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Archive for July, 2010

The Clintons walk down Pennsylvania Avenue at the 1993 inauguration (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

I left work and instead of walking home I thought that I would walk in the opposite direction and see if I could find a recipient of my daily ten-spot.  As I walked down 25th Street I passed Trader Joe’s on my left and arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue.  What a historic avenue!  This 36 mile stretch of road (about five of which are in DC) is most known for the 1.2 mile section that connects the White House to the Capitol.  I was standing about a mile west of the White House near where the avenue begins (or ends I guess) at the edge of Georgetown.  That is where I saw Rigoberto. 

I stopped Rigoberto on the sidewalk of Penn. Ave. as he left the bank on the way back to start his shift (photo: Reed)

Originally from Honduras, Rigoberto has been here for approximately ten years.  He lives in the District and works as a cook at a restaurant on the iconic Pennsylvania Avenue.  “Es una ciudad muy bonita,” he says as he talks fondly about Washington.  Although he has patiently waited nine years for his green card to be approved, he dreams of one day returning to Honduras.  “Toda mi familia está alla,” he tells me explaining that his wife and six children (ages 11-22) are there in a small town that is a two day bus trip west of the capital of Tegucigalpa. “It’s right on the border with El Salvador.” 

He looked down at the ten-dollar bill in his hand and said that he was going to send it to his daughter who is a university student in Honduras.  Every month he sends her $150.  This time he will send her $160.  It comes at a good time too.  He told me that she had just asked if he could send her some additional money this month for some other expenses she incurred. 

Rigoberto, who is legally here, has worked in the US for ten years in order to provide for his large family.  Moving thousands of miles away to a strange city with a different language would not be a choice some people would be able to do.  “This is how I support my family,” he tells me.  In his hometown, rent for a nice home for a family of his size costs about $105.  “And this includes someone to help with cooking the meals, cleaning the house and doing the laundry.”  He would not be able to make the kind of salary he has here if he were to be working there. 

Rigoberto (photo: Reed)

Rigoberto had just left the restaurant where he was working to run to the bank so I didn’t want to keep him too much longer.  The last thing I would want is for him to get in trouble for not being at work.  I told him that I would try to stop in some time and eat at the restaurant where he works.  “Well, that’s up to you,” he says with a big smile.  “It’s a pretty expensive place and I’m not that good of a cook!” 

I have listed on the Lend a Hand page two items that Rigoberto needs.  His refrigerator can not keep up with the heat and says that the freezer compartment does not work well enough to keep things frozen.  He also needs a new stove.

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I have received so many emails and comments from people around the world who say that they have tried to approach a complete stranger and give them $10 or do something nice for them, but fear got in the way. Our heart starts to pound, sweat forms on our forehead and we start to feel sick. Why? Because we’re afraid of rejection. We fear the words, “What? Listen, I don’t have time for this.”  Sure, I get that response some time and it sucks.  But every once in a while time almost stops as you look into the person’s eyes and you see them abandon those words and replace them with trust and an open mind. It’s beautiful and extremely powerful. Well, welcome to my world. Welcome to Day 213!

Although maybe a little reluctantly, Franko let me take his photo (photo: Reed)

This is exactly what happened when I met Franko on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and N Street in Northwest DC. Franko is originally from New York and although he moved to DC 37 years ago, the stereotypical cold, gruff, I-don’t-have-time-for-you New Yorker in him comes out from time to time. But as noise from the surrounding traffic seemed to fade away and I looked him in the eye and answered his questions about my intentions, I had one of those moments. He gave me a chance. “This is a very rare thing for me to cooperate with a person like you,” he tells me. “I don’t do this! When I get a call from somebody trying to sell me something I hang up on’em.”

Franko doesn’t say no to me, but proceeds with extreme caution. Thankfully it was hot out and the perspiration that was coming over me could have easily been attributed to that. I started asking him questions and taking notes. I’m pretty sure he fired just as many questions right back at me though.

Slowly I managed to get a little bit of information out of the 62-year-old DC resident. I asked him for the first initial of his last name. “R” he tells me. He also told me that he is a photographer for one of the Smithsonian Museums. On this specific afternoon he was actually on his way home from a doctor’s appointment.

“I think we have a sort of defense mechanism that we put up in these kind of situations so that we don’t get screwed,” Franko says. I ask him why he decided to talk to me and he says, “There is something about you. You’ve got a good vibe!” By this time Franko had lowered his guard considerably. He let me take these photos of him. By the way I hate photographing photographers because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! He also gave me his email so that we could stay in touch.

Early on he told me that he was going to use the $10 to fill the prescription that his physician gave him. But that was 30 minutes earlier. As we stood just a few feet away from where I met Clyde four days earlier, he tells me that he has changed his mind about what he was going to do with ten-spot. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it but he wasn’t going to use it to pay for his prescription.

Franko then took my pen and changed the “R” that I had written down after his first name to a “K.” “I’ve told you everything else, I might as well give you the right initial for my last name.” Just then the squeaking of brakes being applied interrupted our conversation and Franko says, “That’s my bus.” As we say goodbye, he gave my shoulder a pat and told me to come see him at the museum some time.

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Justin (photo: Reed)

Working now creates some new challenges to keeping up with my commitment.  On the plus side, I have some positive cash flow!  On the negative side, my days have become much longer trying to keep this up while working.

Well long days and short nights of sleep are nothing new to today’s recipient.  Meet Justin.  I was leaving work and walking toward Dupont Circle when I ran into him as he was walking home from GW Hospital in his scrubs.

Justin is a 1st year resident in the department of radiology.  Originally from northwest Indiana, he went to medical school about an hour away at Chicago’s Northwestern University.  He recently finished his internship at a hospital in Akron, OH.

When I ran into him he had only been here a few weeks and when I asked how it was going he said, “So far it’s pretty good for me.”  Pretty good attitude for a first year resident.  He’ll spend the next four years here going through intensive training. 

So how is residency life?  “It’s ok, I mean there is just an overwhelming amount of stuff that you are required to learn,” Justin tells me.  Although he said summer in DC was really hot, he likes the city.  He was already familiar with the DC area before moving here.  In fact he spent a summer doing research at NIH which he says definitely played a role in his choice to come here for his residency. 

I wonder how you decide that you want to study radiology.  Check out why Justin says he chose it.

Miraculously he finds some time to relax and enjoy life.  When he is not soaking up endless quantities of knowledge at the hospital, he enjoys playing music.  He started playing bass guitar a while back and would like to get a band together here in DC.  For a guy who is new in town, he already has a guitarist and a keyboardist lined up.  They need a drummer though.  “We need a beginner/intermediate drummer who wants to play some rock music,” he tells me.  My brother hasn’t played in a long time, maybe he wants to get back into it.

Justin right before he turned my $10 into dinner (photo: Reed)

So what does a first year radiology resident do with $10.  Eat!  That’s right he said that he was going to take the $10 straight to Potbelly’s to get some dinner.  He kindly let me tag along as we hiked the 8 blocks over to the sandwich shop where he got his dinner. 

Bon appetite Justin!

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Gwin selling the Street Sense (photo: Reed)

Gwin was selling the Street Sense newspaper at the South edge of Dupont Circle in between 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue. I was walking through the circle when I spotted the bright yellow vest that identifies her as a Street Sense vendor.

Gwin has an interesting story. Originally from Salisbury, NC, she told me about the early days of her life when she lived near Elizabeth Dole’s home. I can’t remember now which, but either she or Mrs. Dole lived on Ellis Street, which was named for Governor Ellis who died in office in 1861.

She talks a little bit about her background and what she would like to do professionally on this video clip.

It’s hard to imagine that an educated person who goes to law school and becomes an attorney can end up homeless, but Gwin is proof of that. Although not homeless now, she says that she has been homeless in at least a half-dozen cities across the country. “Homelessness is many things,” she tells me. “There are good parts and bad parts to being homeless.” Among the good parts she lists: meeting people, celebrations with friends, traveling, seeing people help one another, and even special occasions like a holiday party she recalls that was put on for the homeless in Boston where they served steak and lobster. Of course she shares plenty of negatives too: moral despair, being looked down upon, realizing your dreams will not materialize, etc.

Gwin kept her same calm demeanor the entire time and seemed very comfortable talking about a variety of different subjects. We talked about all kinds of things; from the Obama administration to circular migration to the legalization of marijuana. She also mentioned that she was a poet and that I could find her works on the Internet. I have not been able to locate them yet, but when I do I will share them here. She enjoys writing a lot and would even like to write a book on homelessness some day.

Before I left I asked her about the $10 and she said that will be used to buy her some soap and a few other toiletries that she says she needs to get this week.
I asked her what dreams she still has for herself. “It’s too late to think about dreams. Now it’s retire, work part-time and be able to help others.” Maybe that is in fact her dream. I asked her where she wants to retire and she said either Chicago or some place further west. “I would like to find a place to live where I could get a part-time job and eventually collect a pension.”

Gwin (photo: Reed)

Before leaving I asked if I could take a few photos of her selling the paper.  She made me laugh a little because she kept hiding behind the newspapers for most of them.  She had been so comfortable with the camera when I took pictures of her sitting down and also used my video camera, but for some reason she got a little shy when she was working.  I asked her if she could move the papers a little so that I could see her face and she nodded her head yes with a sheepish smile, but didn’t move them too much.  I managed to get a couple of shots though.

For those in the downtown area, keep an eye out for Gwin, especially near the Dupont Circle SOUTH Metro entrance near the Krispy Kreme.

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I started my new job on Day 210!  It was my 285th day without work.  It felt so good to get up early and go to “my job!”  I know, most of you are vomiting right now hearing me say how happy I am to go to work on a Monday morning, but it was really true.  So far, I have been really impressed with the WWF and the people that are a part of the organization.  

Eric looks a lot like Abe Lincoln. Am I that short? Look at the angle of this photo (photo: Reed)

 

After work that day I headed over to meet an old colleague Derek at 18th and M Street.  From there we headed over to 14K Lounge for our friend Jen’s birthday party.  On our way over there we came face to face with our 16th president of the United States. 

Ok, so it wasn’t really Abraham Lincoln, although he does bear a tremendous resemblance to the tallest American president.  And he is about the same height.  Derek is 6”4” and he looked a smidgen taller than Eric (without his hat). 

Eric is a telecom engineer who has been out of work for a year.  He was staging a personal protest of sorts that afternoon against the powerful K Street lobbyist firms.  He is sickened by the amount of money that changes hands on this street in exchange for favorable consideration on governmental issues.  

As a result of him being out of work for so long he became homeless in May.  Since then he has managed by couch surfing and staying at shelters.  If your firm is looking for an engineer experienced in XML, telephony and Linux, give Eric a chance.     

He chose to save the money. 

Derek and I said goodbye and headed to the birthday party.  We didn’t mention to Eric that Derek technically is a lobbyist, but I hope that he wouldn’t dislike Derek just for that.  Because in fact Derek has a PhD in genetics and works tirelessly to educate our lawmakers in the area of preventative medicine as it relates to obesity, personalized medicine and tobacco. Hey, somebody’s got to protect us from the tobacco lobby! 

