy playing the violin.  I offered him the $10 but he declined when he learned that I would write about the encounter on the blog.

I scanned the scene for another recipient.  It was almost as if a river current was carrying everyone to the Metro.  In the middle of this swift moving mob was a woman holding her own against the current while she handed out the Express newspaper; a free paper published by the Washington Post that is mostly distributed to commuters.  I have given several times to the vendors of Street Sense, but I have never given to anyone from the Express organization.  So I did.

Sharon hands a Metro rider the Express (Photo: Reed)

Sharon was busy trying to capture the attention of the mostly disinterested passersby.  She has handed out the Express for three years she tells me.  “On a good day I hand out about 1,500 papers.”  I remember responding to her with something like, “Wow, you sell a lot of papers!”  I knew the paper was free but I just misspoke.  She quipped back, “Honey, if I was selling these things I’d be a millionaire by now!”

She went on to tell me that “the people are the best part of the job!”  Although that evening was almost perfect, Sharon says that she dreads the hottest and coldest days of the year.  “That’s the worst part about this job: the weather.”

Originally from West Virginia, the 49-year-old now calls Washington, DC her home.  She certainly makes a lot of us feel at home here when she give’s us our paper and wishes us a nice day.  She told me that she was going to use the $10 to help pay for her transportation to and from work.  I didn’t want to keep her from her job much more so I thanked her (and she thanked me right back) and said “goodnight.”

I am looking forward to writing more about Manizales this week.  It’s a beautiful tranquil space.  This should be a very busy and exciting 10 days!

Check out this short clip of Sharon in action!

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As I pack my bags to leave for Colombia tomorrow, I started to think that I should publish the blogs in Spanish while I am there. That way if the person I give to doesn’t read English they can at least read their own blog entry! Any volunteers to translate the blogs for those days

I am interested to find out how my project is received there; a mixture of nervousness and excitement is brewing. Tell all of your friends in Colombia to keep a look out for me!

Photo: Reed

So last week I was walking through Dupont Circle when I saw a bunch of people hula hooping. There was just no way to walk by this and not stop! So I did and asked a woman there if she would accept my $10. She said yes on one condition: I had to do some hula hooping first!

Let me just tell you that the last time I did any hooping (they prefer hooping over hula hooping) I was probably in Mr. Montgomery’s gym class in the 7th grade! Anyway, if you check out the video you will see me attempting to hoop.

Eileen has been hooping for about two years now and recently received her Hoopnotica certification and has started teaching hooping classes. She recommends that if anyone would like more information about hooping in the DC area that they check out www.hoopdancedc.com or www.hoopnotica.com. Or you can just go down to Dupont Circle any Wednesday night at 7:30 pm and hoop away! Eileen also mentioned that there is free yoga at Dupont Circle starting at 6:30…so you can come for hours of relaxation and entertainment FOR FREE

Now, hooping does not come without risk. Eileen told me she has busted up her lip and sprained an ankle in her hooping pursuits. So if you are not up for the risks, this is not a sport for you. Thankfully there is no waiver that you need to sign to hoop with Eileen and her friends though. Unlike my past experiences with skydiving where you sign your life away pretty much.

Photo: Reed

When Eileen is not hooping, she is making a tremendous contribution to society by teaching. She is a special education teacher in a local school. Other than that she claims that she lives a boring life. “I have a cat and I belong to a book club…that’s about it.” She fails to mention that she is also a fire eater…fire breather…or fire spitter…I don’t know what you call it but someone who puts something flammable in their mouth and then releases it into flames. How do you forget to mention this! I mean this is really interesting! Hey, want to spruce up your next office party? Get Eileen and her friends to do a hoop dance and spit fire! Ok, speaking of fire, you might get fired…but trust me it will be a hell of a good time!

Anyway…I am not going to bore you any more with my feeble attempt to convey the friendliness and talent of these hoopers…check them out for yourselves in this video! Better yet, go and join them Wednesday nights at 7:30 at Dupont Circle! You will also see Eileen giving her $10 away!

For more information on hooping:

www.hoopdancedc.com

www.Hoopnotica.com

Hoop Mama’s blog

Hoopalicious Baxter

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Good morning!  There is nothing I like more than waking up early on a Monday morning and getting a head start on things I need to get done!  A lot of people complain about Monday’s… I love’em!

So I’m considering putting together somewhat of an advisory board for my Year of Giving.  I believe that there are some interesting ways that the project can develop and hope to get some critical perspectives on it.  If anyone knows someone wickedly smart or creative who they think would be an asset to this thought process, please shoot me an email.

Last week I was meeting with Abby Strunk, the executive director at Street Sense.  As you know, I have enjoyed getting to know their vendors.  As it turns out, she was following the Year of Giving journey and reached out to me a few weeks back.  So we decided to meet up for coffee.  She has been with the paper for six months and seems to be driving the organization in the right direction.  I really believe in this organization and offered to help them out if there was anything I could do.  Coincidentally, as we were chatting, she pointed out a Street Sense vendor who was selling the paper just on the other side of the frosted glass of the Caribou Coffee shop we were at.  After our meeting, I walked over and gave my $10 to Tommy.

Photo: Reed

He is vendor # 003.  That’s right…he is the third vendor hired.  Tommy’s been selling Street Sense for about six years.  He credit’s his friend Jose for encouraging him to sell the paper.  At first Tommy didn’t think he would be good at it, but he proved himself wrong.  Having a job turned out to be one of the key elements in Tommy’s sobriety.  After years of drug and alcohol abuse, the 54-year-old father turned his life around seven years ago by getting sober.  He is currently homeless, but stays in a local shelter and is an active voice in housing issues for the homeless.

I found a link on Street Sense’s website that had a small write-up on Tommy.  I have copied a Q&A section that was part of the write-up that I thought you might find interesting.

What is your favorite kind of music?

Jazz, Korean and Jamaican music

What is your favorite food?

Steak with mashed potatoes and gravy

What is your favorite movie?

I like Batman and Spiderman but also like horror movies.

How did you become homeless?

I got myself into trouble doing stuff I wasn’t supposed to.

Were you ever homeless before?

Yes, about 20 years ago.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Tommy sees himself getting his drug counselors license and giving back to the community that helped him. He would also like to find a permanent residence.

Tommy never graduated from high school so now he is working on getting his GED.  He hopes that once he gets his degree that he can go on to be certified as a drug counselor for recovering addicts.  I think this would be a fantastic role for him.

He plans to use the $10 to pay bills.  Selling the Street Sense is a big part of Tommy’s life, but he still lacks the funds to secure private housing.  As he said in the interview excerpt above, he would really like to have his own place.  I asked Tommy how we could help him and he gave me a list of several things that he needed.

Here’s a short video from my chat with him.  You’re gonna like him!

Tommy can be found weekdays at either 11th/G, 13/G, or 14th/G and on Thursdays, Saturday, and Sunday at 29th/M.
 

Update July 7, 2010: Here is a little video from my first delivery of items for Tommy.  Thanks to all who continue to help Tommy out.  Be sure to check the Lend a Hand section for updated items that he needs.

Update June 26, 2011: Congratulations to Tommy who celebrated 8 years sober on May 27th!

Update December 4, 2012: I learned today hat Tommy died on November 18th. He was 56. He was battling some health issues, but I didn’t realize it had gotten that dire. He was a good man that I admired. I will miss him. I hopefully will get some more details tomorrow.

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