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Archive for August, 2010

Those who have followed my blog for a while know that I give to all kinds of people.  Well, today’s post is proof of that.  It was an evening full of interesting characters.

I saw tall lanky African American man wearing a hat, sweatshirt, jacket and suit trousers who was randomly walking up to people and saying things to them and then walking away.  His unpredictable behavior and use of a sweatshirt and jacket in near 90+ degree temperatures peaked my interest.  As I walked up to him I was greeted by him saying, “Did the good old boys send you from Texas or Tennessee?”  I tried to make sense of his question but couldn’t and responded, “My name is Reed and I was wondering if you would like to be part of my project…”  He put his hand on my shoulder, something he most have done twenty or thirty times throughout our conversation, and said, “I bet you don’t know where to find you some Japanese ninjas do you?”  Before I could tell him that he was right about that he continued, “I trust the Japanese more than I trust my own people, and that’s the end of that now.”

A homeless man rests his head on a briefcase on the streets of DC (photo: Reed)

This was the beginning of a 30 minute bizarre conversation that was impossible to follow.  It was like taking a Quentin Tarantino flick, translating into another language and then watching it backwards.  I don’t have any pictures or video of Frederick because he was completely paranoid about his image being captured.  I did however manage to rather stealthily turn on my audio recorder that was in my backpack at one point and captured some of the tirades.  If anyone knows a simple way to upload an audio file on WordPress, let me know, I tried and it only seems to accept video.  I know there are some conversion products, but I have not had good luck with some of them.

Few pieces of Frederick’s discourse were coherent.  He rarely answered my questions, preferring to jump to a completely different subject.  Here are a sample of items that I did manage to comprehend.  He claims to:

- be a direct descendent of our 14th president, Franklin Pierce

- have served in the 18th Military Police Criminal Investigation Division for six years

- have worked for the US Postal Service

- be protected by ninjas

- know about secret German laboratories located through a system of tunnels under NYC

- be homeless and live near the Russian embassy (for security reasons)

Surprisingly I did manage to get a clear answer about what he would do with the $10.  “I’m going to buy lottery tickets.  It’s a tax write-off,” he explains.  Hmmm, not sure I agree with him on the tax write-off, but by this time I was not surprised at all by anything he said.

The rest of my time with Frederick was spent tangentially jumping from subject to subject.  It was difficult to make any sense of it, but I did start writing down topics that he spoke about.  Here is a sample of the items (in order as he mentioned them) that he talked about: Manuel Noriega, Marion Barry, Vietnam war, drugs, race, Philippines, Spanish, Obama, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Christmas cards, South Carolina, Castro, KGB, Charlie Rangel, plagiarism, Mozambique, Florida, Turkestan, Jews and Alexander Pushkin.  On top of all this he fist bumped me at least two dozen times throughout his ramblings.  If you can make a coherent statement weaving all of these items together in that order, please send it to me!

He stopped at one point and I decided this was my time to make an exit.  I thanked him for his time and got my things together.  “So, when are you going to deploy?” he asked.  I assured him that I wasn’t deploying anywhere, shook his hand and went on my way…but my interesting evening wasn’t over yet.  As I said goodbye I heard someone imitating the sound of a cat.  They were meowing really loud.  I spotted a twenty or thirty-something white guy with really unkempt hair slowly making his way along the sidewalk.  He was about 15 feet away from me screaming his lungs out.  People began changing their path just to avoid getting close to him.  If this wasn’t weird enough, another white guy, about sixty years old, ran past both me and the crazy cat man shooting at us with a water gun.  I looked up at the moon, but it wasn’t full.

Nonetheless, it was really late and walking home was probably not a good idea so I found a cab, jumped in the back and breathed a sigh of relief.

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Abraham sits in the background near his flower stand (photo: Reed)

I wandered over to the benches near the Dupont Circle North entrance/exit…hoping to maybe find Johnnie, but he wasn’t there.  Near the benches I saw some guys selling flowers, I walked over and met Abraham and Moses.  Nice guys, but they both refused the $10.  

Larry shows his $10 at the north entrance of Dupont Circle's Metro stop (photo: Reed)

Then I spotted Larry back over on the bench where I had met Johnnie.  I walked over and handed him one of my cards and asked him to be recipient number 244.  After a little discussion he said, “I will accept the $10 but I will not keep it, I will find someone else to give it to who needs it more than I do.”   