By the way, Eric does occasionally do some work as a Lincoln impersonator…I can connect you with him for that as well if you are interested.

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photo: Reed

At about 9:00 pm on Day 209 I saw Garrett playing his maraca and tambourine on the Southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Q Street in Northwest.  I have some items that you guys have sent for him and I crossed the street to talk with him and see if he would be there a while so that I could go home and get the items and come back to deliver them to him.  Just about the time I reached Garrett a man in a wheel chair rolled up and stuffed some folded dollar bills into Garrett’s can and went back to where he had been sitting before.  As I chatted with Garrett I couldn’t help but notice that the other gentleman was missing both legs and was holding a box with the words, “Donate, help needed, disabled” written on it. I was completely distracted.

I walked over to him and introduced myself.  He didn’t tell me his name right away, but I later discovered that it was Clyde.  “I hate to admit it but often times I tell people that my name is Mike, but it’s really Clyde.” 

Garrett said he had to go and I continued to talk to Clyde for more than two hours.  During that time at least a half-dozen people stopped and gave Clyde some money.  One person even gave him an apple.  Another, a clergy member from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, stopped and chatted with us for a while.  He had spoken with Clyde before.  As he left he dropped a five-dollar bill inside Clyde’s box.

Clyde is wearing a faded blue and white hat with Sandals Jamaica written on it and large black sunglasses.  His left leg looks to be amputated above the knee and is fitted with a prosthetic leg accompanied by a shoe.  His right leg appears to be amputated near his pelvic bone.  He has on a checkered pair of pajama-like pants that cover most of his prosthetic and then rest limp on his right side.  At some point during the evening I gathered the courage to ask Clyde what happened to his legs.  “I lost them in accident.  I got a metal plate in my arm as well,” he says pointing to his right arm. 

I asked if I could photograph him but he preferred not to.  I even asked if I could just photograph his box, but he wasn’t comfortable with that either.  I respect that.  You will just have to do with some photos of the area where we passed the hours talking that evening.

Clyde, who tells me that his friends call him “Camel” because of a Ray Steven’s song about a camel named Clyde, is in his late 50s.  He doesn’t live in DC but travels here by bus every month for about a week.  While he is here he sometimes goes down to Capitol Hill to voice his opinion on topics as well as spends a good amount time in the Dupont Circle area.  He sits and greets people kindly as they walk by, “Don’t forget the homeless.”  When the sun sets and the bar-goers start to thin out he wheels himself a short distance away on Q Street and sleeps upright in his chair.  “I’m used to it, it doesn’t bother me,” Clyde assures me.  “It’s safer than trying to stay in a shelter.”

I found Clyde sitting in his wheel chair at this spot (photo: Reed)

It would be impossible to give our two-hour conversation justice in a few paragraphs here.  But I will try to leave you with an accurate summary about what I know about this private man.  He is kind and gentle.  He doesn’t drink or smoke.  He is well-read and knowledgeable about many topics and patiently shares his knowledge with others (or at least me!)  He believes in God.  He helps others when he can, which is evidenced by him donating some of his own money to Garrett.  He served in the US Coast Guard and has traveled all over the world.  He is very critical of our government.  He rivals my father as a conspiracy theorist.  He only watches Fox News and wishes we had more honest journalists “like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.” 

Clyde has a home, but his social security doesn’t make ends meet.  Each month he falls about $250 short so he takes a bus to DC and spends about a week here in order to collect enough money to pay the bills.  “I got so many bills I’ve been thinking about changing my name to Bill!” he says…it falls a little flat but I managed a smile.  He later told me that he would put the $10 I gave him toward paying some of those bills.

In the winter he forgoes his monthly trip to Dupont Circle’s tree-lined diagonal streets, large19th century homes and row houses and endless embassies and takes a bus south every month to the warmer shores of South Beach, Miami where the colorful art deco buildings, palm trees and sandy beaches seem to wash away the winter blues.

Most of our conversation was somehow tied to politics and religion, two of the most delicate pieces of conversation I can think of.  He shared a lot of his views and educated me on many topics. 

It got to be close to 11:30 at night and I needed to head home.  Afterall, I was starting my new job the next day!  He said he would be back here next month.  Same time (about the 8th of the month he arrives in DC and stays to about the 15th), same place (the corner of Connecticut and Q Street.)  I look forward to stopping by and chatting with my new friend on his next visit.

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This is a short entry.  I only had a few minutes with the recipient, it was dark, and I could barely read my writing when I got around to writing up the blog entry.

It was just after midnight and I was walking home and walked passed the back side of Bistro du Coin, a good French Bistro in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of DC.  The mussells are excellent!  My favorite are La Traditionelle Mouclade des Charentes – steamed mussels with a light cream sauce and curry.  (And I almost never order something with a cream sauce!)

Usually when I pass the back of this restaurant the sidewalk is wet from liquids leaking from their trash containers and I often see some pretty large rats dashing around looking for scraps from the tasty offerings served inside.  occasionally I also run across the random employee smoking a cigarette or making a quick call on their cell phone.

On this night I passed Anna who was quietly enjoying a cigarette. 

“I only smoke once in a blue moon,” she told me.

A panoramic view of Kazan Kremlin, Vernicle temple and Kazanka river right bank (photo: Wikipedia)

 

She told me she really needed to get back inside to attend to her customers, so I cut to the chase and asked her what she would do with the $10.  “I’m going to buy ice cream for my daughter,” she told me.  Right then another waitress, Flo, wandered outside and lit up.  Anna explained to Flo that she had just received $10 from me.  I explained that I was walking by and just thought I would give my $10 to Anna.  Flo exhaled a lung-full of smoke and said something along the lines that Anna never took a smoke break.  “I’m out here all the time and I don’t get $10.  She comes out here one time and…”

Anna said goodbye and excused herself as she slipped in the back door.  I awkwardly said goodbye to Flo as she stood smoking by herself on the damp sidewalk.

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It seems like I am fighting an endless battle to get caught up on my blog posts.  I have some video to show of Anthony getting more items that I need to get edited and share with you and I also have some items for Garrett.  I saw him again today and agreed to meet him later to deliver the items but he wasn’t there when I returned.  I’ll keep trying.

Other day I checked my wallet and I had seven dollars in it so I went to the ATM and retrieved $100.  I then walked inside the bank and asked if I could get the twenty-dollar bills broken down into ten-dollar bills.  I shared with Catherine the idea of the Year of Giving and she got so excited.  “Ooh, I’d like somebody to give me $10!”

I left and headed home.  I went back to the bank with my notebook and camera about three hours later to see if Catherine was still there.  She was helping a customer and at first did not recognize me.  “She can help you at the next window,” she said as I waited while she attended to her customer.  I politely refused the help of the other teller explaining that I wanted to speak with Catherine.  When my turn came, she looked at me and recognized me.  She was so excited and ran around the other teller windows and came out on the left side to meet me.  Her energy was contagious. 

Catherine's smile is contagious. (photo: Reed)

I discovered that  27-year-old grew up in Ghana.  Her native language is Fanti, but she speaks perfect English in addition to speaking French and a Ga, another native language of Ghana.  Nine years ago she moved to Akron, Ohio to pursue a degree in Political Science.  Then in January she moved to DC to try to further her career; however it’s not been easy.  “I can’t find anything related to my career,” she told me.  She ended up accepting a job at the bank in order to pay her bills.  Her $1,000+ monthly rent is grossly more expensive than the $320 she paid for her place in Akron.   

Given her short time in DC and economic situation right now she says that she hasn’t gotten out much and has yet to meet a lot of new friends.  Thankfully she loves her coworkers at the bank.  “They’re great!” 

photo: Reed

She hopes to find a job in international development and possibly work with Africa.  At some point she says she hopes to return to Ghana.  “My dream is to run a HIV/AIDS awareness organization back in Ghana.”  I know that many readers of the Year of Giving are involved in that area of work and I hope they might be able to help Catherine.  Drop me a note and I will connect you with Catherine. 

As someone who works with money all day long, I was quite interested to know what she was going to do with the $10 I gave her.  “I’m going to put it toward gas,” she says.  It sounds like she could definitely use a little extra money too; she estimates that she has racked up more than $450 in parking and speeding tickets since moving here earlier this year.  Hmmm.  I might suggest the Metro as an alternative to get her to and from work!

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DC Trader Joe's at 1101 25th Street, NW (photo: Reed)

Joe has been working for Trader Joe’s for six years.  He started in Michigan and was then transferred to Rockville before finally accepting a move to the downtown Washington, DC location.  “I do all the signage you see around here,” he explains.  I did a bit of a panoramic scan of the store and realized that every sign whether it be for apples or for frozen entres of chicken masala. 

A former NYC resident, Joe started out as a graphic designer.  When he moved to Michigan he realized that he could apply his background as a graphic designer to be an in-store artist for the privately held Californian grocer.  It was odd to call them Californian, because you feel like you are in your neighborhood store.  Maybe it’s the hand written signs or the goofy Hawaiian shirts.  By the way, I am all for fun shirts, but I think it might be time to change the shirts.  Or maybe it’s just how everyone seems happy there!  

When the 36-year-old artist isn’t working, he enjoys biking, painting, and sports.  He was following the World Cup when we met and was pulling for the Netherlands after his favorite team, Italy, was disqualified. 

Taken at a Trader Joe's in San Luis Obispo, CA. (photo Shawn Thorpe)

“I’ll probably give the $10 to a homeless person.  I see some regularly not too far from here,” he says.  “Or maybe I will give it to the guy who sells the homeless newspaper (Street Sense) in front of the store.”   I didn’t see anyone outside the day I was there. 

I wanted to take a photo of Joe or some of his art work but he preferred not to be photographed and advised me of their policy that forbids photographs to be taken inside the store.  I always try to respect people’s privacy. 

By the way, if you are wondering if Joe is the “Trader Joe.”  He’s not…that would be the founder Joe Coulombe who turns 80 this year.   Coincidentally he says that his wife worked for a company that had the same name as her first name….I don’t remember exactly, but it was like her name was Anne and she worked for Anne Klein.

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Borders at 18th and L Streets in NW Washington, DC (photo: Reed)

I am back in DC.  I went to Borders Book Store to pick up a gift for some friends who are moving back to Finland.  As I wandered around the store I found Madison searching through the non-fiction books.

I was surprised to find out that Madison was only 14.  She looked a little older and is very mature.  She lives in Virginia and is starting the 10th grade this fall. 

I asked her what kind of book she was looking for and she said that she was looking for a biography on Marilyn Monroe.  “She fascinates me; her whole attitude toward life.”  She perused the many books they had on the pop icon but I don’t think she ended up finding the one she wanted.  Or she just ran out of time since she ended up chatting with me for a while.

Madison seems like a very good student.  She is enrolled in an intensive Geometry course this summer so that she can skip it next year and move right into Algebra II.  Geometry though has not been easy for her.  She said she preferred Algebra over Geometry.  I was just the opposite.  I did really well in Geometry but nearly failed Algebra II.  She says that History is her favorite subject.  I would have to agree, it was one of my favorites too.

