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Archive for September, 2010

I sat at Illy Café at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and M Street sipping a double espresso.  To my right sat a girl who seemed to also be writing in a journal of sorts.  The last time I saw someone writing in a journal we got to meet Roey…maybe this would turn into a recipient 273.

I asked her to accept my $10.  She did and asked to take a few minutes to talk to her for the blog post.  Coincidentally she was waiting for someone that she was going to interview!

I am usually pretty good a detecting accents and determining where people are from, but I had no idea about Elina.  First let me say that she speaks incredible English.  Occasionally I would hear a slight accent that would make me think Eastern European.  But just when I would think that was it, I would detect an ever so slight southern twang!  I give up!

Elina hails from Regensburg, Germany. (photo: Reed)

So it turns out that she was born in Russia but grew up in the small town of Minden, Germany which is about 25 miles west of Hanover.  Her flawless English is probably partly due to her time in the US as an au pair and a year that she spent studying in Virginia on a scholarship.  “It completely changed my life.”  These days she lives in Regensburg, Germany.  “People kind of know who I am there because I was voted “party queen of Regensburg” on StudiVZ, a German social networking site similar to Facebook.

So I discover that she is in DC for about two months doing research for her undergrad thesis paper that studies society’s perception of soccer in Washington, DC.  “So I am actually interviewing people for my research,” she explained.  “I’m actually waiting for the President of a fan group for DC United.” 

The $10 will come in handy Elina tells me.  “I’ve been refusing to add more minutes to my American cell phone since I’m leaving next week.  I’m down to just $5 now and this will hopefully get me through these final days.”  She actually says that unlike most other 23-year-olds she hates having a cell phone.  “I didn’t have one until I started my studies.”

Just then a guy approached our table and she asked, “Are you Paul?”  Her interview subject had arrived.

Elina used the $10 to add minutes to her cell phone. (photo: Reed)

Paul is one of the leaders of the Screaming Eagles, a 1,100 member fan community for DC’s professional soccer club.  All three of us chatted for a while about random topics.  I didn’t want to impose on the time Elina had set up to meet with Paul so I said goodbye to both of them and excused myself.

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This was a sports weekend. NASCAR yesterday then the Redskins game on Sunday. I almost tried to go to the Nationals’ afternoon game on Sunday just to be able to say that I have been to a NASCAR race, a MLB game and a NFL game within 24 hours! It would have been crazy.

The ‘Skins were playing the Cowboys so it was one of those games where there is a lot of trash talking. Some of it was happening right in front of us. There was a guy wearing a jersey of the newly acquired Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb sitting directly in front of us who was dishing it out to some Cowboys fans sitting to our left. It seemed friendly, but there was lots of ribbing going back and forth.

James dishes it out at the Redskins home opener. (photo: Reed)

The Cowboys fans got a good laugh when “McNabb” was booted from his seat by some other fans who apparently had tickets for those seats. Realizing that he had been busted, “McNabb” swaggered down the steps but not before some final words for the Cowboys fans in the section. He disappeared inside the stadium.

I saw him reappear in the section next to ours a little while later and went to try to catch up to him. I went down and over a section and found the man wearing number 5 in a corridor that connects the seating area to the concession stand area.

This father of four turned 37 on September 14th. (photo: Reed)

When James is not boasting about the Redskins, he is working at Walter Reed Medical Center working with the Wounded Warrior program. [This is the second time I have crossed paths with the Wounded Warrior program during my Year of Giving. The first time was with Manni from Day 131.] He is also the father of four, two boys and two girls. “You know what I’m gonna do with this $10,” he asked. “I’m gonna get my one-year-old son some Pampers!”

I met James two days before his 37th birthday. “I’ve been a Redskins fan since I was four years old!” James proudly told me. He claims Santana Moss as his favorite player. The team is coming off a very disappointing year and I asked him how he felt about this year’s season under new leadership from coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb. He told me that he thought the team would go 12-4. He added, “I feel a Superbowl this year!”
He is certainly enthusiastic. You can get a feel for the energy I am talking about by watching this short video.

As a longtime fan, James attends every home game and is part of a group called the Redskins Diesel 44 Bus. He invited me to visit the tailgating bus some time, “It’s a pimped out bus that’s got good food!”

The home team went on to squeeze by the Cowboys 13-7. Despite their opening day win, they have not been so successful in their two most recent outings bringing their record to 1-2. Could this be a repeat of 2009?

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American flags welcome the cars as they come around for the start of the race. (photo: Reed)

In the US, NASCAR is second only to the NFL in terms of televised audience for sporting events.  It claims 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in annual licensed product sales making it one of the most brand-loyal organizations in the world.  So when my friends Tom and Tressa invited me to go to the Sprint Cup Series NASCAR event in Richmond on September 11th, I couldn’t say no.

Here is something I found amazing.  Compare Football to NASCAR.  When my buddy Chris invites me to a Washington Redskins game I feel like owner Dan Snyder is always trying to get more money out of me some way.  As if the $75 ticket I paid wasn’t enough.  Ok, I’ll be honest.  I don’t think my Chris, who has season tickets to the Redskins, has ever accepted a dime for the tickets he gives me, however, I am sure he’s paying Mr. Snyder.  They charge $50 and up for parking, beers are $8, a sandwich is $10, there’s even been talk about making fans pay to tailgate!  In contrast, NASCAR, which was started by Bill France in 1948 and still family owned, has a different approach.  Perhaps this is what makes their fans so loyal.  When we arrived at the Richmond International Raceway in Henrico County, VA, parking was free!  What’s more, you were allowed to bring your own food and beverages into the stadium.  Heck, the only other thing you really need to buy while you are there are earplugs.  And those are provided at the track by the Boy Scouts in exchange for a donation.  

From left to right, Josh, Roger, John, Turner and Jim (photo: Reed)

Anyway, speaking of food and beverages, we decided to do a little cookout prior to the race.  A few cars away I spotted a group of five guys enjoying a few beers and laughs and wandered over there to find a recipient for my $10.

Instead of splitting the $10 five ways they choose for Roger, the president of a commercial real estate construction company in West Virginia, to receive the money.  I later found out that the five men didn’t know each other before the race.  Roger was there with a colleague of his, Josh.  The two of them met John and Turner there tailgating.  Jim wandered by at some point and made friends as well.  It’s amazing what a little Budweiser and 45 cars speeding around in a circle can do to bring grown men together.

Roger said he was rooting for the #88 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Turner favored the FedEx car driven by Denny Hamlin.  Jim worked for Ford for many years but said he was a fan of Chevrolet’s cars.  None of them appeared to be die-hard fans of any one particular driver, just fans of NASCAR.

Roger told me some crazy stories about him having a condition he called “sleep terror.”  I looked it up and found it to be more commonly called night terror, or pavor nocturnus, which according to Wikipedia is a parasomnia disorder that causes people to wake up abruptly from their sleep.  This is often accompanied by gasping, moaning or screaming while they are waking.  It is often nearly impossible to fully awaken a person experiencing a night terror so most individuals end up settling back into deep sleep and have no recollection of the episode.

Roger told me about a time when he was 17 and his parents finally woke him up in the middle of the night after they heard noises coming from the kitchen and found him there alone with a kitchen knife.  “I thought I had a tick,” he told me.  “I was trying to get it out.”  Luckily his parents were able to wake him up and nobody was injured.  Think this sounds crazy, check out two other stories Roger shared with me.  I also included a short scene from the race…its hard to appreciate the speed and noise on video, but trust me they’re moving fast and it’s deafening!

Now it sounds to me like some of his sleep terror could be a result of the 12-packs of beer that are involved.  Who knows? :)

I asked Roger what he was going to do with the $10 and he said he was going get something for his kids.  “I’ve got one that is eight and the other is ten,” he told me as he tucked the bill away in his wallet. 

Before leaving he told me that he thought of something that I could put on the Lend a Hand section.  “I’d like my friend Josh here to get a chance at singing country music,” he said of his colleague who had joined him for the race.  Josh enjoys singing but was a little shy at the moment to belt out some tunes in the middle of the beer drenched field.

Roger's favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished 34th at Richmond. (photo: Reed)

It was getting close to race time so we said our goodbyes and headed over to the track.  I admit that I don’t know the first thing about NASCAR or any motor racing sport for that matter.  I mean it took me a while to realize that former football coach Jimmy Johnson wasn’t driving the #48 car.  That would be Jimmie Johnson, a difference of about 30 years and 50 pounds.  It would have been impressive though had it been him.  And hey, you can’t fault me too much thinking that with all the talk about Joe Gibbs’ racing team.  Speaking of which, the Gibbs team went on to take first and second place in that night’s race.  First place went to Turner’s pick, Denny Hamlin in the #11 car.  His teammate, Kyle Busch, finished second in the #18 car.  As for Roger’s hopeful, Dale Jr., he finished a disappointing 34th.

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It was Friday night and I wandered out around my house to look for a recipient.  I don’t recall exactly what time it was, but if I had to guess I would say it was around 10:30pm.  

