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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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