When she is not at school or studying, Madison likes to play volleyball and participate in her student government and school clubs.  She seems to like the private school that she attends. 

Our conversation makes its way back to the $10.  “What do you think you might do with it?”  She thought about the question and said that she would probably buy lunch for herself the following day at school.  “During the summer the school cafeteria is not open,” she explains so she has to get lunch on her own. 

photo: Reed

About this time I think I asked her if she was originally from DC and she said that she was but that she had moved and then came back at some point because of her dad’s job.  “What’s your dad do?” I asked.  I would have never expected the response.  “He used to play in the NFL,” she replies in a very humble tone.  I inquired who her father was.  I won’t mention his name here, but he was a first round draft pick that went on to play eight seasons of professional football.  For someone who grew up the daughter of such a well-known public figure she seems incredibly grounded and genuine. 

Speaking of her dad she looked at the time and said, “I actually have to go meet him now.”  I finished up my questions and we said goodbye.  She opted not to have her photo included, which I totally understand for various reasons.

What a smart young lady.  I was really impressed with her.  Just how she carried herself and the intelligent questions she asked.  We as society can sleep well at night knowing that it’s people like Madison that will become tomorrow’s leaders.

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When you look at today’s blog entry you might think, “Reed made a mistake.  Lourdes was the name of the recipient from yesterday’s blog.”  Well, would you believe that the very next day I found another woman named Lourdes in Roanoke, VA. 

IHOP, Roanoke, VA (photo: Reed)

 

I was traveling to Roanoke to attend the funeral of a family friend.  My father and I stayed at the Quality Inn near the Tanglewood Mall in the southwest part of town.  I saw an IHOP (3926 Franklin Rd SW, Roanoke, VA 24014) around the corner from the motel and suggested that we go there for breakfast.  

Our waitress came over to our table and I saw the name Lourdes written on her name tag.  I told my dad that Lourdes was the name of the woman who I gave my $10 to the day before.  It was almost as if it was some kind of sign to choose her.  She came back with our breakfast and I asked her to take part in the Year of Giving.  She accepted. 

Lourdes (photo: Reed)

 

I asked the 34-year-old single mother of two where she was from originally.  “I was an army brat!” she said sporting a big smile.  Her father was in the US Army and they moved all around the world.  Her favorite place she says is Panama.  Her travel has slowed down though now and she says that she has lived in Roanoke for about 15 years. 

Lourdes was pretty busy and I was trying not to take up too much of her time.  She went to go check on her other customers and came back by a few minutes later.  She has worked at this IHOP for about a year.  “It’s a great place to work,” she says and comments how friendly her coworkers are.  

Lourdes told me that she was going to use the $10 to take her five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son to the pool later that day.  I bet the kids enjoyed that, it has been so hot. 

If you stop in for breakfast, I highly recommend the spinach, mushroom and tomato omelette (I got it without the Swiss cheese)  I was unsure what to get and Lourdes recommended that to me and I thought it was really good. 

We closed out our check and went back to the motel to check out and make our way over to the funeral service. 

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to the memory of Jean Ruth Hughes Bain, 1934-2010.

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After three days of helping my friend Tom remodel his bathroom, we are not near as far along as we would had hoped.  We did get the bathroom completely gutted.  The only things left were pipes, wires and 2x4s.  The hardest part was getting the 330 pound cast iron tub out.  We then got all the pipes moved, all the items purchased that we needed, and the new tub installed  and about half of the Hardiebacker cement board installed.  Needless to say there is a lot left and I am going to try to get back out there to help him.  The idea was to have it finished and surprise his wife when she returned on Tuesday from visiting her family in Pennsylvania.  Well, she was definitely surprised.   

I left his place around 7pm and started driving the 240 miles to Roanoke, VA to attend the funeral of a friend of the family.    

The Sub Station & Ricos Tacos (photo: Reed)

 

As I was driving south down interstate 81 I drove by Harrisonburg, VA.  My father and I had stopped in this town back in March and I met Robin on Day 96.  Well once again I felt the calling to stop in Harrisonburg, but this time I ended up off exit 243 and found the typical selection of fast food joints.  Then I spotted the Sub Station & Tacos Ricos.  I made a u-turn and drove back and pulled in the parking lot.  It was about 9pm when I sat down at the counter and Lourdes pushed a menu in front of me.   

Lourdes (photo: Reed)

 

The restaurant looks a little more like an American diner than a Mexican taqueria.  But don’t let that fool you, the food here is authentic Mexican cuisine.  The owners, husband and wife team Jose and Lourdes, work behind the counter.  They both take time to talk to their customers.   

I was in the mood for tacos and asked Lourdes which ones she recommended.  She guided me toward the carne asada tacos for $6.19, so that is what I ordered.  The soft corn tortillas were warmed right on the grill next to the steak filet that was being prepared for me.  I see that she pours a little bit of what looks to be oil on the tortillas, maybe that is a secret to the delicious taste of the tortillas. On top of the steak and tortilla Lourdes sprinkled a bit of fresh cilantro and onion on each taco.  She added a side of salsa and two lime wedges and set the plate in front of me.  This is the way I remember the tacos being served when I lived in Sinaloa, Mexico.  Just simple tacos with high quality fresh ingredients served with limes.  I squeezed the lime over the tacos and sprinkled a pinch of salt on them and started to eat.  They were delicious.   

Lourdes puts a little butter on the tortillas (photo: Reed)

 

While I was enjoying my tacos I found myself wondering what the story was behind the restaurant and my two hosts.  When Lourdes came back to ask me how my tacos were I took the opportunity to tell her about my project and before I knew it I had recipient number 203!  

Dad and I donated money to this donation box that was on the counter to help a family return the remains of a young man killed in an auto accident earlier that month. (photo: Reed)

 

Originally from Puebla, Mexico, Lourdes moved here 10 years ago.  About two years after she moved to Harrisonburg, she married José who hails from Veracruz I think.  Both had worked in a variety of fields, including the restaurant business.  Last year Lourdes was working at a restaurant and José was working in construction when they decided to launch their own restaurant which opened five months ago.  “It has always been Jose’s dream.”   I asked her how it was going and she said it was going ok.  It’s hard when you are just starting up.  “There’s a lot more stress when the restaurant is your own,” she tells me.  “After a slow night you sometimes find yourself thinking about how you are going to make up for the money that you didn’t earn that night.”   

Tacos de carne asada (photo: Reed)

 

I think they will do very well.  I can only personally vouch for the carne asada tacos, but they were very good.  Lourdes also highly recommended the carne asada torta, which is a Mexican beef sandwich.  I encourage everyone who is traveling up or down interstate 81 to stop in and sample the food.  They are just off exit 243.  Tell them Reed sent you!  

Lourdes told me she was going to use the $10 to pay down some of her credit card debt.  Glad that I could help.  

My dad enjoying his tacos (photo: Reed)

 

The next day on the way home my father and I stopped in so that I could introduce him to my new favorite spot.  He ordered a plate of tacos and another fan was born! 

The Sub Station & Ricos Tacos
3257 South Main Street
 Harrisonburg, VA 22801

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Day 202 – John W.

John at his job at Home Depot (photo: Reed)

As you remember from yesterday’s post, I was out in Manassas helping my friend Tom remodel his bathroom.  We took several trips to home improvement stores.  On Day 201 we went to Lowe’s, where I met George.  Well, on Day 202 we went to the Home Depot in Manassas and I met John.

He was behind the counter dressed in a striped shirt, a black Home Depot hat that covered a bandana on his head and a the standard issue orange apron.  Across the front of his apron the name John was written in black permanent marker. 

Prior to coming to Home Depot five years ago he and his wife worked on horse farms down in Georgia.  He seems to like his job but I get the sense that work has taken over his life.  “Sometimes I feel like I just come to work, go home, eat dinner, go to sleep, get up and come back here and do it all over again,” he says.  And I bet you could pretty much work every day at a place that only closes on Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

John is the type of guy I need to find when I go to Home Depot.  He grew up helping his father with projects and doing mechanic work since he was eight so he has good experience with home projects and is comfortable working with tools, etc.  I am getting better, but let’s just say that I have a long way to go.

Some of John's 140 tattoos. (photo: Reed)

His short sleeves reveal two fully tattooed arms.  “I started getting tattoos in 1992.  I’ve got 140 total.”  I learned that he hasn’t gotten any tattoos though in about ten years.  So 140 tattoos in eight years comes out to be one about every three weeks.  Wow…that’s intense!  So how much would that cost?  John estimates that he has invested between $6-10,000 in body art over the years.  “I’ll probably still get another one some day,” he admits.  He says the most painful one was a tattoo that he got on his left inner thigh.  I took a look at his arms.  Many of them depict Native American scenes inspired by his Sioux Indian heritage. 

He shared with me that when he started at Home Depot that the big question was if he was going to have to wear long sleeve shirts in order to cover his tattoos.  “After about a week they decided that it was OK because there was nothing offensive about the tattoos and they couldn’t really discriminate against me just because I had tattoos.”  Reminds me a little of when I was in high school I got a job a clothing store at the mall called Chess King.  Bill the manager asked me in the interview if there was anything that might prohibit me from performing the job.  “Well, I am color-blind,” I told him.  Bill looked pretty dumbfounded and said that he wasn’t sure they could hire me because of that.  But they did.  Apparently they were a little concerned about potential discrimination claims.  I did ok there.  Everything goes with jeans!

John (photo: Reed)

I looked down at the $10 and asked him what he planned on doing with it.  He thought about it for a little bit and decided to deposit it into his money market account.  He is saving money to hopefully retire in 15 years at 65.

John and his wife live with his 83-year-old father whose activities have been significantly curtailed after he suffered a broken hip.  He says that in the next month or two the doctors will determine if they can fix his father’s hip.  He paused as he told me this next part and his eyes went to the ground and then back up to me.  If they are unable to fix his father’s hip John will have to stop working in order to stay home and take care of his father.  “That’s OK, we’ll figure something out.  My dad raised me and I owe it to him to take care of him.  He did it for me.”

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Lowe's Gainesville, VA (photo:Reed)

I spent the Fourth of July weekend at my friend Tom’s house out in Manassas, VA. Our goal was to gut his bathroom and put in a brand new one and surprise his wife when she returned from visiting her parents on Tuesday. Well, let’s just say that she was surprised alright when she got back. Yeah, we didn’t exactly finish the project, but we did manage to strip it all the way down to the 2×4 boards, water pipes and electrical wiring. Everything, and I mean everything else was ripped out of there. I was back out there this last weekend and we now have the new tub in, the cement board down, the ceiling and walls up and all the pipes and electrical work done.

photo: Reed

Well, while I was out there the first weekend we made many trips to Lowes and Home Depot. On one occasion I let Tom go hunt for some bronze coupling part we needed as part of moving all the pipes and I went hunting for a recipient. I found George scoping out some of the flowers and plants over in the gardening area.