Larry, a 55-year-old resident of DC, was enjoying a Starbucks coffee before catching the Metro home.  He has worked in housekeeping at a nearby hotel for the past 17 years.  “It’s a very good place to work,” he says.  But as you can imagine, as someone who goes into guests rooms, he has seen some crazy things over the years.  “I’ve seen grown men fist-fighting.  I have seen rooms completely destroyed.  I’ve probably seen it all.”  

One of twelve children, Larry has grown up in this city.  All twelve of the children and his parents still live here.  He is married and has a daughter.  

Larry was very committed to giving the $10 away.  He tried several times while I was there with him, but was not successful.  Some teenagers walked by and he tried to give it to them but they kept walking.  A father walked by with his child and Larry jumped up to try to give it to them, but they didn’t even stop to talk to Larry…they just kept walking.  Here he explains his rationale about his decision to pass the $10 along to someone else.  

Finally I thought Larry was going to find someone.  He found a student, Mike, who was sitting nearby on a bench.  Mike said that as a student he didn’t have much money himself but that he was sure there were people more deserving than him, so he politely refused.  Larry was struggling and becoming very anxious to give it to someone.  When we parted ways, he said, “Call me tomorrow and I will tell you what happened to the money because I guarantee you that I am going to find someone to give it to today, I ain’t going to keep it.”  

(photo: Reed)

The next day I called Larry and said that he found a guy and took him to Subway and bought him a sandwich.  “I still have $5 left though.”  I am going to give Larry a call this week and meet him for coffee and see if he did something with the other $5.  

By the way, I was able to deliver some clothes and other items to Garrett that Deb from Illinois sent.  You can see the video of him receiving the items here.

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After leaving the Black Cat on Day 242, we got some pizza on U Street and I offered to walk a friend of mine home.  On the way we noticed some bright lights in the CVS parking lot. At first I thought maybe they were filming something. As we got closer we noticed that there were five cloth backdrops with scenes painted on them, some portrait studio type lighting and two color printers.

You can find Carlton every weekend until October at the CVS parking lot near Florida and 7th (photo: Reed)

Carlton was holding a Canon Rebel camera. I asked what was going on and he explained that during the warm months he and his brothers set up in the parking lot there at the CVS and take people’s photos in front of the backdrops. “It’s ten dollars for a picture,” the 31-year-old tells me. I looked at my watch, it was about 12:30am…it’s a new day. Game on! I reached in and grabbed $10 and gave it to Carlton. “I’ll take your guys picture for you if you want,” he offers but I explain that I can’t receive anything in return for the $10.

Carlton’s uncle negotiated a deal with the CVS people to use their parking lot from 11pm to around 3am on the weekends. Then he and his brother’s got a friend named GQ to design all the back drops. There were five backdrops lined up: one that said “Wasted” and had some alcohol bottles on it, another with a Cuervo 1800 bottle, a third with a Mercedes, the fourth one had a Cadillac truck and the last one showed a beach with waves crashing under the moon. “My favorite is one that is not up tonight, but it’s one with two bottles of Moet champagne,” Carlton says.

Carlton at work (photo: Reed)

As we are chatting a group of nine presumably inebriated young people show up to get their picture taken in front of the “Wasted” backdrop. He takes their photo about four times until they are happy with it and then pulls the memory stick out of the camera and slips it into the printer and hits print. About 90 seconds later, their picture was ready.

“We print about 70 pictures a night,” Carlton says. “We got a lot of regulars too.” No sooner did he mention that he had regulars than a guy shows up who must have taken 30 photos of himself. He was wearing sunglasses and had his car stereo system pumping hard. He took photos in front of several of the backdrops but then he took some of him in his car too. Carlton printed what looked to be about two dozen photos and handed them to the customer. “He’s a regular,” Carlton says nodding toward the man as he pulled out of the parking lot. I hope he didn’t pay $10 per picture!

Carlton poses for a picture (photo: Reed)

Carlton and his brothers, DC natives who attended Roosevelt High School, have been doing this for four years. Sometimes they also set up in clubs and other places, especially in the winter when they are not out at this location.  Things get a little out of control from time to time too. “Sometimes ladies get naked, it’s crazy,” Carlton admits.

Some ladies strike a pose for Carlton (photo: Reed)

Two young ladies approach us and ask to get their picture taken. I now had my camera out and I guess they thought I was working there…reasonable assumption. I directed them to Carlton and they struck a pose in front of the Cuervo bottle. I captured Carlton taking their photo.