Molly was very suspicious of my intentions at first, but she gave me a chance. (photo: Reed)

I walked over to Dupont Circle.  I have probably given my $10 away at this location over 50 times.  I was trying to think how I could differentiate this experience from the other 50+ times.  I walked around but just didn’t see anyone that struck me.  I left the circle and started heading northwest on Massachusetts Avenue.  I spotted a PNC bank on my right where a young woman was withdrawing money from the ATM.

I thought to myself.  She obviously needs some money, she’s at the ATM, right?  Also, I thought it would somewhat of a challenge to approach someone using an ATM late at night.   

Keeping about 10 feet between us, I waited until Molly finished putting away her cash and called out to her.  I could tell that she felt a little threatened.  “I’m not interested,” she said as she started to walk away.  I asked her to just hear me out.  Still keeping my distance, I gave her my pitch and tried to win her confidence.  If I were in her shoes, I don’t know if I would have stopped to talk to a stranger who just saw me get money from an ATM machine late at night.  

Molly told me that she just got off work from nearby Sweet Green.  “I drive the Sweet Flow Mobile that goes around town,” she told me with a slight grin.  Although she has only been doing this for nine months, Sweet Green has been in business since about 2007.  I have eaten there.  Salads and yogurt are both pretty good.  

I asked her if I could ask her a few questions to which she responded, “Can I smoke a cigarette?”  It’s a free world I thought, so go ahead.  “I was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland,” she told me as she put the cigarette to her lips and lit it.  She is in college studying history with a special interest in Jewish studies and the holocaust.  

She told me about a backpacking trip she took across Europe and how she is planning to backpack through Asia next summer.  She even traveled to Morocco with her Quaker High School.   

She has an older brother who lives in London and her father is a highly regarded reporter for the Washington Post.  She shared a story about a time when her father was on the Jon Stewart show and she got to go with him to the studio.  I actually watched one of the clips online and found it pretty interesting.  

We walked around the building where we met and she showed me the Sweet Flow Mobile that she drives around.  Check out her special invitation for Barack Obama.   

I asked her what she was going to do with th $10.  “I’ll probably get a pack of cigarettes,” she told me.  I explained that she would be the sixth person to use the money for cigarettes.  My mother was a smoker for many years and died of heart disease at a fairly young age.  That on top of the fact that I think it is kind of a disgusting habit always makes me cringe a little internally when someone chooses to buy cigarettes with the money.  But that is her prerogative.  She shrugged her shoulders and said that one day she hopes to quit, but not right now.  Molly shared that her parents had actually offered her $500 to quit.  “I said no,” the 20-year-old told me, “Today, there is no amount of money that would make me quit.”  Wow, for anyone who thinks it’s easy to quit smoking, that statement should tell you something.  

Molly said that she would be happy to take the Sweet Green Mobile to the White House for President Obama. (photo: Reed)

Before leaving I asked her where people can find the Sweet Flow Mobile.  “We’re never at the same place two days in a row, but people can check out the schedule online to find us!”  I said goodbye and wished her luck getting President Obama to visit her.

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Day 269 – Doris S.

Doris driving my Jetta. You can't see it well, but VolksWerks is in the background. (photo: Reed)

 

I told you recently that my car has had a bunch of problems.  Well, I finally bit the bullet and took my car to VolksWerks, a VW/Audi mechanic in Falls Church, VA.  I needed to get some work done in order to pass DC’s emission tests.  I dropped the car off early Friday morning.  Like a lot of places, they offer to drop customers off at nearby Metro stops.  Doris, the office manager, gave me a ride in my vehicle over to the East Falls Church Metro station.  On the way I figured I would give her my $10.  I mean, this is an interesting scenario.  Someone I don’t know is driving around in my car!  So, I pulled out my $10 and asked if she would accept it. 

She agreed and had a few questions about the Year of Giving.  

“I know exactly what I am going to do with it,” Doris said as she turned onto a side street.  “I’m going to give it to my church, the Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean.” 

Doris shared that she had recently started dating a man who was really interested in her church. “I did nothing to cause that, he just did it on his own,” she explained.  “I’m going to donate this $10 to my church on behalf of him and his soul.”  She explained how beautiful it was to see him growing with his faith.   

Honda Shadow Spirit 750cc

 

It was early and we were stuck in some morning rush hour traffic.  I asked 32-year-old Philadelphia native to tell me about herself, what kind of things she liked, hobbies, etc.  She told me that she recently got a motorcycle.  “I got a Honda Shadow Spirit 750cc.”  I don’t think I could ever own a motorcycle.  My brother has one, but I can’t ignore that no matter how safe you are some other idiot can hit you and you just don’t have as much protection as you do in a car.  This is all coming from someone who has 100+ jumps as a skydiver…then again, I haven’t done any skydiving for almost ten years, so maybe I’m just becoming more of a chicken as I get older. 

In addition to being a motorcycle enthusiast, Doris has something else in common with my brother.  They both went to Drexel University in Philadelphia.  She studied music there.   

She also has completed a couple triathlons.  She even did one while coping with a foot injury.  Wow… that must be really hard. 

My 2000 Jetta has seen better days. (photo: Reed)

 

We arrived at the Metro station and I thanked her for the ride.  I traveled back into DC and went on with my day.  My car was not done that day, so I had to go back and pick it up the following day.  It cost me about $500 to get the emissions issues fixed on my car.  Just another reason for me to consider getting Zipcar!

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Ismail sleeping in the foreground as a cyclist pedals by on Rock Creek Parkway. (photo: Reed)

I made my way back from Pennsylvania to DC on Tuesday.  It was such a beautiful drive home that I thought I should get outside and go for a bike ride.  I got my Moleskine notebook, my camera, $10 and my audio recorder together and packed my Swiss Army backpack and headed out on my bike toward the Potomac River.  

It was a perfect day.  The sun was shining and people were out running and biking.  As I got close to the river I saw lots of people practicing crew and

Ismail still trying to wake up. (photo: Reed)

others just leisurely enjoying the calm waters.  About 100 yards from the manicured grounds of the Kennedy Center I found a man taking a nap on a shaded patch of grass on the northern bank of the Potomac. 

I cautiously approached him, trying to make a little bit of noise so that I didn’t startle him, and called out, “Excuse me.  I’m sorry to bother you, but do you have a minute.”  Ismail slowly roused from a groggy state.  He rubbed his eyes and wet his lips as he studied me and we slipped into an hour-long conversation about his life, politics, religion, economy and one Don Vito Corleone.

“I came here from Sudan 26 years ago to meet Marlon Brando,” Ismail says fighting off a cough.  He shares that he has seen all of Brando’s movies.  He is especially fond of Sayanora (1957) and the classic The Godfather (1972).  To Ismail, Brando was not just an actor, but much more.  “His movies had meaning and Brando himself stood for things.  His movies didn’t have any garbage.”  Still fighting off the sleep, he admits that he unfortunately never got to meet his idol.

I dug around in my backpack for my Moleskine notebook where I take notes about the people I meet.  It also has a handy folder where I keep my ten dollars and cards that I give people.  I realized I had left the book on my kitchen counter.  Shoot.  I checked my wallet, all I had was two twenties and four singles.  Hmmm. What to do?  Well, I will just offer him $20.

A crew team glides by behind Ismail. (photo: Reed)

“Oh!  I’ve read about you.  I remember you.  There was a story about you in the Washington Post several months ago,” he says taking off his black modern looking glasses.  “But you normally give $10, right, let me give you $10 change,” he offered.  I told him to keep the extra ten; it would make for an interesting deviation in my giving.

“Did you think that I would ever find you,” I asked.  

“If I tell you, you’re not going to believe me, but I was thinking about you two days ago,” he says.  He had read an article somewhere about a guy who gave some money to a homeless guy in Rosslyn and he thought that perhaps it was me.  I don’t think it was, but you never know.  I have given to some people in Rosslyn which is just across the Potomac river.

Ismail originally came to the US from Sudan, the largest country in Africa and the Arab world.  It’s a unique country in that it has nine neighbors with a variety of different cultures, religions and languages.

His move to the US was related to his work with the League of Arab States.  18 years ago, he left the organization and began driving a cab in DC.  He recently was forced to stop driving his cab after racking up thousands of dollars of unpaid fines.  He got his license revoked and had to give up his taxi cab.  That was six months ago.  “I sent my wife and son home to Sudan and moved out of our apartment to save money,” the father of three said.  He tried the shelters but said that the conditions are so poor in most shelters that he prefers to sleep on the streets of DC.  “I am saving money to pay the fines, so I don’t need to have extra things to pay such as rent right now.”  He talks of a nice facility on Wisconsin Avenue where they allow eight individuals per day to shower there.  “I go there and sometimes even receive mail there.” 

Ismail has been homeless for six months. (photo: Reed)

He said he owed almost $5,600 in fines.  I never fully understood how he accumulated these fines or what they were for.  “I offered to pay them $150 per day every day at eight o’clock, but they said I had to pay everything at once, which I can not do.”  He says he has saved up a couple thousand dollars through working as a dish washing but still needs approximately $2,075.  Although he didn’t ask, I said maybe some of the readers of the Year of Giving would be able to help him.  He at first declined this offer saying that he was healthy and could work so he didn’t need to receive any assistance from others, but then said, “Well, I would accept the help with one condition.  If they would send me their name and address as well so that I can pay them back once I get my cab back.”  I believe he was sincere with this promise.