When I looked at George I couldn’t help but see a resemblance between him and one hard working gentleman from the North Pole. As it turns out others have seen this similarity too and he has been a working Santa Claus for more than 40 years. He has some great stories too. Check some of them out here:

I learned a lot about the ins and outs of the Santa Claus industry. For example, where is the best place to work? I would have said the mall. But the most fun that George ever had was at a Chik-fil-A believe it or not. But you’re probably wondering what the heck George does for the other 11 months of the year.

Well after a short career in radio he went to work for the US Postal Service for 34 years until retiring recently after suffering a stress-induced coma that lasted one month! “I guess the work was causing more stress than I thought,” he said before jokingly saying, “At least I didn’t go postal!” After coming out of the coma George had to go to speech therapy. He even started volunteering at the clinic which resulted in them hiring him on a part-time basis working one day a week. After four years there this sadly came to an end last week when they let George go due to a cost cutting effort. I felt really bad for him as he seemed to enjoy it so much.

“I would really like to find a part time job around Manassas where I can work about one day a week.” If anyone knows of something, please let me know and I will connect you with George. He seemed very interested in trying to get back into radio and possibly working at a Christian radio station.

photo: Reed

In the spirit of giving George told me that he was going to donate the $10 to his church: Manassas Assembly of God. “I am going to donate it toward the missions.” I went on their website and they have extensive missionary work in all parts of the world.

Before I let him go (he had to go pick up his wife) I invited him to the year-end celebration for the Year of Giving that will take place on or about December 14th here in DC. “Could I come as Santa Claus?” he asked.

Absolutely!

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So, don’t forget Thursday is the 15th and if you want another shot at giving your $10 away, give it a try and leave a comment here to let us know how it went. 

Maria and Karel (photo: Reed)

 

Day 200 was a Friday and Brazil was playing the Netherlands in the World Cup.  I slipped on my jersey that my friends Keila and Gilson got for me and headed downtown with a neighbor to cheer on Brazil.  

We found a table at the James Hoban pub on the circle.  In our section, I think we were in the minority.  There were several Dutch fans passionately cheering on their country.  Two of them were Maria and Karel.  My neighbor used to live in Holland so she seemed to change who she was rooting for as the Dutch pulled ahead.  She ended up chatting with Maria and Karel about something and then I ended up helping  Karel with some directions to Dulles airport. 

As it turns out the couple the city of Bergen was here for some business meetings and they were leaving for the airport in a couple of hours.  I drew a little map for him on the back of a print-out of the food and drink specials the bar was promoting during the world cup games.  

From L-R, Maria, Karel, Kees and Farren watch nervously before the Netherlands took the lead (photo: Reed)

 

After 90 minutes of play Brazil’s dreams of becoming the first team to ever win six World Cup championships were quashed; at least for another four years.  Our new Dutch friends were ecstatic.  I went over congratulated them and asked if they would share their joy and participate in a milestone day the Year of Giving: Day 200.  They accepted. 

Karel is the managing director of a Dutch industrial company.  Maria works for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  I have flown KLM before.  I remember it well.  I was in business class from Sao Paulo to Amsterdam.  The service was excellent, much better than Lufthansa or BA which is what I usually flew to Europe when I was living in Brazil.  The captain came on the intercom alerting us that we were landing in about 45 minutes and I brought my seat to the dreaded “upright position” and noticed that in my lap was a small ceramic house that was painted the colors of Dutch flag and inside it seemed to be some liquid.  I asked the person sitting next to me if it was theirs and they informed me that all KLM business class passengers received this token of appreciation and that it was filled with rum.  I tucked it away in my carry-on bag, exited the plane and headed for my connecting flight only to get stopped by security and told that I would have to surrender my new found gift because it had liquid in it, even though it was just two or three ounces at most.  For some reason I felt a little indignant about the situation and just to spite the security officer I opened it and drank it on the spot!  

photo: Reed

 

Anyway Maria and Karel were such a nice couple.  They seemed rather impressed with Washington…well then again they were really in a good mood after watching their team pass on to the next round.  “There’s more green than we expected,” said Karel.  “It’s quite relaxed and comfortable here.  Safer than I expected too!”  I asked them where I should visit if I go to their country and Karel and Maria thought about it for a second and said that Rotterdam would be a good choice. 

I found out that they were newlyweds having just gotten married on 09.09.09 after a whirlwind courtship of just about a month (well to be exact they had corresponded for much longer but had only met in person for about a month.)  You know what they say.  When you know, you just know.  I guess this year there will be some people tying the knot on 10.10.10. 

Maria said that she was going to give the $10 to someone else.  She enjoys helping others.  Just recently she volunteered for a program that KLM did for the homeless; part of their Wings of Support program.  Later Karel asked if he could give me $10…a different $10 as they wanted to hold on to the one I gave them so they could pass it on to someone else.  I tried to remember that I too need to be gracious when people offer me gifts and accepted their $10 which I will save and use to start a fundraising effort that I will begin in a few weeks to help a small bilingual performing arts school in Manizales, Colombia.  More to come on how you can help in some upcoming posts! 

Kees, Farren, Maria and Karel (photo: Reed)

 

Right before they left, they introduced me to their Dutch friends Farren(?) and Kees.  Kees said that I had inspired him to give five different people 10 euros each when he got back to Holland.  Yes!  Way to go Kees! 

Despite Brazil losing the game, I felt like a winner.  In fact as I walked home wearing my Brazil shirt, four different people stopped me to tell me how sorry they were that Brazil lost.  One Brazilian woman hung her head out of a stopped car and just shook her head in a mixture of disbelief and sorrow.  I tilted my head to one side and shrugged my shoulders.  “De aqui a quatro anos,” I told her. 

Oh, by the way, I got a text message later that day that Maria and Karel made it to the airport!  Stay in touch.

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So I went out to Safeway last night and bought a copy (actually two) of the bright pink Woman’s World Magazine.  It was the only thing I bought and I got a couple strange looks from the cashier.  Anyway, on the back inside cover there is really good article on the Year of Giving and a picture of me in a shirt that looks really green in the photo!

On Day 199 I ventured out looking for a recipient. It was one of those sweltering hot days and I didn’t a bit more get three blocks away and my forehead looked like I had just finished a spicy plate of lamb vindaloo.  Speaking of Indian food, which I love, have you heard of the Karma Kitchen?  There is one in Berkeley, Chicago and here in DC.  The website says, “Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.”  Now they don’t do this every day, but I think here in DC it is every Sunday at the Polo India Club (1736 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC).  I haven’t been there on a Sunday yet to check it out, but I have exchanged a few emails with one of people behind the idea.  Apparently the Year of Giving inspired them to share the stories of their guests and also give $10 away to a stranger every Sunday!  Read what Stephanie did with her $10!  Very cool.  I hope to check it out very soon!  Thanks to the folks at Karma Kitchen for believing in kindness of others!

Ok, sorry, I got sidetracked…so as I walked around the corner of a Starbucks I saw a man with what looked to be hundreds of envelopes that he was furiously licking shut.  I thought I would go in and meet him and see if he would accept my $10 or even just some help finishing off those envelopes.  You can do them pretty fast with a wet napkin or paper towel.

He was a bald pudgy man probably in his late 50s or early 60s.  He peered at me through his heavy framed glasses and in a thick accent said he didn’t have time.  I started to offer to help him with the envelopes and he barked something else at me that I didn’t understand but in fact I did understand that he didn’t want to continue the conversation.  So I left.

I walked around some more.  Up to Dupont Circle down Connecticut Avenue.  Maybe the guy smoking the pipe on the bench or the man who appeared to be homeless shouting at people walking by or why not mom holding her daughter’s tiny hand waiting for an ice cream?  For some reason, none seemed right that night.  I ended up strolling through some more residential streets and found Valerie (whose name I have changed her on her request) and Katie sitting on their front patio enjoying the subtle breeze that attempted to counter the thick omnipresent heat and humidity of the first day of July.

After graduating from the University of Arizona, they decided to move to DC and get some work experience.  Now they were relaxing on the eve of their last day in the apartment.  Katie is moving back to Arizona to attend law school in the fall and Valerie is staying in DC but moving to a new apartment in Georgetown.

When I approached them Valerie was talking about a young guy that works at the Subway near her office.  He is from Nepal and “exudes kindness” she says.  Every time she goes in she learns a little more about him.  Apparently he moved here and wants to go to college but doesn’t have the funds to do so.  “I just feel so bad that here is a guy who works so hard and is so nice to people and he can’t afford to get an education.”  Oh, and on a totally different note, Valerie highly recommends the new Subway special: an egg-white sandwich with veggies and cheese on whole wheat with a coffee for $2.50.

So at some point Valerie asked if I wanted something to drink.  “We’re having watermelon juice and vodka.”  That seemed like a strange combination.  “We have moved literally everything out of our place.  The only thing we have left in there is half a bottle of wine, watermelon juice and a handle of vodka.”  A handle?  Hadn’t ever heard it called that.  Anyway, let’s try this watermelon and vodka, I hope they still have ice!  You know what, the drink wasn’t bad either.

They told me a pretty funny story too.  Apparently they needed newspaper to pack some of their items so they swiped their landlord’s New York Times off the porch – he lives upstairs from them.  “We didn’t think he would miss one day’s paper.”  Well, he did.  He came down and asked them if they had “borrowed” it.  Caught off guard they denied it.  As we were talking about this, he and his wife arrived home.  He seemed like such a nice man.  I think they felt a little bad about it.  Maybe they will use the $10 to buy a back issue copy of that day’s paper and send it to him!

Speaking of the $10, I asked them what they were going to do with it.  They decided to split the $10 evenly.  Valerie said she was going to take her $5 and add her own $10 to it and give it to the young man at Subway to help him with his savings.  Katie said that she was going to take the $5 and add her own money to sign Valerie up to take the GRE exam.  By the way, I checked and the exam costs $140 so that is really nice gift!  That’s ok she said though, “If I had to invest in any person in the world it would be her.”

Pretty cool.

It was dark and I needed to get home.  I thanked them for the hospitality and wished them luck.  I actually think I might have seen Katie the next day sitting out on the terrace at the Front Page in Dupont.  Still proudly wearing my Brazil shirt on the day that they lost to The Netherlands, I passed a table full of football fans and one of them waived to me.  I walked over to the table only to be unsure of who it was.  I came up with some awkward things to say I guess and then went on my way.  Well, I guess we’ll find out if it was her when she reads this!

Update July 11, 2012: I received a request from the woman I have called Valerie here requesting to change her name and remove photos of them.

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So my first two days at work are in the history books.  I am still in orientation mode, but I can tell you that this organization is full of talent.  The WWF is doing really meaningful work around the world.  Please visit their website to learn more about their 19 priority areas.

I am still trying to catch up on my blog entries!  Today was actually day 211, so I am 13 days behind in my writing.  Oh, by the way, if you are at the supermarket this week and see a magazine called Woman’s World, there should be a story in this week’s edition about the Year of Giving.  I haven’t gotten to the store yet to check it out but am going tonight, so I will let you know.