“I’m going use the $10 to put gas in my car,” he says as he slides the ladies’ photo into a sleeve.

Before leaving, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get my photo taken as well.  I chose the beach scene. You can find the photo on the Facebook Page.

If you want to get your photo taken by Carlton, you’ll find him or one of his brothers in the CVS parking lot at Florida and 7th Street, NW any weekend from 11pm to around 3am until October.

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The NRIs with Melanie on violin (photo: Reed)

On Day 242 I made my way over to the Black Cat to see my friend Melanie’s band, the NRIs.  You might recall that Melanie is also in a band called Machines on Vacation (see Day 80 and 128).  I had not seen the NRIs before so I was excited to check them out and they didn’t disappoint.  My friend Melanie, who plays the violin, is a great addition to the band giving some of the songs a very genuine sound. 

Before going in to see the show, I spotted some people having a cigarette outside.  I thought I would see if one of them would be my 242nd recipient.  After a brief discussion they agreed that Gabrielle should be one. 

Chris and Gabrielle outside the Black Cat (photo: Reed)

“Today I live in Virginia…I guess,” she tells me as I collect some basic information from her.  It turns out this 28-year-old left Seattle a week earlier and drove 2,800 miles with her boyfriend Chris to Washington, DC.  “It was a long drive.  It was a hot drive,” she told me. 

Gabrielle moved her for a job in the video gaming field as an environmental graphic designer.  She’s the one that puts the trees and landscapes in your favorite games!  You’re welcome!  She likes working on next generation games and wants to make cool monsters (I think that is what my notes say…my writing is particularly bad this day.)  She recently completed some work on the racing simulator Forza Motorsport 3. 

As I recall she initially was staying outside of DC in Virginia as a house-sitter for some people who her father met in Idaho!  Totally random I know. 

 “Wow, that’s cool,” she says as I hand her the $10.  “I need it, I’m pretty much out of money.”  She thought for a while about what she was going to do with it and finally said that it would probably get spent on two beers that evening: one for her and one for Chris.  

Here is a short video of Gabrielle talking about the highs and lows of her trip back east as well as her initial impressions of Washington, DC.  Take a look:

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On Day 241 I met up with the Russian Channel One team again.  They came to my apartment and filmed a little and then we headed over to Dupont Circle to find a recipient.  The first person I stopped was a young guy named Oliver.  He said “no” originally and then he said something that was very interesting.  After we spoke for a few minutes he made me an offer.  “I’ll take your ten-dollar bill if you take my twenty-dollar bill.”  I thought that was a really cool idea.  He was pushing my concept to the next level.  Unfortunately as you may know, I can not receive anything in return for my $10 so I couldn’t do that.  That was his condition on taking my money and unfortunately things didn’t work out, but I loved his creativity.  I didn’t get his information, but hopefully he will check this out and drop me a line!  I liked his style!

I then approached another person who said they were running late and didn’t have time.

Eric at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

They say that the third time is a charm.  Well, Eric helped make that statement come to fruition.  He looks to be a twenty-something who works for an IT company where you can dress how you want and the hours are flexible.  Well, I was pretty much right-on.  He works as a software developer for a non-profit that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.  Basically it seems like they try to improve transparency and help the public connect with the government.  And since it was close to 10am, I think I am right about the flexible hours too. 

Eric is originally from the Catskills of New York but has also lived in Boston and NYC before coming to DC.  “I really like it here,” he says.  That might be largely as a result of his job as it turns out.  Either he really likes it or hopes that his boss reads this because he told me, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been working where I am now.  There’s just 35 of us, it’s pretty cool.” 

Eric talking to Andrey from Russian Channel One (photo: Reed)

He keeps himself busy outside of the office as well.  “I like to do improv comedy and ride my unicycle.”  That’s right, Eric rides a unicycle.  He told me that one day when he was in Boston he saw a guy riding to work on a unicycle and he asked him if he could borrow it some time and the guy agreed.  Apparently it’s a small trusting community.  I mean, it would be easy to spot them if they don’t bring it back, right!  I assume he has his own now and didn’t keep the other guy’s unicycle and flee to Washington.  Hmmm…anyone missing a unicycle up in Boston?

Eric has “a few brothers” and is the proud father of a cat.  He also has a girlfriend – sorry ladies.  Speaking of which, he said that my $10 would help him take his girlfriend to dinner.

I finished and then the guys from Channel One had a chat with Eric for a while and we parted ways.  Cool guy.