“I’m going to put your twenty dollars toward the money I owe,” he told me.  

Ismail laughs easily. (photo: Reed)

We chatted about the challenges of being homeless.  Ismail paused as a plane on final approach to Reagan National Airport passed overhead before saying, “Even if someone is homeless or crazy, he still has dignity.  He still needs to be listened to.”  He said that if you take a person’s dignity away they don’t have anything left.  I agree.  It reminds me of Anthony from Day 6, a homeless man who I met sitting in the snow near Dupont Circle Metro who was sending Christmas cards to his family members.  “I still have my pride,” Anthony told me last December.  

I enjoyed my time with Ismail and I know I will see him again.  If anyone wants to help him, let me know, I have his cell phone number.

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I have received so many nice emails from people from Russia due to the media coverage that I have received there by Russia Channel One.  I friend of mine who speaks Russian said the report was very well done.  Spasiba!

Sometimes I find myself cutting it really close to midnight before I give my $10 away.

It was about 11:50pm and I was traveling south on Wisconsin Avenue just north of the National Cathedral.  I saw a Giant supermarket on my right, but it was closed.  Then I spotted a Metro bus waiting in front of the grocery store.  I pulled into the parking lot and saw Wayne, a 22 year veteran of Metro, standing near his bus looking at his phone.

I met Wayne on his 47th birthday. (photo: Reed)

I jumped out of my Volkswagen and walked over to Wayne and explained what I was doing.  He agreed to accept the $10 with two minutes to spare.  I was lucky to catch him because he was getting ready to leave on his next run. 

It turned out that it was Wayne’s birthday!  I think he is the first person I have given to on their birthday.  Happy 47th Wayne!  Instead of keeping the money for himself, he said that he would give the $10 to his 18-year-old daughter.  “She graduated high school this year and doesn’t have a job, so she could definitely use it.”

Wayne started working for Metro because a relative of his worked there.  In general he says he really likes his job, “I love helping people!”  What he doesn’t care for is snow.  “It’s the worst.  I was lucky this year though, I was on vacation during both big storms we had.”  He wasn’t so lucky though in the mid-nineties.  A resident of Maryland, he said that he stayed at work for an entire week because of the snow and ice storms that hit the DC area. 

Wayne just before closing the door and starting his route. (photo: Reed)

With over two decades of service, Wayne has seen a lot.  “I’ve seen a lot of good people come and go; older guys who paved the way for a lot of us younger guys.”  He explained that Metro upped the requirements at one point for drivers, requiring them to pass an exam which many of the veteran drivers failed.  “They were good drivers too, but they couldn’t pass the test.”   

I asked him about rude and unruly passengers.  He says he gets all kinds of people.  “Some times people are drunk and vomit on your bus,” he said shaking his head.  But he just brushes that stuff off.  “You know it’s all about how you choose to make your day.  I don’t let it bother me.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Wayne pulled away right on time. (photo: Reed)

He looked at his watch and said it was time for him to start his route.  He put his phone away and stepped into the bus closing the door behind him. 

Quick fact: Metro has a fleet of over 1,300 buses which provided 123.7 million rides last year. (source: Metro Facts, www.wmata.com)

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Barb in front of the laundromat in downtown Mechanicsburg, PA. (photo: Reed)

Day 266 was Labor Day. 

I spent all day here at my dad’s house.  I needed to go out and find someone to give my $10 to and he offered to join me.  We were going to walk down to the downtown area of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, but his knee and back have been bothering him and he was not sure that walking down there would be a good idea.  So we hopped in the car and drove over there and then walked around. 

We parked in front of Dieners, a breakfast institution in this town. We walked east down Main Street, past Jo Jo’s Pizzeria, which incidentally has possibly the world’s best Italian sub, when I spotted a laundromat just past the Gingerbread Man.  There were two women talking and my dad and I decided to walk up a little further to see who we find.  We past the main square where Main and Market Streets come together and walked another block past Myer’s funeral home, where my mother’s funeral was held, until we arrived at Eckels Drug Store (trivia: this is where a scene from Girl Interrupted was filmed.)

Dad and I headed back toward the laundromat to give the $10 to someone there.  When we got there Barb was coming out with her dog Diva.

Barb's pooch (photo: Reed)

Barb was born in Harrisburg and then moved to Shiremanstown before moving to Mechanicsburg some 45 years ago where she graduated from Mechanicsburg High School.  She has three children and two step-children, 15 grandkids and one great-grandson who will be two soon.  We spent a lot of time talking about her kids.  In fact, she had just returned earlier that day from visiting her son down in Bel Air, Maryland.

She couldn’t decide what she was going to do with the ten dollars, but she did give me her address so I can follow up with her later and see what she decides on.  When I told her that I find one person every day and I chose her for this day she said, “Wow…that is really great.  It is really nice of you that you do this – not too many people would do it.”

“I love people,” the 62-year-old told me.  She lit a cigarette, exhaled and went on, “I don’t have a lot of money to do things for others, but I am always volunteering my services.”  She told me about a friend of hers who was going through a difficult time.  Her friend, who is battling cancer, has a son in prison out near Pittsburgh who got extremely ill and is now in a coma.  “I do what I can for her, sometimes just making some phone calls to let others know how she is doing.” 

Barb didn't make it to Jo Jo's before they closed because she took time to talk to me. (photo: Reed)

Main Street was quite dark now and I checked my watch.  It was 9pm.  She was going to try to get some food at Jo Jo’s so we walked toward the restaurant that is housed in an old fire station.  Unfortunately by the time we got there they had just locked the door.  “I guess I will head up toward the Chinese place,” Barb said.  I felt bad, had I not stopped to talk with her she would have made it in time to get her dinner at Jo Jo’s.  Well, at least she had a few extra dollars for her dinner.

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Today’s blog marks the countdown of the final 100 days of my Year of Giving.  Hard to believe that I have given away $2,650, met 265 incredible people and written 265 blog posts about the amazing journey that I embarked on December 15th of last year.   I wanted to take a moment and just thank every one that has been a part of my year.  From the recipients to the readers to my family and friends to the journalists to those who have sent items for the Lend a Hand project, you all have helped shape the journey.  Thank you.

The Kipona Festival in Harrisburg dates back to 1916. (photo: Reed)

Day 265 takes place on Sunday September 5th in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  My father and I drove over to the Kipona Festival along the sparkling shores of the Susquehanna River.  The festival features a variety of food, children’s theatres, educational activities, arts and crafts, boat races, concerts and fireworks.

Some come to Kipona just for the food. (photo: Reed)

We strolled by hundreds of tents full of arts and crafts, food vendors and families enjoying the festivities.  There were several people who I thought about giving my $10 to.  There was Scott Matyjaszek, a 3-dimensional photographic artist who hand cuts all the photographs and then layers them to create what he calls “photo-reliefs.”  His work was really impressive.  You can check it out at www.artephax.com, however, I doubt you can fully appreciate his work since it is in fact the 3-D element that makes it so unique.  There was also a young guy from Tennessee grilling some chicken that he marinated in oil, lemons and other spices.  And I also thought about giving the money to Patty Hankin from Bethesda, MD who was there displaying some of her beautiful photographs of flowers.

James with the Walnut St. Bridge in the background. (photo: Reed)

But sometimes I feel like I don’t really choose.  The recipients choose me.  This is what happened when 42-year-old James asked me for money as I was shooting some photographs of the Walnut Street Bridge that connects City Island to Harrisburg.

James said he has been homeless for the past three and a half months and sleeps along the bank of the Susquehanna River.  A graduate from Shippensburg University, he told me that he had fallen on tough times after being arrested for various charges including theft and DUI.  On top of that, his girlfriend died unexpectedly.  All of this caused him to lose his job as a funding/benefits coordinator.

“People sometimes don’t believe that a white college educated guy like me could be homeless, but I am,” James told me.  He says that he lives off of panhandling and $150 a month that his brother, a television news producer in Washington, DC, sends him.

James said that he slept on the river bank near where this photo was taken. (photo: Reed)

James seemed nervous and said that needed to go.  “I’m not going to lie to you, I am going to get me a sandwich at Sandwich Man and probably buy a cheap pack of menthol cigarettes.”  He hurried off.

Just then my father, who had walked a few yards away to get out of the sun, introduced me to a gentleman sitting on a stone wall a few steps from where I met James.  He gave me his business card and introduced himself as the chief of police from a neighboring community.  He saw James approaching several individuals.  “I tried to get your attention when he came up to you.  I didn’t want you to get scammed.”  The off duty chief said that he positioned himself right next to me in case anything happened.  That was really nice of him to keep an eye out for me.

People often ask me if I believe everything that people tell me.  Of course not, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Although I have faith in humanity, there was something about James and his story that didn’t sit well with me.  He seemed so anxious to get going once he got the $10.  Perhaps he was really hungry.  Or maybe he has some addiction issues and went off to get his fix.  Or maybe he just noticed the police chief paying attention to him and felt uneasy.  Who knows?  It really doesn’t matter for the most part.  I am practicing unconditional giving, so the recipients can do anything they want with the money.  I would like to hope that people are usually honest with me though.