Alexander on his pedicab (photo: Reed)

Day 198 was interesting.  I spent the entire day over at my brother and his wife’s house dealing with my sick computer.  At 11:00pm we were still running into dead-ends.  I hadn’t given my $10 away so I grabbed my things and headed back to DC in hopes to find someone along the way to give the $10 to. 

Right off of Pennsylvania Avenue near James Monroe Park I spotted a pedicab waiting to pick up a late night fare in front of Kinkead’s restaurant.  I parked the car and walked over and introduced myself to Alexander.

After a career as a military air traffic controller, he tells me that he has been pedaling for the past three years for a company called DC Pedicab.  “We’re the original pedicab company in DC, we started four years ago,” he tells me.  It’s a nice alternative to a traditional cab.  You slow down your travel and actually can take in some of the rich history of our nation’s capital.  While Alexander is pedaling away he likes to share some of that rich history with his customers.  After an hour and a half of chatting with him I can assure you that he is very knowledgeable about the city. 

photo: Reed

Fares typically run about $15-$30, but this all depends on how far and how many people he is pulling.  “I actually charge a little more if the customer is considerably overweight too.  It’s a lot more work!”  And he is a good judge of weight.  He said he could guess my weight and what do you know, he guessed mine within five pounds! 

I asked him what his longest fare was and he said he once took a wounded veteran from the centerfield entrance at the new Nationals Stadium all the way to Walter Reid Medical Center.  How much?  $150!

Alexander found this job on Craigslist.  “I like it.  I pay a monthly fee for the pedicab and then I can work the hours that I want.”  He says that he earns good money and stays in shape.  He also likes that he gets to meet all different kinds of people.  “You never know who you are going to meet.  I even drove Sir Richard Branson around at the Virgin concert at Pimlico.”  Here Alexander talks about another very memorable fare that he had.

We sat and talked for a long time about a myriad of topics.  From what he was doing the day MLK was assassinated and racial tensions in America to what it was like growing up in a Polish-American household in Bridgeport, Connecticut (his mother was first generation and his father second generation.)  Not to mention all the DC history he shared with me.

If you live here or will be in the DC area, I encourage you to give Alexander a call.  You could do a romantic night out on the town or maybe an hour-long guided tour of Washington.  He offered a special rate of $45/hour (please tip him on top of this!) for the readers of the Year of Giving.  Trust me it will be worth it!  He can be reached at 202-531-7432.

Almost forgot, his $10 went on his metro card.  Sometimes Alexander wants to sit back and relax when he travels!

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Today is the first day of my new job at the World Wildlife Fund.  It’s ironic that I am starting on the same day that I write the blog for Day 197.  Read more and you’ll see why.

The progression of these signs show how people's moods have changed toward BP and the oil spill (Photo: Dr. Darron Collins)

So you know that I am raising money for those who have lost their jobs due to the oil crisis in the Gulf.  I have received very few donations so if you are able to spare just $10 I encourage you to click here and make a donation to help someone out.  When I make the donations I will post photos and videos of the people that you have helped!

Dr. Darron Collins (photo courtesy of http://www.worldwildlife.org)

I have been following a blog that is written by Dr. Darron Collins, a scientist for the WWF and former resident of the Gulf region.  Dr. Collins has been in the Gulf region after the oil spill supporting the work of some of the WWF’s local partners who have actively involved in front-line efforts to protect and restore the wildlife and wildlife habitats in affected areas.  Through his writing you meet some of the people directly affected by this catastrophe.  His blog is part of what inspired me to try to help some of the individuals who are out of work there due to the spill.  To be clear, my efforts to help the Gulf are in no way related to the work that I am doing at WWF.  I wrote Dr. Collins a note one day to congratulate him on his work and find out a little more about the situation of the residents of the Gulf shore.

To my surprise, Dr. Collins responded to my email a few minutes after I sent it to him and said he would be delighted to talk to me.  We tried to connect on Thursday and Friday of that week but weren’t able to.  He then wrote to me saying he was going to be here in DC the following week and offered to meet me for breakfast one morning.

Dr. Collins in Georgetown after our breakfast meeting (photo: Reed)

I met him on Tuesday, the same day I let the WWF know that I was accepting their offer (Again, I hadn’t mentioned to Dr. Collins that I was also applying for a position with the WWF because they were completely separate issues).  I walked in Le Pain Quotidien in Georgetown and found Dr. Collins already there enjoying some coffee.  We shook hands and I sat down at the long wooden communal table where he was sitting.  Before we began talking, I said, “Hey, I got to tell you something.”  I explained how I was accepting a position with the WWF and he looked at me and said, “I know.”  Apparently he was so impressed with my project that he shared it with colleagues at the WWF.  As it turns out someone he shared it with reported back and informed him that I was joining the organization.  What a coincidence that I end up posting this day’s blog on the very day that I finally start my job there! 

So you have got to check out Dr. Collins’ blog.  It is amazing.  He is a great writer and includes stunning photographs with each post.  Some of the images of this oil disaster will blow you away. 

Dr. Collins gave his $10 to Joey T, an out of work shrimper due to the oil spill (photo: Dr. Darron Collins)

I asked Dr. Collins if he would be my 197th recipient and he gladly accepted.  He tells me immediately what he plans to do with the $10.  “I am going to give it to a guy named Joey down in Grand Island, Louisiana who is an ex-shrimper who lost his job due to the oil spill,” he recounts.  “He took me out on his boat while I was there.”  I remember reading about “Joey T” in Dr. Collins’ fifth blog entry.  Joey has faced some unbelievable challenges.  He lost his left leg due to a staff infection that spread as a result of mackerel attack. Then a year later he lost his right leg in a car accident.  On the blog Dr. Collins writes, “Joey T was one of the best guides I ever had.  He had fished every corner of those waters for flounder, redfish and speckled trout and named and loved every tiny inlet and every bend in the land.”

Dr. Collins received a BA in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic and a PhD in anthropology from Tulane University.  His studies and his professional work with the WWF all have focused on the relationship between people and the environment; helping society answer the question: “How can we meet the needs of human communities while improving the ecological integrity of the surrounding ecosystem?”

The ten-year veteran of the WWF tells me that he started out his career with the organization in Latin America.  He shares an absolutely amazing and hilarious story with me here:

Among his many projects right now, Dr. Collins is working on a special 50th anniversary film for the WWF which celebrates this landmark occasion on December 1, 2011.

Oil-covered marsh grass (photo: Dr. Darron Collins)

I want to share with you one of the stories that Dr. Collins shared with me.  Back in February he was working with a gentleman from Namibia named John Kasaona.  Mr. Kasaona is the deputy director for Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation in his country.  It’s a group that turned poachers into the very people who now protect the environment.  He gives a great speech at TEDx and it almost didn’t happen as they came very close to being stranded here because of the snowpocalypse.  He said Mr. Kasaona had never seen snow before and his first experience was a three-foot blanket of the stuff that brought DC to a standstill!

When he is not working, Dr. Collins enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, adventure racing and of course spending time with his wife of nearly 12 years and two daughters; one nine and the other seven.

Well, I am off to work now!  It’s been 285 days since I last spoke those words and it feels awesome!

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Piola, 1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA (Photo: Reed)

I met Ryan and Mandy, my brother and sister-in-law, to watch the Brazil – Chile match at a restaurant called Piola in Arlington.  Despite it’s origins in Treviso, Italy, I always think about Piola as a Brazilian Pizzeria.  When I lived in Brazil there were several Piolas.  I used to go to one in Jardins neighborhood quite often.  Brazil has great pizza and although Piola is good, it’s not the best there.  For me the best pizzerias in Sao Paulo are Speranza, 1900 and Braz

Anyway, for the options we have here in the DC area, Piola makes a good pie.  When they opened up a few years ago in Arlington, I noticed a lot of Brazilians working and dining there.  So, that is how we ended up watching the Brazil game there.

A pizza maker prepares the dough before placing it in the wood-fired oven (Photo: Reed)

There were not that many people at the restaurant watching the game.  Granted it was being played at 2:30pm on a Monday, so perhaps people were at work.  Of the handful of fans there cheering on the game, most were clad in Brazilian shirts like myself.  When the satellite connection failed for nearly a half hour due to a thunder-storm, the table next to us pulled out their laptops, connected to a WiFi network and continued watching the game.  I migrated over to their table to watch the game and discovered that three of the four of them were from Brazil.  I decided to give them my $10 for the day!

Daniela, Reed, Antonella, Amina and Steve at Piola (Photo: Ryan Sandridge)

The game ended with Brazil eliminating Chile’s participation in the World Cup by a score of 3-0.  Although everyone in the bar was celebrating, part of me felt a little sad for Cecilia from Day 151.  As the game came to a close and people started to rush back to work, I tried to quickly take some notes about my new friends.  Unfortunately Steve had to leave immediately and the others only had a few minutes before they too had to leave too, so I had to work fast.

When the satellite connection failed for 30 minutes, Piola's manager sent everyone in the bar a caipirinha on the house! (Photo: Reed)

I asked them what they thought of Washington.  “I love DC,” says Daniela, “Rio is not as safe as Washington.  This is a very safe, cultured, cosmopolitan city.”  Antonella agrees and adds that “Sao Paulo’s traffic is crazy!”  She’s right about that.  I don’t miss the traffic in Sao Paulo at all.  As I was furiously writing down notes in my Moleskine notebook, I heard somebody else say, “We’re in the most important place in the US.”  It’s positive to hear them say such nice things about DC.  I loved my three years in their country too! 

The conversation shifts to what they plan to do with the $10.  I was very impressed by how they approached this opportunity.  After a good five or ten minutes of back and forth discussion amongst themselves in Portuguese they told me that they had decided.  “We’re going to pick a random address in the phone book and send the $10 to them with a note explaining about your project.”  That was pretty cool.  Nobody has done that before!  “And if they don’t want to keep it we’re going to tell them to give it to somebody else.”  “Parabens” to them for a creative and thoughtful idea.

It’s only fitting that I post this blog entry today as the world watches the final chapter of the 2010 World Cup.  Brazil didn’t make it unfortunately.  Will it be Spain?  Or will it be The Netherlands.  Whoever wins, history will be made as neither team has ever won the World Cup.  I have to root for Spain having lived there and developed a strong friendship with many Spaniards.  I can’t forget Carlos from Day 118 who hails from Spain or the Dutch recipients of the Year of Giving: Pieter from Day 140 and Karel and Maria from Day 200 – look out for their blog posting this week! 

Note: I am sitting here at home watching the game as I write up this blog entry.  It’s 0-0 in the first over-time period.  Viva España! 

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Charlie (foreground) plays harmonica while Kevin handles the guitar (Photo: Reed)

On Day 195 I thought about heading over to the Adams Morgan neighborhood to find someone interesting to give my $10 to.

I walked north along 18th Street, dodging the bar-goers coming in and out of the various bars and clubs that hug the road until I reached Columbia Road.  As I stood on the corner, I noticed two musicians starting to play on the corner across the street.  I decided to head over and listen to them for a while. 