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Every time I approach someone there is a crucial couple of seconds or minutes where I have to establish credibility and a rapport with the person that I speak with.  Here in Washington, we have lots of people who come up to strangers asking for things whether it be money or their support on a petition, etc.  So, many people get conditioned to just saying “no” to everyone who approaches them. 

A critical element of my success in getting so many people to hear me out is the fact that I have a business card that I give them.  It somehow gives me credibility and the impression that what I am doing is legitimate.  Well, I recently ran out of cards and thankfully the same company that helped me out with the original batch of cards came to my rescue again!  You may recall that when Zazzle.com heard about my project back in January they were so excited about it that they let me design my own card and then donated 500 of them to me to help me out.  It’s great to see companies that step up and help others out. 

I designed these cards and then Zazzle.com gave them to me for free! (photo: Reed)

If you like to design things (anything, from business cards to mugs to t-shirts) go online and you can design your products and then put your design in the public domain so that others can see your work.  Then if someone wants to purchase your design you get paid!  How cool is that?!  They are called “Skinny Cards” because of their smaller (3” x 1”) than normal size.  Here’s a link to my template.  People constantly comment on how much the love my cards.  Thanks Zazzle!!! 

Today’s giving story is a bit enigmatic.  I met Johnnie as he sat on a bench near the Dupont Metro North entrance/exit.  At first he said that he couldn’t accept the $10.  He liked the idea and said that he wouldn’t keep the money but he thought that I would probably do a better job of finding a person who “deserved it.”  Johnnie, who works for Metro, encouraged me to find someone else, but after I explained to him that if everyone did that my “reach” would only be as far as the area which I travel each day.  But since he and others live in different communities and travel to other parts of the city and world that he could broaden the pool of potential people that my project touches. 

We went back and forth on this for a while, maybe 20 minutes.  I figured I wasn’t going to convince the 46-year-old DC resident but finally he said, “You know what, give me that $10, I think I know what I am going to do with it.”  He said he had to go catch his bus and I didn’t have time to get a picture or anything of Johnnie.  I did get his phone number quickly as he left and have tried calling it the last two days but I get a message saying that the person is “not accepting phone calls at this time.”  Maybe he needs to use the $10 to pay his phone bill!

Hopefully I can reach him and then update this post.

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I have been contacted by some interesting news organizations about my year-long commitment.  From local news here in Washington, DC to morning shows to CNN.  Even a handful of international news organizations have reached out for interviews.  Recently I was contacted by Russia Channel 1, the leading broadcasting network in Russia.  They asked if they could interview me and follow me around for a couple of days.  Today is the first of two days that they joined me finding my daily recipient.

Carolyn in front of Union Station in DC (photo: Reed)


We met at Union Station and talked for a little while and then set out looking for someone to give my $10 to.  The first person I asked said that they were in a hurry, but the second person I approached agreed to receive my ten bucks.  Carolyn is in DC visiting her daughter who lives here and is a DC school principal.  

Although originally from Little Rock, AR, she now lives in Los Angeles.  In addition to raising five children, this 75-year-old found time to lead a career as a police officer, a nurse and later a pastor. 

Giving is nothing foreign to Carolyn.  She shared with me that she went to Haiti on  missionary tour and fed 2,000 people per day.  “It was such a site to see,” she said describing countless children as old as six that didn’t have clothes.  Back stateside she helped at men’s shelter for many years.  Just then she takes out a piece of paper in her bag that has contact information for free legal services for those living below the poverty line.  “Right now I was planning on going over to this McDonald’s and see if there is anyone who might need this information,” she explains to me motioning toward Union Station.  I’ll probably use your $10 to get me something to drink there too.  Here is a video of her explaining how she shares the legal information.

Carolyn says that she tries to help at least one person every day.  She credits her faith with fueling her service to others.  “I grew up in a Christian home,” she told me.  “I know that Jesus Christ is my personal savior and he has always opened doors for me.”

I asked her if there was anything that anyone reading her story could do to help her.  She reluctantly told me about a hospital bill that has gotten out of hand.  “I still owe about $1,300,” she says.  She tries to make monthly payments of $100, but the interest keeps building up.  She said that she could use some help getting that paid off.  “If anyone would be so kind as to help I can give them the payment information and they can directly pay the hospital.”  So many of my readers are very generous themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone offered to help this kind woman.

After I was done speaking with her, Andrey from Russia Channel 1 interviewed her some as well.  You can see that here:

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