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Every Labor Day they hold the Granger's Fair.

I decided to drive up to my father’s house and spend the Labor Day weekend with him.  On Saturday I made the two-hour drive from Washington, DC to Mechanicsburg, PA.  Having grown up there and returned home countless times, I am very familiar with the route.  I made my way through Dillsburg and then turned left onto York Rd. and drove about a mile.  Then a right onto Williams Grove Rd.  It’s only about 5 miles from there to my dad’s house.  I hadn’t gone even a half mile when I saw a sea of farm equipment sprawled out over a field to my left.  A little further I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Steam Engine Hill.”  I decided to pull in and see what was going on.

“Dad, I’m going to be a little late for dinner, I’ve stopped up here at William’s Grove Park at a tractor exhibition or something,” I told my father on the phone.  I paid $3 to park and got out of my car and started to walk around.

photo: Reed

There were hundreds of tractors.  Sometimes you would look down an aisle and not see the end.  There were all kinds too: large, small, new, old, shiny, rusty, diesel, gas, kerosene, etc.  They had a parade at sunset and all the tractors were lining up getting ready to do a lap around the fairgrounds.  I came across a guy atop a tractor that was waiting to get into the parade and I decided to introduce myself.  We talked for a little while but he was reluctant to accept my $10.  “I’m actually not the owner of this tractor,” he told me.  That didn’t really matter to me, but he said he would rather pass on the opportunity.  I walked a short distance away and saw a large old tractor that was inching its way forward in the parade.  

Dave's parents paid $75 for the tractor in 1972. (photo: Reed)

Dave was at the wheel of a 1928 Farmall Regular, a four thousand pound American made tractor.  I yelled up to him and asked if he had a few minutes to talk and he said, “Sure come on up.”  I climbed up onto the tractor and tried to find a secure place to stand.  Dave recommended that I sit down on the side of the tractor to ensure that I didn’t fall off.  Probably a wise call.

 “Hang on,” he hollered over at me.  “I’ve got it floored.”  Thankfully maximum speed on one of these guys is only three or four miles an hour. 

photo: Reed

A mechanical engineer, Dave works as a project manager for a firm near his home in Millersburg, PA.  “As a mechanical engineer this stuff really impresses me,” Dave says looking over at dozens of parked tractors.  

I asked the 51-year-old how old he was and smiled and said, “Old enough to know better, too young to resist.”  He is married and has three grown daughters.  His passion for these vintage tractors and interest in engineering was not been passed on to his girls it seems.  “I thought my oldest was going to be an engineer, but she turned out to be mathematically challenged,” Dave tells me with a grin.  Although his daughters weren’t at the fair, his parents, wife and brother were all there.  In fact I saw his father and brother driving some of the other tractors they own.  That’s right, Dave owns several tractors, but I get the feeling that this Farmall is special.

He said he would probably put the $10 toward parts and supplies for his tractor.  “It’s getting harder and harder to find parts for it.”

Dave allowed me to go through the parade with him.  It was a great honor.  I got literally a front row seat to the entire parade!  We drove by main part of the parade and they announced Dave’s name and the tractor’s make, model and year.  “There’s no judges, no prizes,” Dave says.  “We do this because we love it.”

We made our way to the end of the parade and dismounted the classic row farming tractor.  He points out that the original wheels were steel and although it runs on gasoline now it originally ran on kerosene.  

Dave's brother Justin gives him a ride on a Wheel Horse tractor. "That was the first thing with a steering wheel that I ever drove." -Dave (photo: Reed)

Dave’s brother Justin came over and said hello.  I took some more photographs of them and their tractors.  They drove away on a small Wheel Horse tractor.  Justin drove while Dave hitched a ride in trailer that it was pulling.  I waved goodbye and headed on my way to my dad’s house.

I was really late by this time…thankfully he wasn’t upset.  He was just happy to see me.  Gotta love my dad!

Here is great video of me talking with Dave as we rode in the parade.

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For any Spanish speakers out there, you can see a news report on the Year of Giving by Spain’s CUATRO. 

Jazz in the Garden happens every Friday night in the Summer at the National Gallery of Art's sculpture garden. (photo: Reed)

For today’s recipient we go to downtown Washington, DC on a Friday night to Jazz in the Garden; a free concert series featuring an array of jazz artists performing a range of styles—from swing to progressive to Latin—every Friday evening in the summer at the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden.  Picture a beautiful outdoor setting with people relaxing on benches or blankets with picnic baskets while the sun sets and delightful music plays in the background.  I was sure to find someone to give my $10 to here.

I found Faith, a 30-year-old government worker, standing next to the reflecting pool.  She was on a date, but was kind enough to take a few minutes to learn about the Year of Giving.  “I’m going to use the money to either buy some drinks tonight or possible some gelato,” she said as I placed the ten dollars in her hand. 

Faith is planning a month-long celebration for her 31st birthday and calling it Faith Fest. (photo: Reed)

I asked if I could ask her some questions.  “Sure, what do I care?  My life is an open book.”  I learned that Faith is originally from southeast Arkansas although she later moved to Little Rock.  More recently she lived in Madrid for three and a half years until moving to DC about a year ago.

She is pretty funny.  Most of her responses were witty and made me laugh.  She told me about the previous person she dated.  “I was in a charity auction where guys bid on you to raise money for the charity.  So he kept bidding on me but somebody else won.  He later asked me out though.” 

She is a people person: part social networker part organizer.  “I have never seen a city more into happy hours to benefit random causes,” she says referring to DC.  She’s right, it seems that every charity and nonprofit in DC, with the exception of maybe Alcoholics Anonymous, has a happy hour once a month to raise awareness and money for their cause. 

Speaking of occasions for imbibing, Faith mentions that her birthday is October 23rd and this year she is planning Faith Fest – a month-long array of celebratory events in honor of the occasion.  I think that is a great idea, why limit it to just one evening.  

Spanish Eyes (photo: Reed)

I sensed a bit of an adventurous spirit in Faith and asked her to share the craziest thing she has ever done.  “Oooh…” she said cooling herself with a bright red Spanish style fan, “that would be impossible for me to confess to you if you are going to put it on the internet.”  She did share with me that she biked 500 miles across Spain from the Basque city of Irun along the famed Compestela trail to Santiago de Compostela. 

As we were getting close to the primary election here in DC I asked her who she thought would win the mayoral race.  She said she felt that Vince Gray would win.  She was right too.  Last Tuesday voters went to the polls and ousted current Mayor Adrian Fenty as the Democratic nominee. 

Her date left some friends to come over and say hello and check out what was going on.  After all, I was photographing the girl he was on a date with, so I can understand his curiosity.  About the same time a security officer came by informing us that the sculpture garden was closing and that we needed to exit.  On our way out Faith told me that she and her date were heading to dinner at Brasserie Beck, a great Belgian restaurant/bar.

Before leaving the couple I asked her if there was anything that she needed or wanted that YoG followers could help her out with.  I got an interesting request.  “Well, I have this Argentine leather coat that got left behind in Madrid and I would love it if someone would be willing to bring it to me here in DC.”  So, leave Faith a message here if you or someone you know will be traveling from Madrid to Washington and willing to pick up the coat.

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[Tonight] I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.  Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.” – President Barack Obama, Aug. 31, 2010

In March of 2003 President Bush ordered US troops to invade Iraq in what was called Operation Iraqi Freedom.  About the size of California, Iraq has about 31 million people.  Since 2003, many citizens of Iraq have been killed, displaced, or listed as missing.  I met up with two young Iraqi women on Day 262.  Meet Rusol and Iman.

Fountain at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

Sitting on the edge of the fountain at Dupont Circle the girls talk and laugh with one another like any other 21-year-old girls in the US.  But I learn that these girls have lived a very different life than many of their peers here in DC.

Both originally from Baghdad, Rusol has been in the US for one year and Iman two years.  Iman, a Sunni, came here because her father, a former officer in the Iraqi military, started receiving threats from terrorists.  Rusol, a Shiite who lives with her mother and sister, also moved here in search of a more safe and stable society.  “There are no more beautiful places in Baghdad,” they said.  They have all been destroyed.  Life is very different than what they remember before the war.  “It used to be very safe there.”  Despite all of this, they are both quite unhappy here in the US.  “Living here is a little like jail,” Iman says.  “People just work all the time.  Before I came here I thought the US was very fun and lots of parties, but it has only been work, even on weekends, and no parties.”  Rusol agreed, “It’s not like what we would see on TV.”

Although they are both working now, it took some time.  “It’s hard to find a job here since we are still learning English,” Rusol says.  On this day they had both just finished their shift at their nearby job at a restaurant.  Rusol, an attorney back in Iraq, says that she would never tell her friends back in Iraq that she is working as a waitress.

People of Iraq

Day 262 was September 2nd which is in the middle of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the Islamic month of fasting in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn until sunset.  This month-long commitment is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality.  I could tell the girls missed celebrating Ramadan like they would in Iraq.  They told me that when the sun sets during Ramadan, nobody is on the streets.  Everyone is inside.  “It’s a good time for dating,” they say.