As it turns out I decide to give them my $10.  Kevin plays guitar and Charlie plays harmonica, percussion and sings.  I approached them and told them what I was doing.  They agreed to participate.  Charlie didn’t say much to me but gave me a business card that says, “The Legendary Charlie Sayles” and has his contact information.   “You can read all about me on the website,” Charlie says.

Photo: Reed

Kevin tells me that they often play there at the corner of 18th and Columbia Road in front of the Sun Trust Bank and also at Dupont Circle Metro near the Krispy Kreme.  “Charlie’s in the Who’s Who in Harmonica Players and has something like three blues albums.” 

As for the $10, Kevin says they will use the money to get some food.

As they got ready to start up playing again, Kevin shared that he was looking for a job.  I didn’t get any more details on what exactly he was looking for, but once I do I will post it on the Lend a Hand section…maybe someone out there can help him out!

Charlie starts to make his harmonica sing and they continue playing.  They play mostly blues numbers.  The melody seems to naturally dance back and forth between Charlie’s harmonica, Kevin’s guitar licks and Charlies vocals.  Here is a short taste of their performance.

When I got home, I did take a look at Charlie’s website.   The 62-year-old has an extensive musical career that followed an upbringing in various foster homes and a three-year tour of duty in Vietnam.  You can find out more about Charlie here or take a listen to his music on his MySpace page.

Jay, me and Lumumba

While I was photographing these two talented musicians, a man named Jay from Atlanta came over to me and inquired about what kind of camera I was shooting with.  We began talking and I found out that they were here putting on a large trade show and conference.  When he and his colleague, Lumumba, heard about what I was doing, they got excited.  “We’re going to give you $10 each man!” said Jay.  They insisted.  Thank you guys so much! 

Pretty cool that they felt so inspired to do that.  I used $5 to buy a sandwich for Carl, a homeless guy that I met the next day in Dupont Circle.  I donated $5 of it to the family of Javier Lopez-Cruz, a 26-year-old from Oaxaca, Mexico who was killed in an auto accident.  They are trying to raise enough money to send his remains back to Mexico.  The last $10 I donated toward those who are out of work in the Gulf region.  If you would like to help me in these efforts, you can send $10 of your own by clicking here!

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Anthony sits on the frozen ground in front of the Metro

Remember Anthony from Day 6?  Well, would you believe I ran into him a few weeks ago?  I like Anthony a lot.  He unfortunately has a pretty nasty drinking habit which has left him homeless for years.  But if you haven’t read his story or would like to see a video of how he is doing now, check out his updated blog post here.

Day 194 takes us to a local watering hole.  The Brickskeller has been a fixture in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood for the last 53 years.  It’s a unique locale and arguably a bit “touristy.”  However say what you will, I enjoy a visit to this institution now and then. 

The Brickskeller (Photo: courtesy http://www.lovethebeer.com)

As you walk up the stairs of the entrance and pass through the outermost door you find two doors to your right and a reception of sorts far in the back.  The reception is for the Brickskeller Inn, which I know little about.  I seem to always get distracted by what’s behind the two doors on the right before I can make it back to the inn.  Both doors remind me of something out of a medieval castle.  The first one leads downstairs where there is a labyrinth of rooms separated by hand-fired brick walls.  I chose the second door which reveals a dimly lit windowless space with a bar surrounded by 12 stools.  Further to your left are dozens of tables, dart boards, a juke box and lots of beer memorabilia. 

Partial beer list (Photo: Reed)

I take a seat at the bar and study the ten pages of beers that boast close to a 1,000 beers.  They are always out of a lot of beers, so you have to get two or three choices ready.

I sat there writing up some of my blog entries – sometimes I write them out by hand first.  I eventually got a little hungry.  Much of the food is mediocre at best in my opinion; you don’t come here for the food.  Having said that, the Garden Burger is outstanding.  It’s a vegan burger made with mushrooms, black beans, brown rice, onions, chipotle seasonings, etc.  I almost exclusively get that when I order there.  I order one and a Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA to wash it down.  The Snake Dog IPA I found to be quite delicious and went very well with my burger!  Hats off to the Frederick, MD brewer!

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA on the left, Megan in the background (Photo: Reed)

Right before my burger comes, I notice two guys to my left who appear to be brothers.  I thought I would invite them to be my 194th recipient.  Brian and Shawn in fact are brothers.  Brian is a civics teacher from Charlotte, NC and his younger brother Shawn lives just over the state line in Hardy County, West Virginia.  They refuse to accept the $10 saying that someone else in the bar would surely do something much more amazing with the money than they would since they were “already like 15 beers in” as Brian put it.  They were looking to continue their evening and I sent them to Adams Morgan where they were sure to find a lively crowd.

Megan serving a beer (Photo: Reed)

I then thought I would give it to my server/bartender.  As she delivered my delicious Garden Burger, I asked her if she would accept my $10 and she readily agreed.  Megan, a 23-year-old self-proclaimed army brat, lives in the Colombia Heights neighborhood of DC and has been working at the Brickskeller for nearly four years. 

A group of three people take Brian and Shawn’s spot at the bar and I overhear the one member of their group comment that “Megan has been here for ever.  She’s good.”  This guy seems to be a regular as he asks Megan, “Do you have a couple of my usuals on ice back there?”  The Brickskeller is also known for having slightly warmer beers than what many are accustomed to drinking.

Megan stops by as she brings the gentleman his beers and I ask her what her favorite beer is.  “That’s hard.  Right now I would have to say it is the Lagunitas Maximus Double IPA.” 

Bartending for four years means two things.  First you probably know a lot about beer.  Second, you probably have seen some crazy stuff.  Megan knows her beers pretty well and has seen her share of crazy stuff too.  “I once saw a five-foot waitress knock a guy out.”  Wow…note to self: tip five-foot waitresses at the Brickskeller well!

Speaking of tipping, I also asked Megan for some thoughts on the age-old tradition.  “Tipping says something about the service but it also sends a message about the person who is leaving the tip,” she says.  “Sure there are times I haven’t been a good server, but I still tip pretty good when the service is bad.”  I don’t know if I agree with that.  As a former waiter and bartender, I am a firm believer in tipping commensurate with the level of service.  If I get lousy service I don’t have a problem with leaving a lousy tip.

Photo: Reed

Megan excuses herself again to wait on some thirsty patrons who sat down on the other end of the bar.  Social Distortion’s Story of My Life fades off the juke box and gives way to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing.

When Megan comes back she says she will probably buy a beer or two with the money at the end of her shift.  “We are allowed one beer under $5.00 for free after our shift.”  Well, my ten spot will come in handy if she wants to order up her favorite from California brewer Lagunitas which sells for $6.95 for a 12 ounce bottle.  Cheers!

The Brickskeller is located at 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC 20037.

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Rigatoni with “Sunday gravy” at Potenza. (Photo: Scott Suchman)

I recently had the chance to meet with some friends that were visiting from Toronto.  We decided to meet for dinner with another friend of ours who lives in DC at a relatively new Italian restaurant called Potenza that is just a block or two from the White House.  The food was good.  They are known for their oval pizzas, but none of us ordered pizza.

After dinner, I decided to walk around the neighborhood downtown and see if I could find a recipient for my $10.  I walked for about 20 minutes, not really seeing anyone that I felt was right, until I spotted Valerie.  And boy was I ever right.  This one is amazing, wait until you see the video!

It was about 10:30pm and Valerie was carrying three bags and walking with a pronounced limp north on 11th Street.  When she got to H Street I gathered the courage to stop her and ask her to accept my $10.  The 55-year-old mother of four, grandmother of 12, told me she liked what I was doing but preferred not to participate.  She put her bags down and we started to talk.  I wasn’t going to let her get away!

Washington, DC, April 5, 1968 (photo: unknown)

She told me that she was born here in the nation’s capital.  Valerie remembers the riots that erupted in Washington after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  “They burnt down this jewelry store over on H and 8th Streets in Northeast.  There was a black man walking around where the jewelry store used to be throwing diamonds up in the air!”  Things are better now though she says.

She talks to me about her 89-year-old mother.  “She moved here from Ohio and she’s still here.  Sharp and in good health.”  I bet she is a good woman because she certainly raised a good woman. 

Valerie was on her way home from work where she cleans offices.  “Where were you when I needed you…when I was broke!” she says.  Her laughter quickly subsides and she goes back to telling me that I should just give it to somebody else.  We go back and forth on this and she says, I could use it to take a cab home instead of a bus, but I can’t do that.  I asked her why not and she said, “I need [the ten dollars], but I don’t need that bad.” 

There was a point when I thought that I had convinced her to take the money.  Then she really started getting anxious, almost panicking a little bit.  Her eyes darted back and forth behind her large frame glasses sweeping the streets for someone to give it to.  She just wanted to get rid of it as fast as possible so she wasn’t tempted to use it on herself. 

Well, take a look at what happens when she finds who she is going to give it to and then gives it to them right before my eyes!  Her face lights up so much when she decides what to do with it, it’s great.  Check it out!

I waited with Valerie until her bus came.  The S2 pulled up and she got on and headed toward her home in Southeast.

Wow…what a great night.  I only wish she would have given me her contact information so that I could keep in touch with her and make sure she comes to the year-end celebration in December!  If anyone knows her, let me know.

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First of all thank you so much for all the kind notes, emails and comments about my new job here and on Facebook.  I am very excited about this opportunity!

Photo: Reed

Summer time is a great time to get outside and visit a farmer’s market.  I was walking downtown on Day 192 when I came across a small farmer’s market near Penn Quarter in DC.  Near the corner of 8th & H Streets was stand with a yellow tent with the name Endless Summer Harvest on it.  I decided to wander over and find out what exactly the folks at Endless Summer Harvest were all about.

Photo: Reed

  • The water stays in the system and can be reused- thus, lower water costs
  • It is possible to control the nutrition levels in their entirety- thus, lower nutrition costs
  • No nutrition pollution is released into the environment because of the controlled system
  • Stable and high yields
  • Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of than in soil because of the container’s mobility

Cassandra and Zack (photo: Reed)

The main disadvantage of hydroponic systems is that great caution must be taken to control the growth of salmonella due to the high humidity environment coupled with the presence of fertilizers.

 Anyway, I got to meet two great people who were working at the stand: Cassandra and Zack.  Day 192’s recipients met while studying biology at James Madison University.  Cassandra works full-time at the Alliance to Save Energy and helps Endless Summer Harvest out on Thursdays at the farmer’s market.  Zack, a 21-year-old JMU student, has worked at Endless Summer Harvest since high school. 

Photo: Reed

I asked the two of them what they were going to do with the $10 and they said that they were going to donate it to a group that works to stop mountaintop removal for coal mining purposes.  I am trying to find the exact organization and when I do I will post it here.  There are lots of negative environmental effects of this practice.  My new employer, the World Wildlife Fund, has this to say about it on their website:

In West Virginia and other Appalachian states – in one of the most biologically diverse temperate regions of the world – mountaintops are torn apart to gain access to low-sulfur coal lying underneath. The leftover rock and earth is dumped into nearby valleys and streams. These practices threaten songbirds and other wildlife dependent on large tracts of interior forest, and the mussels, fish, crayfish, and invertebrates found in the streams. Hundreds of miles of streams have been buried by the dumping of such wastes in the past, in an ecoregion that WWF has identified as being globally outstanding.