I was curious about how dating was different for young Iraqis.  “Dating is not public,” Iman tells me referring to the fact that although quite common it is generally not welcomed by parents.  “My mom used to tell me that if I wanted a boyfriend that I should marry him.”  In spite of this, they told me that most young people do date.  They, however, said they were in the minority and didn’t have boyfriends.

I asked them what they are going to do with their five dollars.  

“I’m going to keep it,” Iman said.  Rusol didn’t know yet what she would do with it.  They said that although the Year of Giving would not be something that you would probably find people doing in Iraq, it could happen.  “Especially after the war. Nothing is strange now, you can see anything,” Iman told me.

Something that really struck me was that both girls said that notwithstanding the insecurity and potential dangers of returning to Iraq, they preferred to move back.  This made me so sad.  They have not integrated into society here and made friends.  Sometimes I think it is really hard to make friends here in the US.  Especially for adults. 

As we come to a pivotal point in the future of Iraq I wonder if things are any better there today than seven and a half years ago.  Although I have the utmost respect for all the military service men (US, Iraqi and other nationalities) that have served their respective countries there, it doesn’t sound like things are “better.”  So many lives have been lost.  Almost 5,000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  I have heard numbers from 151,000 to over a million.  The girls estimate was closer to a million.  My cousin made two tours in Iraq and thankfully he is safely back home in Tennessee now, however, I am sure his service there came at a cost to him.  

What do you think?  Are things better there today?  I would love to hear from some people in Iraq.

If there are any Iraqi women in the DC area that have went through this difficult period that Rusol and Iman are going through and would like to reach out to them, let me know and I can try to connect you.

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Kathryn's car. (photo: Reed)

What are the chances that I come across two people with broken down vehicles two days in a row?  Well, apparently pretty high.

You will recall that yesterday I told you about Vincenzo and his “ghetto dealership” purchase that resulted in a $700 trip to the mechanic.  Well, today I want you to meet Kathryn.

I was a few blocks from home when I passed a car with the hood up and the door wide open parked on 20th Street in front of a small park.  As I walked by I scanned the surrounding area but didn’t see anyone who looked like they owned the car.  Perhaps someone was unloading something and just left the door ajar.  I decided to walk back and take a seat on a nearby bench and just observe the car for a few minutes.  As I got to the bench I noticed a woman sitting in the park who was occasionally looking over her shoulder toward the abandoned Audi. 

“Is that your car?” I asked

“Yes it is.  I can’t get it to start,” Kathryn told me.

Wearing a floral sleeveless blouse and white pants, Kathryn explains that she thinks her battery is dead.  “It just goes tick, tick, tick.”  I offered to go get my car, which was a few blocks away, and try to give her a jump.

 “Oh, that’s ok.  I’ve already called my husband as well as a mechanic, so one of them should be here soon.”

The fifty-something year old DC resident is married and has two step-daughters.  She explains that she often drives to the Dupont Circle Metro and leaves her car there and takes the subway to where she needs to go.  “I came back and it wouldn’t start.”

About this time the mechanic called Kathryn.  He was nearby but was having difficulty navigating some of the tricky streets near our location.  Since I knew the area quite well, I offered to talk to him.  She handed me the phone and I guided him through about a half-dozen streets until he arrived.

By that time her husband was also there. 

The mechanic quickly got Kathryn's car started. (photo: Reed)

The mechanic grabbed a large yellow portable battery charger and within seconds had it connected to Kathryn’s battery and she was able to start the car.

Kathryn was reluctant to take the $10, but in the end accepted it and told me that she would pass it on to someone else.  I hope that she checks the website and shares with us what she did with the ten spot.

UPDATE: 10/25/2010

I got the following email from Kathryn…

Hi Reed,
It is Kathryn and I met you on a very hot Sept. 17 at Dupont circle
when the battery of my car went dead.

I wanted to let you know that on Oct. 9 at Union Station I met and had a conversation with a homeless man named Fred.  He hangs out on Mass. Ave 1/2 block from Union Station.  I sat and spoke with him while I was waiting to pick up a friend.

He was so happy to have the $10.00 (Pay it Forward) and I told him to please buy some good food to eat.  We also talked about the possibility of him learning to cook so that he might help out in a restaurant.  It is a small world because when I dropped my friend at Union Station on Oct. 11 Fred was in the same spot.  He was having some lunch and that made me smile. He seemed in a good way.

Thanks again for stopping to help me when I was in need.  It felt so good to pass the money on to Fred.  Keep him in your prayers.  There are a lot like him out there.

Blessings.
Kathryn

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I often tell people that it’s much more meaningful to give of your time than your money.  So why am I giving away $10?  Good question.  I wanted to make a year-long altruistic commitment that I could quantify with relative ease.  A monetary amount lends itself very well to this.  Having said that, I probably give of my time almost every single day to help someone.  Whether it’s giving directions to a lost tourist, watching someone’s bag while they go to the bathroom or cooking something for a friend’s birthday, I do something for someone else just about every single day.   

Vincenzo and his new wheels. (photo: Reed)

 

 Well on Day 260 I was on my way to a meeting near 11th and G Streets in DC.  I was on foot and cutting through Chinatown when I saw Vincenzo stressing out in front of his blue station wagon at the corner of 7th and G.  

“Do you know anything about cars?” he asked me standing in front of the open hood of the car.  I made a quick call to tell the person I was meeting to inform them that I would be a few minutes late and then told him that I would try to help but that I didn’t know much about cars.  I thought he probably only needed some help pushing the car out of the way of other traffic.   

Another passerby, Joel, also topped to lend a hand.  

None of us really knew what was wrong with it.  The 22-year-old from Virginia Beach explained that it felt like the breaks were on and he couldn’t get the car to move forward.  I did what I always do when I’m in this situation and the hood is up.  I walked over and took a look at the engine.  I don’t know why I do that, I don’t know the first thing about cars.  I mean I know the difference between the alternator and the starter, but when things go wrong, I doubt I am going to be able to fix anything.  

Joel and I were a little more preoccupied with getting Vincenzo’s car out of the middle of the road so that he could take his time to figure out how he wanted to proceed.  I looked over at Vincenzo who now was pacing a little bit saying something about how he shouldn’t have bought this car.  “I bought this car yesterday from some ghetto dealer I found on Craigslist,” he told me.  Vincenzo paid $2,000 cash for the car.  “It’s got 152,000 miles on it.”  He beat me, my 2000 Volkswagen has 139,000 miles.  Speaking of my car, I have spent over $1,000 on it in the last week, but more on that later.    

Then I heard something about an interview.  I peaked my head around the hood and asked, “You’re on your way to an interview?”   

“Yeah, I’m supposed to be there in 20 minutes.”  

Oh man, this is really turning into a bad day for Vincenzo, who is now fully stressed and sweating pretty bad in the 90+ temps.  This is not how he envisioned this day going, I am sure.  

Finally I ask if I can try to start the car to feel what the car is doing.  He tosses me the keys and I get into the station wagon and turn the ignition.  I eased off the breaks and the car crept forward.  It seemed to be working fine to me.  Vincenzo looks at me somewhat puzzled and I frankly don’t know what I did, but we switched places and he gave it a try.  It worked!  We closed the hood and I gave him my cell number just in case it started having problems again and he was close by.   

Vincenzo managed to smile despite the day's misfortunes. (photo: Reed)

 

A few days later I got a voice mail from Vincenzo.  He was at a repair shop getting his car fixed.  Apparently his car died again that day on his way to the interview and he parked the car and hopped on the Metro to get to the interview.  “There was something wrong with the disc brakes and the left caliper that was making the breaks stick.”  It cost him $706 to get it fixed.  

As for the interview, he didn’t get the job.  “I kind of new that it was a long shot, but it would have been the perfect job.”  Vincenzo’s background is in personal training and he is looking for a job with large organizations to build program’s that help keep their employees in good health.  Many companies are hiring people like Vincenzo now because they can get cost savings from their insurance provider for offering these sort of services as well as get more efficient employees.  He told me that he has personally seen how people in better shape are more productive at work.  If anyone would like to contact Vincenzo for work opportunities, give me a shout.  

Anyway, it was a tough day for this guy.  I was kind of surprised that other people didn’t offer to stop.  It was just me and Joel helping him.  By the way, Joel works nearby at the Portrait Gallery and said that it was a simple decision to stop and try to help, “I stopped because he needed help, that’s it.  He seemed pretty genuine.”  Thanks for your help Joel!  We need more Joels!  

When we spoke he also told me that he donated the $10 to a charity focused on multiple sclerosis.  I also learned that he has started to train for some cycling races.  He recently kept up with some road racers for 11 miles on his mountain bike.  This is not easy when you consider they were riding road bikes and Vincenzo was on a mountain bike.  It’s a lot more work and he said he wasn’t even drafting off the other cyclists.     

So, I mentioned my car had cost me $1,000 this week.  I recently swapped cars with my father and had to get my new car registered and inspected here in DC.   It needed some work on the emissions which ran $500.  Then I had to get it registered and inspected which cost me a total of $364.  Look for the upcoming story about Chad who I gave $10 to while waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  And then, get this, my car was broken into last night!  So, chalk up another $200 in repairs not to mention over $500 in stolen items.  I am seriously thinking about ditching my car and using Zipcar.  Anyone done this and been happy?

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"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood" - Albert Einstein on Gandhi

In a few weeks many people throughout the world will celebrate the International Day of Nonviolence.  It is celebrated on October 2nd, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who is widely credited as the father of satyagraha – the philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance.    

I often walk by the Indian Embassy here in Washington, DC.  In front there is a small triangular park with a bronze statue of Gandhi.  Although it’s been 52 years since his death, his wisdom lives on.  Here is a great quote:

Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.

Harriet next to the monument to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (photo: Reed)

I was walking by the statue the other day and saw a couple who appeared to be reading the inscription on the base of the statue.  I approached the couple and explained the Year of Giving to them.  The man was very skeptical of my intentions, but his wife, Harriet, was more receptive saying, “I’ve heard about you!  I think I read something in the Washington Post about what you are doing.”

“So, will you accept my $10?” I asked.

The coupled discussed it briefly.  Harriet’s husband continued to be a little suspicious and declined.  She on the other hand seemed willing to take part.  “I’ll do it!” she said with a smile.

Harriet, a 71-year-old resident of the state of Maryland, said that she was going to use the $10 for something she would not normally buy for herself.  “The last time I found some money I bought a wooden sheet music holder that was carved in the shape of a g clef.”

Now retired, Harriet spends her time doing what she loves.  Here in Washington she stays active by taking classes and going to her gym.  Harriet also seems to enjoy visiting far away places.  She spends lots of time visiting her children and seven grandchildren.  She talked about visiting her son in Scotland as well as another trip to.  The couple also lived in Israel for some time.  “I was actually a cow girl while we were living there.  I would spend eight hours a day riding but I had to stop when I got pregnant.”      

 “What time is it?” Harriet asked.  Her husband glanced at his wrist watch and said, “I think we ought to get going.”  Although I didn’t ask specifically, I believe they were attending an event at the Indian Embassy.  

Photo by Reed

Before saying goodbye to the couple I asked Harriet if there was anything that she wanted me to add to the Lend a Hand section.  “Well, there is one thing.  I’d love to find some relatives that live in Wales.  Their last name is Targovnik and they used to live in the city of Cardiff.”  If anyone can find the Targovniks, leave a comment here and maybe Harriet will see it.

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Just after midnight on Sunday morning I was on my way home when I was approached by two men as I walked through Dupont Circle.  Tyrone approached me and said that his friend wanted to talk to me.  His friend, Josh, approached me and they invited me to join them in threesome!  Oh my God.

I got a bit nervous and kept walking to a more lit area.  The two men followed me there and I tried to change the subject and told them about my project and offered them the $10.  They weren’t interested in the ten spot. I said goodbye and headed home.  Never a dull moment living in Dupont.

Dupont Farmer's Market (photo by Reed)

The next morning I got up early and headed over to the Dupont Farmers Market.  I weaved in and out of the various vendor stalls and looked for someone that caught my eye.  I didn’t find the right person though.  And it was really hot and I was getting impatient.

I left the market and just as I crossed the street I saw David selling the Street Sense newspaper on the corner of Q Street and Connecticut Avenue.

David started working for Street Sense on June 13th (photo by Reed)

Originally from Western Kenya near Lake Victoria, David came to the United States in 1997.  He was working in banking at the time and thought that Delaware would be a good place to live to learn about corporations since most companies are incorporated in the “First State.”  He later moved to DC in 2000.

At first he stayed with a professor friend here in DC while he studied at Strayer University.  He hoped to eventually become a doctor.  “I like medicine a lot.  I even used to volunteer at George Washington Hospital,” David said with a pronounced British accent.  He went on to talk about genetics.  “They are the key to living longer, eliminating disease and improving intelligence.”  In five years he hopes to be a medical researcher.

Like many Street Sense vendors, David is homeless.  However, unlike many of the other homeless that I have met, he chooses to sleep in shelters.  He currently stays at the Mitch Snyder shelter at 2nd and D Streets.  Mitch Snyder was a homeless advocate who was the subject of a 1986 made-for-television movie starring Martin Sheen.  After nine years of homelessness David says that shelters in DC are improving.  “There’s been a lot of changes that started in 2004, like installation of air conditioning, spraying for bugs and improved services.”

It’s been 13 years since he left Kenya.  He said that he misses the food.  “A typical meal back home is broiled or roasted corn.  We put lemon pepper on the corn and eat it with coffee or tea.”

One of six children and the only son, David has lost touch with most of his family.  “The last time I saw my dad was 1985, my mom raised us.”  He said he would like to know what happened to his father: Tom Nyamongo.  “I know that he went to Harvard in the 1980s, but he had some type of government job and his life was quite secretive.”  He hasn’t spoken to his mother in several years.  Although he hasn’t been able to confirm this, a sister of his told him in 2001 that she had passed away.

David has been homeless since 2001. (photo by Reed)

In addition to learning more about his parents, David would like to find a cousin of his that was like a big brother to him.  His name is Ben Bella Jaoko and he is in his mid forties today according to David.  “He moved to Poland in the 1980s to study.  With the internet today maybe somebody can find him,” he said with hope in his voice.

Before saying goodbye, David told me that he was going to use the $10 to buy him a nice meal consisting of some Italian sausages and some bread, a beer and put the rest toward a pack of cigarettes.

Although I met David at Connecticut and Q, he says that he is usually at 17th and K if you would like to stop by and say hello.

UPDATE 10/04/2011: Since my initial encounter with David, the most incredible thing has happened. Someone who was going to a job interview at a company in Poland Googled the hiring manager for the job to learn a little more about him – something we all do today, right? The hiring manager’s name was Ben Bella Jaoko!

Well, would you believe he found my post about his cousin David and at the end of the interview asked Ben if he knew that he had a cousin in the U.S. who was looking for him. Completely shocked, Ben wasted no time contacting me and we connected by phone and I put him and David in contact.

From that moment on Ben worked tirelessly to make arrangements for David to get back to Kenya to be reunited with his family.

This morning as I sat working away at my kitchen table, I got a phone call from Ben. I didn’t immediately recognize the voice but when I heard David’s name mentioned I connected the dots. “I’ve managed to raise enough money to purchase the airfare for David to come back to Kenya,” he told me. He explained to me the rest of the details and asked for my help to take him to the airport and help pay for luggage fees, etc. I am sure there will be some other incidentals that will come up too as he prepares to return to Nairobi. If you would like to help us reunite David with his family you can donate $10 by clicking HERE or the yellow DONATE button on the top right side of this page.

We hope to have everything completed for David to depart by the end of the month. With your help, we can make that happen!

I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in silence in my apartment. All because of a simple blog post that I made back a little over a year ago David has is about to leave the streets of Washington to be reunited with his family. This is what it is all about!

UPDATE 11/15/2011: David will be flying home to Kenya on Tuesday, November 22nd. He has been away for nearly 15 years. Thanks to so many of you who have offered to help support these efforts. I have organized a going away party for David on Monday evening at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW – Dupont) in DC from 5:30-8:00pm. Please stop by and meet David before he embarks on this exciting new stage of his life. We will also be accepting donations if you would like to contribute to covering some of the costs associated with getting David back home. I hope to see you next Monday!!

 

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Live music at Nanny O'Brien's (photo: Reed)

I met up with my friend Kimon for dinner in Cleveland Park.  Afterwards we went over to Nanny O’Briens to have a couple pints of Guinness.  

I’ve been to this place several times…used to go there on Tuesday nights for trivia.  It’s a no frills neighborhood pub that has straightforward service and live music some evenings.  This night there was a pony-tailed man strumming the guitar to typical sing-along type bar songs like Brown Eyed Girl and American Pie.

In the front of the bar there are these two little secluded tables that are tucked away on each side of the door.  They look like a nice romantic place to sit and have a chat with your loved one.  I noticed a young couple that were looking at each other like they were the only ones in the bar.  The carved out window nook lends itself to that feeling I think.  Would it be rude and insensitive to go and interrupt this beautifully peaceful moment?  Who knows, but I was about to find out.

A shot from outside of Jessica and Jonah enjoying a drink at Nanny O'Briens in Cleveland Park, DC. (photo: Reed)

Jessica is a 28-year-old human rights advocate.  She mainly focuses on Sudan, Burma (Myanmar) and the Congo.  Originally from New York City, she moved to DC about a year and a half ago. 

She and her boyfriend Jonah were killing some time before heading over to the Uptown Theater to see Inception.  Opened in 1936, the Uptown is a historic art deco theater featuring just one screen.  Sadly I haven’t been there yet to see a movie.  Shame on me!

I learned that Jessica used to live on an island in Southeast Alaska.  “It was interesting.  I was friends with this one guy who had dodged the Vietnam war by paying people off with homemade baked wheat bread,” she went on to say.  Odd…what would make you think to do that?  Hmmm…I don’t want to go to Vietnam.  What can I give these people that will keep them quiet?  I know, I’ll bake some bread, wheat bread no doubt, and give it them.  At least they were quiet I guess while they were eating the bread right? 