Photo: Reed

I enjoyed meeting Cassandra and Zack.  They opened the door to a new world to me, the vendor community at farmers markets.  They seem more like partners than competitors.  “The fruit people do really well,” Zack says with a little bit of envy, “but we all help one another out.”  While I was talking to them several other stands stopped by to see if they could use some left over product that they had.

7pm came around and they started to pack up.  I was impressed at how quickly they tore down and got everything packed up.  Cassandra wasn’t scared to get her hands dirty either.  She didn’t hesitate to pick up the huge coolers they use and load the van.

Photo: Reed

 Note: The Penn Quarter Farmers Market is administered by Freshfarm Markets and is located at the north end of 8th St. NW, between D and E Streets.  According to a representative of the organization, it is open every Thursday (except Thanksgiving) from April 1 – Dec. 23rd from 3pm – 7pm.

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Before I introduce you to Andrew, I have two updates.  The first one is a big one.  After 285 days of unemployment I have accepted a position with the World Wildlife Fund and will begin next week!  Don’t worry though, the Year of Giving will continue!  Perhaps this will give me a new perspective on giving.  Thanks to so many of you who have given me encouragement throughout the past 9 months.

The other update is that I delivered some items for Phillip from Day 75.  Click here to see him receiving some of the items that you have sent!

Day 191 was one of the days that I was struggling with my dying laptop.  I had been over at my brother and his wife’s house all day trying to rescue it.  It was nearing the midnight hour and I rushed out of the house in pursuit of a recipient.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

I saw a man walking along North Lynn Street in Arlington and stopped to see if he would accept my $10.  I tried hard to convince him to participate, but he stuck to his guns and said he didn’t want to “get involved.”  Strike one.  Back in my car and across the Key Bridge into DC.  I headed over to the “Social Safeway” on Wisconsin Avenue where I found Andrew studying the contact lense solution at 11:40pm.  The 22-year-old is in DC for the summer doing an internship for his master’s degree program in international affairs at Georgia Tech.  I asked him if he always does his shopping around midnight.  “No, I just happened to have time now,” he responded.  

When Andrew is not studying and working he is training for his first marathon.  I have never had a desire to run a marathon.  I could see trying to do a 10-miler, but I have no interest whatsoever in running 26 miles!

The grandson of Eastern European immigrants, he has lived abroad in Bulgaria for four months.  He talks about his grandmother fondly.  “She is 86 and still going strong!”  Maybe his grandmother and his time in Bulgaria

Photo: Reed

have fueled his interest to get grant money to go to the Black Sea region and study the relationship between highly bureaucratic governments and the degree of development that has occurred within the country.  If you can offer any suggestions on how Andrew can secure grant funding for this specific project, please leave a comment here.    

“So what are you going to do with the $10,” I ask.  He says that he will put it toward an outing with his “Little.”  That’s right.  Somehow Andrew finds time to be a Big Brother to a six-year-old in Atlanta.  “I feel that the best way to help those who are disadvantaged is to volunteer my time and be a positive role model for them.”  I couldn’t agree more.  “Somehow you got to break the cycle,” he concludes.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

At the end of our conversation, I learn that Andrew will be joining the Air Force upon his graduation from grad school.  “I just got my bars pinned on,” he tells me.  With his international interest I am not surprised when he tells me that he plans to serve in the Intelligence Division.  I am sure he will go far.  Thanks in advance for your service to our country.

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Two quick updates!  I have finally got some video together from my first delivery of items for Tommy from Day 155.  You can see the video here.  He was so thankful!  Thanks to all who continue to send items for those on the Lend a Hand list.  Also, I recovered some video for Alex on Day 180 and posted it.

On Day 190, I went out to Dulles to meet up with my friend Alex for coffee.  He did his MBA at Vanderbilt with some friends of mine a few years ago and had a long layover at the airport on his way back from the west coast to Europe.  It was a short visit, but always good to catch up with old friends.  He keeps telling me that I should come to see him in Riga, Latvia…it would be fun and interesting to see how Latvians respond to the Year of Giving!  

Later I found myself sitting in Tina’s chair at the Hair Cuttery at Connecticut and R in NW.  I have had this idea before to give my $10 to the person that cuts my hair.  Since you sit there and talk to them for a good while, I have always thought that they make for a perfect person to meet and give $10 to.  I have tried a few times, Day 60 for example, but have not been successful yet.  

Today I would change that streak.  I asked Tina if she would be a part of the Year of Giving.  “I think I have heard of this.  Are you that guy?”  This is always a weird moment.  Part of me is excited when people have heard of the Year of Giving but another part of me is somehow shy to affirm their suspicion.  A bit sheepishly I told her, “Yeah, I’m the guy.”  

I wasn’t sure until the end of my hair cut when she actually took my $10 if she would participate or not.  She seemed a bit hesitant the entire time, but I did learn a little bit about her…but not much.  She seems to be a pretty private person.  

Photo: Reed

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she moved here some 30+ years ago after meeting an American man.  She has been working at the Dupont Hair Cuttery for about 15 years.  By the way, if you live downtown this is one of the most economical places to get your hair cut.  For men, cuts are $18.  Depending on where you live, this might not sound like a good deal, but almost everywhere else here charges more than $30.  I have always had good experiences there and I always get a different person.   

I asked her what was the craziest hair cut she has ever given.  Wouldn’t you know it, she said the “M” word….yeah, I won’t write the word, I already get hundreds of people every day coming to my website looking for this type of hairstyle.  See this post/comments to learn more about this odd relationship the website has with people surfing for these kinds of haircuts.  

Tina didn’t tell me much more (and I definitely wasn’t allowed to take her picture!)  We talked about the weather and trivial things like that.  I did learn that she likes Sci-Fi movies and has always wondered if there was intelligent life in another universe.  I believe that there is.  

She finished up, I gave her the $10 which she plans to pass along, paid the bill, tipped her and went on my way.  

A question for you readers.  I am writing an article about giving and whether intentions matter.  What do you think?  Does it matter what someone’s intentions are when they practice giving?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  

The Hair Cuttery in Dupont is located at 1645 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009-1054 – (202) 232-9685.  Open Weekdays 9am-9pm; Sat 9am-7pm; Sun 11am-5pm.  Walk-ins welcome.

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SoHo, 22nd & P, in NW DC

I met Darrold at the SoHoTea & Coffee Café at the corner of 22nd and P in DC.

He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on June 29, 1941.  The son of a construction worker and an electronics factory worker, he comes from a modest family with a strong affinity for the arts.  His mother and older brothers sang and his father played guitar.  Darrold was no exception.  He started performing with his family at an early age.  His dedication paid off too, getting him accepted to study music at the prestigious Juilliard School for Music in New York City.

Darrold (Photo: Reed)

In 1970 he founded the Urban Philharmonic, a nonprofit symphony orchestra that performs high quality music in diverse urban settings without all the formality often associated with symphonies.  Maestro Darrold moved the Urban Philharmonic to Baltimore and then to DC in 1978.  He and the Urban Philharmonic have been here ever since.  Darrold says he likes DC.  “I like that I can see the moon rise and set,” something he says he wasn’t able to do in NYC.  “I miss Manhattan though; the quantity and quality of the arts and performing arts.”

“The Washington community is just beginning to harness its own political power,” he states.  This sounded a bit strange to me because I usually think of Washingtonians as being politically savvy so I asked him to expand upon this.  “The institutions here are powerful, however, until recently the people themselves have not had any power.”  He talks about how former Mayor Marion Barry used his power to leverage the power of the people.  I can see that, but he also used his power to benefit himself tremendously.  Not to mention that he was a convicted on various counts of drug use and tax evasion.

The conversation naturally moved to music and Maestro Darrold told me how excited he was to conduct Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, Eroica.  “It’s an interesting piece,” he says as he paints me a mental picture of Beethoven running off to follow Napoleon to try to understand war, pain, death and dying.  “Beethoven succeeds in sharing his inner most feelings with the listener; this is what makes him so great!”

I asked him what great musicians influenced him when he was young to pursue a career in music.  He grinned widely and told me that Billy Holiday and his mother.  “She was soprano and had a beautiful voice,” he told me still smiling

I loved feeling the excitement in Darrold’s voice when he spoke about the Urban Philharmonic.  Due to a lack of donations, the Urban Philharmonic came critically close to fading away for good.  But Maestro Darrold dug deep and found the strength to push on.  He is fighting now to keep the organization alive.  At almost 70-years-old, he is committed to bringing back the Urban Philharmonic with an aggressive schedule of six concerts this next season.  To do that, it will depend on donations from people like you.  If you would like to learn more about the Urban Philharmonic or make a donation, please click here.

Darrold is going to use the $10 to help buy food this week.

Below is a brief video of part of my conversation with Darrold.  Hear first-hand what it feels like to conduct a symphony!

Note: I was so impressed with the potential of this organization that I have agreed to volunteer some of my time to help with strategic planning and overall management of the organization.

UPDATE: Nov. 14, 2013

I’m sad to share that I learned yesterday that Maestro Hunt passed away last Wednesday Nov. 6th at his home. I don’t have much more details at this time, except that there is a memorial service being held on Friday Nov. 15th at the Church of the Holy City (Emanual Swedenborgian Church) located at 1611 16th Street NW (16th & Corcoran). Doors open at 6:30 p.m. followed by service at 7pm.

Darrold exuded love and kindness. His enthusiasm and passion could hardly be contained within his body. It was impossible not to be moved by his ardent smile which he shared unselfishly. DC, and the world of music, has lost one of the greats.

Here is an article from the Examiner.

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Day 188 was Father’s Day.  My dad came down from Pennsylvania for the day.  My brother and his wife met us at Guapo’s in Shirlington, VA for lunch.  After getting our Mexican fill, we went over to watch City Island.  I had never heard of this movie, but it is quite good.  Then we went over to my brother and his wife’s house and played bridge.  I really enjoy playing bridge, however, I don’t know hardly anyone who plays and I am not that good.  It is probably the most dynamic card game that I know. 

For dinner we decided to take our father to Ray’s the Steaks (2300 Wilson Blvd.) in Arlington, VA. I had not been there before and was very impressed….well I shouldn’t be surprised, their sister restaurant, Ray’s Hell Burger (1725 Wilson Blvd, Arlingtong, VA), serves up the best burger I have ever sunk my teeth into.  I asked our server, a young lady who was working her last shift before taking a leave of absence from Ray’s, if there were any staff members who were fathers.  She went to check.

Daren (Photo: Reed)Meanwhile we enjoyed a delicious dinner.  They have a special that runs Sun-Tues that consists of a salad, two 5-oz filet mignons, two family style side orders and dessert for $24.99.  For the quality you get, it is a pretty good deal.  We didn’t have anything to drink, but their wines and beers seemed reasonably priced.