Jonah and Jessica (photo: Reed)

I definitely felt like I was intruding and felt bad about that.  I tried to be as quick as possible and let them slip back into the moment where they were before I interrupted.  His scotch and soda looked almost done and she was finishing up a gin and tonic and they were getting ready to head over to the theater.

“I think I will treat myself to a really nice coffee,” Jessica says referring to the $10 that was on the bar table.  Wow…ten bucks must buy a hell of a cup of coffee!

I grabbed a few photos, thanked them for their time and told them to enjoy the movie.  

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9/11 memorial

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 9 years since the 9/11 tragedy.  I remember where I was; just under a mile from the Pentagon.  I remember seeing the crash on TV at my eye doctor’s office and then walking over to my office in Rosslyn, VA and hearing the crash at the Pentagon.   2,996 lives were lost that morning.  To give you an idea of how many people that is.  If we were to honor one person each day, it would have taken until Nov. 26, 2009 – more than eight years – to honor all those who lost their lives.    

Remember Tommy from Day 155?  Well, I delivered some items from Meghan in Pennsylvania and took some video.  Check it out here.  By the way, he needs some items for winter, check out the Lend a Hand section.  

Before I introduce you to today’s recipient, I must apologize for a mix up on my side.  Yesterday I posted Day 256 with pictures of today’s recipient, Lisa, but with the story and notes that pertain to Jessica who was the recipient on Day 257.  Sorry…I think I got it all cleaned up now.  With 365 posts this year I was bound to mess this up at some point! 

Lisa proudly displays her $10

Embarrassingly Lisa saw the mix up and wrote to me to point it out.  Thankfully she was understanding and assured her that I would get it taken care of today.  Thanks Lisa, I’m sorry about that. 

Anyway, I met Lisa at a going away party for Sarah, the person who I replaced at the WWF.  The 26-year-old owns her own graphic design business here in Washington, DC.  After growing up here in the DC area, she went to Pittsburgh to study at Carnegie Mellon University.  Today most of her family is split between Boston and Buffalo. 

Owning your own business seems to have its advantages for this world traveler.  “I try to set aside a month or two each year for travel,” she says.  “My next trip is going to be the western part of South America or India.  She told me about another trip where she went hang gliding over Rio de Janeiro.  When I lived in Brazil I went to Rio regularly for business and often stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel.  From the hotel you can see the hang gliders taking off from Sao Conrado and riding the thermals high above.  Who knows, maybe Lisa was one of those hang gliders that I have seen! 

We talked a little bit about why people give.  “I’m pretty busy and so I often give money instead of my time.”  Lisa went on to say that she does give of her time to her family and close friends.  “I’m pretty artistic, so sometimes I will do a painting for friends.  I’ve also done a friend’s wedding invitations.”  Speaking of giving, the $10 in her hand ended up being used to buy her good friend Sarah some beers.  

photo: Reed

I asked Lisa if there was anything that someone else could give to her that would be helpful.  “I’d really like it if someone could donate five or six hours at a printing shop.  That would be amazing!”  

If anyone is in need of a graphic designer, let me know and I can connect you with Lisa!

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After a woman refused to be my recipient, I spotted a father and his son riding bikes together at Dupont Circle.  They seemed like perfect recipients. 

Jim and Addison next to the fountain at Dupont Circle. (photo: Reed)

 

I approached them and asked if they had a second.  “I probably won’t be able to help you though,” Jim said.  I get this often because most people think that I am going to ask them for money.  When I told him that I wanted to give him and his son, Addison, my ten spot of the day, his eye brows perked up. 

As it turns out, Jim is a former office manager / loan officer of a brokerage firm here in DC.  Unfortunately the banking crisis left him in the same boat that I was in earlier this year; out of a job.  “It’s been about a year and a half,” Jim says.  I told him that I was out of work for 285 days and I think he could tell that I understand some of what he is going through.  

At one point, Jim laughed at something I said and he grabbed his right side of his abdomen.  “Don’t make me laugh, I’ve got a hernia.”  Without insurance he has put surgery on hold which is not a good thing.  Left untreated they can lead to severe complications.  Would some doctor in the DC help Jim out and operate on his hernia for free?  Come on DC doctors, step up!   

Jim and Addison toured the entire city by bike. (photo: Reed)

 

They said that they were probably going to use the $10 for some groceries, but I later found out Jim was at a convenience store when a woman attempted to purchase a candy bar with her credit card. She was informed that there was a minimum amount required in order to pay by credit card, so she just put the candy bar back.  Jim stopped her and offered to buy it for her, which she gratefully accepted.  He also told her about the Year of Giving and the ten dollars that he had received.  The rest of their ten dollars was spent on some groceries and a $1 lottery ticket which I assume didn’t win, or they would have told me. 

I asked both Jim and Addison if there was anything they needed or wanted for the Lend a Hand project.  Jim quickly said that he would love to land a new job (see the Lend a Hand section for details on what he is looking for).  “Oh, and someone to operate on my hernia,” Jim added.  Addison had three requests, “I’d like to meet President Obama, Ellen Degeneres, or Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat.”   

I have an idea, what if one of Addison’s idols offered to sponsor his dad’s surgery?  Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone.  

Jim was thinking about Addison’s “wishes” and added, “You know what I would also love to do, is have dinner and drinks with Bill Maher, he’s hilarious.”  He started to laugh a little but his smile quickly gave way to a grimace of pain as he grabbed his abdomen again. 

Some other little bits of trivia… Jim has become a bit of an amateur genealogist and has traced his family back some 40+ generations.  Along the way he discovered that he has connections to President Bush, Frankish leader Charles Martel and Charlamagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans.  I know my dad would be excited about the Roman ancestry part – he is so into Roman history these days. 

Anyway, I let father and son continue on their bike ride.  After all, it was a gorgeous afternoon – just perfect for exploring the city on a bicycle.

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Wow…I am still thinking about Bob from Day 251, aren’t you.  I wish you could have been there with us for the entire conversation.  He was really amazing.  Today’s recipient is equally impressive.  Read on! 

These two guys opted to decline the $10. (photo: Reed)

Day 254 started with two refusals.  First two guys who were sitting on the grass in front of an office building at the corner of 19th and O Streets said “No” because they were deep discussion.  Then I wandered down 19th Street a little further where I found William, a US Post Office mail carrier.  He was sitting in his truck grabbing a bite to eat and said that he was too busy.

I kept on walking down to the corner of 19th and M Street.  I looke across the street to see if Anthony was there, but I didn’t see his smiling face.  It was around there that I ran into Christina carrying a clear container of salad from Mixt Greens and a Netflix movie envelope.  She seemed skeptical of my motives at first, but agreed to accept the $10.  We walked west down M Street as we talked.

Christina poses for a picture with her pricey salad. (photo: Reed)

I find out that she works at a nearby NGO and is on her lunch break.  “This salad cost more than $10,” she tells me as I hand her the $10.  I asked her what she got in her salad, I mean for that price I was hoping that she at least got some truffles or Beluga caviar or a TV.  I mean I once heard of a salad at the Hemel Hotel in London that had Almas golden caviar, Beluga caviar, kreel-caught langoustines, Cornish crab and lobster, plus Florette baby leaf salad tossed in some super expensive olive oil with grated truffle placed in a basket made from courgettes, red peppers and potato and decorated with gold leaf…all for the low price of US$982! 

She was carrying a DVD so maybe they gave her that.  Nope.  Just a salad.  “I think this might be my first and last salad from there,” she says.

I asked her what about her made her unique.  She paused and thought for a moment and said, “Well, I am a brain cancer survivor.”  I swallowed and tried to think of something to say.  She told me that they removed the tumor in July and that she was currently going to chemotherapy every two weeks.  “I feel good now,” she says with a smile.

“How did you find out,” I ask trying to imagine how many things most go through your head when you learn this.  She says that there wasn’t a lot of time to think about anything.  They operated almost immediately once they had found the malignant tumor.  We arrive at her office.  I continue to ask some more questions without realizing that I was now completely focused on her bout with cancer and there is a lot more about Christina and I only probably have a few minutes more before she needs to go up to her office.

Christina loves to travel – especially internationally.  She has a passport full of stamps to prove it too.  Croatia, Thailand and Italy as some of her favorite places.  “Did you go to San Gimignano in Italy,” I ask.  It’s one of my favorite places on the planet.  She had in fact visited the tiny hilltop village.  She fondly recalls some of her memories from her trip.  The small town where there was only one phone booth with a line of people wrapping around it outside.  “We also saw this woman who had this really nice flower garden.  She ended up inviting us in and made us try all these different types of homemade grappa.  One was made with oregano, another with thyme…”  As she is telling me about her trip I can’t help but slip into the memory of my own trip there and how much I enjoyed it.

photo: Reed

She also tells me that she loves movies, hence the DVD in her hand.  “Shoot,” she says looking down at the red and white Netflix envelope.  “We got talking and I totally forgot to drop this off at the post office.”  I had already taken a good chunk of her lunch break so I offered to go and drop it off.

We say goodbye and I start walking back toward the post office when I shout back, “What movie did you get?”  “It’s True Blood,” she says referring to the hit HBO series starring Anna Paquin. 