Our server returned with Daren.  He’s a proud father of two girls, 5 and 8 years old.  A product of growing up in both Ocala, FL and the Bronx, NY, he considers himself more of a Bronx guy.  “I’m definitely more Bronx when I’m angry,” he says laughing.

He’s been working at Ray’s for about a year and a half.  “It’s a great place to work.  Management is very respectful to the employees.”  He goes on to say that, “Michael, the owner, comes in almost every day.”  

I asked Daren what his favorite item from the menu was.  Check out this video for his answer as well as a little bit about one of Michael Landrum’s newest ventures, Ray’s Hell Burger II  (1713 Wilson Blvd, Alrington, VA).  Caution, you may be mouth-watering hungry after watching:

I learned that Ray’s has no website and does no marketing.  Anyone who has eaten there understands why.  The food is so good that you don’t need to do marketing.  Another interesting thing they do there is on Sundays they donate 10% of their sales to the Boys and Girls Clubs of NE Washington, DC and Arlington, VA.  “I’m going to donate your $10 to the Boys & Girls Club,” Daren shares with me with great excitement.

Although polite, Daren’s supervisor seemed a little bothered that I was potentially keeping Daren from his tables, so I wished him a happy Father’s Day and said goodbye.

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Happy Fourth of July to you!  If you are reading this from outside the United States, it is just another day.  Here it is a day that we stop to celebrate our sovereignty that was established in 1776.  Enjoy!

Day 187 was a beautiful day in Washington, but it was hot.  As I walked through Dupont Circle I found Alana sitting on a bench close to the fountain listening to her iPod and reading a book while enjoying the sunshine.

A bartender for the last three years somewhere here in the DC-MD-VA area, Alana was a little reluctant to tell me too much about herself at first.  But I get her to open up some.  At one point she even said, “I have no secrets.” 

Originally from Toa Payoh in central Singapore, in 1993 Alana left Singapore to study marketing at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.  She shared a little about her initial impressions of the United States and how it was similar and different than Singapore.  “Singapore is modern but people still hold on to traditions.”

Alana didn't want to be photographed, but she did allow me to take a picture of her colorful toenails (Photo: Reed)

She tells me that she likes reading, watching TV and playing video games.  “I really like the fighting games,” she says with great enthusiasm.  “Do you mean like Mortal Kombat?” I asked.  “Well, that is pretty old school.  Nobody plays that now,” I learn.  Apparently a more hip game system is the Play Station 3.  “Once in a blue moon I play a role playing game when I’m bored killing people,” she says with quiet gentle tone.  I was amused by how calm she spoke about how much she enjoyed playing “killing games.”

I start to feel the sun burning my skin.  Alana offers me some of her sunscreen which I readily accept.

I used to tend bar as well and always thought I got an interesting view of the nation’s economic situation through my customers.  I found that people would tend to share their troubles with me, especially financial ones.  She thought about it and said, “I haven’t seen that much change, maybe a little.” 

“So what are you going to do with the $10,” I asked her.  She took a drink of her Starbucks iced tea and seemed to think about the question some before looking over at me and saying that she would probably give it back to me.  I tried to encourage her to do something else with it.  She said that she would try to give it to someone else.  We agreed that I would check back with her in a few days to see what happened to it.  With my computer out of commission, I got behind on following up and only reached out to her yesterday.  I will ask her to post what happened to it here.

I said goodbye and retreated to my air-conditioned living room a few blocks away.

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Today I put on my Brazil jersey on and went to watch the match versus The Netherlands.  Although Brazil didn’t win, I am not sure that the Netherlands won it.  Neither team played a great game, but The Netherlands missed a few opportunities to make the game 3-1 or even 4-1.  I remember being in Sao Paulo, Brazil four years and a day ago when France beat Brazil 1-0.  The pub where I watched the match was completely silent after the game…the streets where empty.  The country went to sleep to wash away a nasty hangover.  I imagine that today is a somewhat similar day. 

I will wash my sorrows away with a blog post about an inspiring man named Charles who I met as he washed windows along Connecticut Avenue. 

Photo: Reed

 

Charles is 52 years old and was born and raised here in Washington, DC.  “I was born just over there in Georgetown,” he says as he points west toward the popular historic neighborhood.  “I used to play drums over here at Dupont Circle when I was young.” 

He attended Francis Junior High School just a few blocks from where we were standing.  He grins as he tells me that he still gets together every July 17th with his friends from Junior High. 

Now he lives down near the Waterfront with his mother who he helps take care of.  His father, who died some years ago, worked at the Navy Yard making weapons.  “His picture is on the wall there,” he says proudly.  He tells me that he and his father were almost identical looking. 

Charles' cart (photo: Reed)

 

After 12 years delivering the Congressional Record, the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress, Charles’ boss retired and he decided to start a new chapter in his life as well.  His boss let him keep some small carts that he used to use to deliver the report and he thought he could put a milk crate on it and make a good cart to carry supplies.  He had often seen people cleaning windows in DC but they were always carrying all the supplies and it was cumbersome to have to gather everything up every time they moved on to the next location.  He put two and two together and launched his own window washing business. 

So seven years and 400 customers later, Charles is doing pretty well.  He is a very simple man, but he understands business very well.  You build your business one customer at a time.  And if you take care of them, they will take care of you.  As an example, one of his clients even lets him keep his supplies in their back room so that he doesn’t have to haul it back and forth from his home. 

“I take care of most of these businesses,” he tells me as he points up and down Connecticut as far as I can see.  Each place is different.  Different size windows, different service (inside, outside, or both).  He chuckles as he tells me that one of his clients is a sex toy shop with lots of erotic toys, etc. in the window.  It definitely helps break up any potential monotony in his work! 

His favorite place though is an old school with lots of windows.  Although the building is special, what he likes most about it is how friendly everyone there is.  Even the kids say hello to him when he is there. “They say hi Mr. Charles when they see me.”  

In general his services cost between $5 and $25, depending on the customer’s specific needs.  Residential service can be quite a bit more if you have to deal with screens for example.  

Charles finished the storefront he was working on and it looked great.  I asked him if he had any trade secrets he would share with me.  He gave me three: 

  1. Use newspaper instead of cloth or paper towels
  2. Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol in the winter to avoid freezing
  3. Use dishwashing detergent instead of window cleaner, it’s a lot cheaper (he buys  a bottle at the Dollar Store)

It’s not all work and no play though.  When Charles is not working, he enjoys visiting the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.  

Charles at work (Photo: Reed)

 

Note: If anyone would like to contact Charles about window washing services, let me know. 

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I am still struggling with my computer issues, but trying to push forward.  Thanks for all the kind emails.   

Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander (Photo: Reed)

 

The man that I am going to introduce you to today is someone that I had seen on Day 124 when I went for a run.  I was jogging through Lafayette Park which is just in front of the White House when I ran by a shirtless black man with matted cotton white hair sitting on a bench holding a wooden staff.  I thought to myself…when I get home I’m going to get my $10 and go down there and give it to this guy!  Well, as it turned out when I got back there I couldn’t find him.  Fast forward 61 days and I was walking through Lafayette Park with a reporter and a photo-journalist (Jon from Day 184!) from Street Sense when I saw the same man.  Unfortunately he was talking to someone so we sat down and waited to see if the other gentleman would leave so I could go and speak with the man I soon found out goes by the name Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander Junior.  

Elijah was very friendly when I approached him and graciously accepted my invitation to sit and talk for a while.  The only item of clothing he was wearing was a pair of jeans that had been cut all the way up the sides like a loincloth.  It’s been years since he stopped wearing shirts and shoes.   

Originally from a place called Grambling in northern Louisiana, Elijah gave up his job at Southwestern Bell in Dallas, TX at the age of 31 and began wandering North America as an objective observer.  He has been married twice and has fathered six children with five women.  He shares a lot of information about himself on his website.  I spent hours reading through different parts of his site and his Facebook Page.  I thought I would share one of his many poems he has written and posted online.    

About the Author, The Poem  

By a midwife in a Mount Olive Community in 1945 was born
Elijah Alfred Alexander, Jr., as he has always been known,
to Elijah, Senior, daddy, and Annie Brooks (Gaulden) mother,
with two sisters older and sandwiched by an older and younger brother.  

December ’63 he finished his high schooling, a year and a half late,
while working also, and by the next year’s end had a military date.
He was married the next spring to one Camala Louise Taylor, by name, who mothered Karn Marshell, a girl, and a boy the third of the same.  

Vietnam was in full swing and took him twice to the east
where he, by one, helped the population to increase.
As an aircraft mechanic he finally got orders for Japan
only to have a medical discharge return him stateside again
where he, by another boy’s wife, increased the population,
totaling six (two in sixty five before the marriage relation).  

In ’72 he divorced, and in ’74 married again,
Dellie Mae Bolton, and before three months was a preacher man.
In August of ’76 he gave up being a telephone maintenance man,
to obey the messianic call to “judge not, go into all the land,
observe all things though you’ll have no place for your head.”
Traveling by foot his comforts got heavy so the extras he shed.  

Living like animals and not judging he used the art of reason,
saw all things relative and put all things of man into a season
and became mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially free.
He believes its how all christs, titled Christians, are called to be.  

                                            - Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander Junior  

Photo: Reed

 

He now divides his time between two residences in DC where he does some house sitting.  This past winter he was the “fire guard” for the wood burning stove at one of the homes he stays at so he was not at the park as often.  Given his choice to not use a lot of clothes, I asked him how he gets by in the winter.  “I shovel snow,” he said with a smirk.  

Elijah has traveled extensively through North America, all by foot unless offered a ride.  He tells me stories about the 5 Canadian provinces, 44 continental US states, 11 Mexican states that he has visited.  He then remembers that he even made it to Belize.  “How could I forget Belize!  I spent nine months there!  Three and a half months of which I was in a mental institution there because they thought I was crazy and then four and a half months locked up in jail.”  That is not the only place he has had accommodations behind bars.  He has made visits to several jails around North America for indecent exposure; 32 visits in Louisiana alone, a place where he says the jails are usually quite nice and the people treat you pretty well.  Elijah tells me about being arrested for taking an avocado from a fruit stand.  “I was told by a higher power to get a piece of fruit, so I got it.”   According to Elijah there is an old law on the books that allows the poor to enter grocery stores and take fruit without paying for it.  I haven’t been able to find that law yet.  

I could go on and on talking about how interesting I found my chat with Elijah, but I want to encourage you to visit his website and get to know him for yourself.  Elijah is someone who reminds us not to judge others by the clothes that they wear (or don’t wear).  

As for my $10, he said he would use it to get some fruit, this time he said he will pay cash for it.  He learned his lesson about taking fruit and not paying for it a long time ago!  

Notes: Elijah holds office hours in Lafayette Park from roughly 10-5:00 every day.  I bet he would love to meet you.  You can see other photos of my visit with Elijah in this week’s Street Sense!  Go buy a copy and help a vendor out!  

References:  

Elijah’s website  

Elijah’s Facebook Page

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