I got an email a few days later from Christina letting me know that she had donated the $10 to Mercy Corps for their Pakistan flood relief efforts. 

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I invited Bob to a coffee at a nearby coffee shop so Bob could sit down and rest his back. (photo: Reed)

I originally walked right by Bob who was holding himself up by leaning against a pole and supporting the rest of his weight with a walker at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street.  I crossed the street but couldn’t stop thinking about what his story was.  I turned around and went back and placed ten dollars in his hand.

“I’ve got a bad lower back which is inoperable,” Bob shared.  “I fell down a flight of stairs in 1977…each year it gets worse.”  There was something special about Bob, I don’t know if I knew exactly what it was immediately but I did perceive something really unique.  I have to admit that when I first walked by him I assumed that he was panhandling to get some money to buy booze.  But I would soon find out that he has been sober for nearly 25 years.

Part of me doesn’t want to write anymore and just tell you to watch the video I shot of him.  It’s one of the most moving videos I have shot of any of the people that I have met.  Bob opens up to me about being adopted, an upbringing void of love, 30 years of addiction to alcohol and a slew of drugs, family hardships and 20 nervous breakdowns.  His vulnerability and genuine candor will touch you.  I have watched this video probably a dozen times and forced my dad to watch it this weekend.  He too was in awe.

Bob tells me that he has good days and bad days.  Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in a depressed state.  I definitely caught Bob on a good day.  No less than six people stopped by, I kid you not, and said hello to Bob while we chatted.  Two or three of them made a specific comment about how happy he looked.  I’d like to think I was a part of that, but he might just have been having a good day.  If you were curious how many people stopped to say hello to the guy who gives away $10 every day…that number would be zero!

Ruth is Bob's birth mother. Ann was the mother who raised him. Bob would like to know what happened to his birth mother Ruth Lucas (photo: Reed)

He goes into a lot of detail about drug induced binges he embarked on in the 60s and 70s.  “I just wanted to drink, shoot dope and have a little sex occasionally,” he told one psychologist in the early days of his recovery attempts.  After dozens of failed attempts at sobriety he finally succeeded with the help of others and will be celebrating 24 years of sobriety on October 16th of this year.  I asked him if I could see him on that day and he said that that would probably be OK.  “So what’s the secret to finally beating the addiction,” I asked.  Bob looked down for a second and then looked up and said, “Well, you just have to do two simple things: stop drinking and change your whole fucking life!”  He managed a smile and laughed softly despite him realizing the bitter and all too familiar truth of what he had just said.
At one point a stunningly beautiful young woman stopped by and said hello to Bob.  “Are you going to play piano tonight?” she asked referring to an open mic session at an outreach ministry based coffee-house.  She had hoped that maybe he would play some music that she was going to bring but Bob said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that.  “I just know a few notes,” he humbly offered.  “I was hoping to play a song tonight that I wrote.  It’s a love song I wrote to my daughter.  I love her so much.”  He went on to tell me more about his daughter and it was so clear how much he loves and cares for her.  He lives in the basement of her house but their relationship is clearly strained.  He says that she has an alcohol addiction.  “There is always hope, look at me.  It took me 30 years though.”

I spent almost two hours with Bob.  I learned so much and every topic we spoke about he had something interesting to contribute.  I am so impressed with his overall attitude toward life.  “Desire nothing and you will have everything,” he says referencing the teachings of St. John of the Cross.  “Buddha said something similar, ‘Human desires are the cause of all human sufferings.’”

I caught a rare smile. Bob will use my $10 to help pay his rent. (photo: Reed)

I hope that you took the time to watch the video above.  It’s worth it and if you know anyone who is struggling with an addiction or even well into recovery I think they will find it very insightful.  One thing he says about recovery at the end of the video clip that I think is priceless is, “It takes time and a lot of alcoholics don’t want to wait.  It takes time, it’s a process, recovery is a process.  They want what they want when they want it.  They want it right now. They want 15 years of recovery in a month.  It doesn’t work that way.  You got to be patient.”

As we said goodbye he left me with a single thought.  “Tell someone today that you love them.”  Invaluable advice.

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Harvey, 42, suffers from mental illness and has been homeless for about a year. (photo: Reed)

On any given night some 671,000 people in the United States, of which 5,320 are located in DC, are homeless according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  Harvey is one of them.

I saw him sitting on the ground next to the entrance to McDonald’s on M Street between 19th and 20th Streets in Northwest.  On his lap was a sign that read, “A man in need is a man without greed.  Please help.”  Next to him was a styrofoam container of food and a bag of personal items.

I met Harvey while he was eating lunch. (photo: Reed)

“I’ve been homeless here in DC for about a year now,” Harvey tells me as he eats some ribs that he purchased for his lunch.  Originally from Lancaster, PA, Harvey said he came down to DC with the hope of a job but his plans were shot after being robbed at Union Station upon arriving here.  “I lost everything I had – some $2,600 in cash.” 

He says that he feels lucky in the sense that people often help him.  “I usually get about $30 a day out here.”  Harvey says that gets support from people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and races with one exception: Asians.  “I don’t know why but Orientals never help me out.”  He goes on to tell me that people who appear to be lower glass give more often than those who appear to be middle and upper class.

As we talked two people stopped to help Harvey out.  One was a young attractive professional who dropped some coins in his cup as she walked by.  The other was a British woman who stopped and asked if she could get him some food.  A few minutes later Jane returned from the McDonald’s with a bag that contained a Big-Mac, fries and a chocolate milkshake.  She even gave him the change from whatever amount she had used to pay for the food.  I asked her why she helped and she said that she felt very fortunate and that the least she could do is help someone else out.  “He’s down on his luck and I am able to help him out, that’s it.”

Harvey says that he has noticed that people’s response varies on the sign that he uses.  “One time I had a sign that said, ‘Please spare help for a worthless piece of shit.’  I made $60 that day.”  Although he was happy for the money he made that day, he stopped using the sign.  “I’m not a worthless piece of shit though; it’s hard to sit here behind that sign when you know that isn’t the truth.”

photo: Reed

He says that being on the streets has taught him survival skills.  “You have to take care of yourself, especially in the winter.  You learn how to use things like cardboard to help you stay warm.”  He also told me that he often has to shower in public fountains.  “I just bought some soap today, I try to stay clean.”

Harvey, who says he has five sisters and three brothers, isn’t in regular contact with most of his family.  “They don’t care about others.”  He also doesn’t seem to have any friends in DC.  “I don’t associate with too many people.”

He goes on to say that some of his challenges are a result of his mental illness.  “Most homeless suffer from sort of mental problem or physical problem.  I’m bipolar.”  Harvey says that he has often thought about committing suicide.  He doesn’t take any medication to help with his mental illness either.

He told me that he was going to use the ten dollars to get him some food over the next couple days and also buy a couple of beers for the evening.  “I don’t do any drugs or hard liquor.  The hard stuff makes me suicidal,” Harvey confessed. 

I shook his hand and wished him luck.  He mentioned some items that he needs and I have added them to the Lend a Hand page.

If you would like to help the homeless in Washington, DC, I encourage you to support your local Street Sense vendor or make a donation through their website.

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Day 252 – Heather M.

My mother and brother playing with my Uncle Jack's dog Spike in 1973. (photo courtesy of Ryan Sandridge)

Americans love dogs.  The Humane Society reports that there are more than 77 million dogs in the United States.  From other sources I found that this is more than twice the number of the second largest dog populated country, Brazil.  

I grew up around dogs.  We had a little mutt named 99 until I was about seven or eight.  My grandmother on my dad’s side was a Collie breeder and my mom’s sister Sue was an Akita breeder.  I even picked out a dog from the Humane Society when I was about nine.  I named him Paws.

Heather with Petunia and Bear Bear (photo: Reed)

Anyway, dogs have made their way into my blog on numerous occasions.  I quickly counted more than 25 posts involving man’s best friend.  Although I couldn’t find a figure for how many dogs we have in DC, I did read that the Humane Society reports that four out of every ten homes have at least one dog.  Today’s recipient has two dogs who you will meet.

I found Heather walking Petunia and Bear Bear along the park at 23rd and P Streets.  Petunia is a rather fierce looking dog that appears to have some pit bull in her.  Don’t let this little three and a half year old fool you though, she couldn’t hurt a fly.  “She just wants attention,” Heather tells me as Petunia licks me to death.  Bear Bear is quite large and I know that I have seen this dog in the neighborhood before.  It’s the kind of dog you don’t forget easily.  Now three, Heather has had Bear Bear since he was five months old. 

Heather poses with Bear Bear (left) and Petunia (right) (photo: Reed)

“They are both rescues,” Heather told me as she explains how she found Petunia wandering around in Charlotte, NC.  She rescued Bear Bear from a home where he was being neglected.  “I got the owner’s permission.” 

These two dogs are lucky that they have found a loving home.  According to the ASPCA, five out of ten dogs in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.

The $10 I gave her will be donated to the Humane Society of Charlotte.  

Petunia is really affectionate despite her looks (photo: Reed)

Originally from Ohio, Heather recently moved to the DC area from Charlotte.  She is married and in addition to these two loveable guys, is the proud mother of two cats as well.  She teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) and is working on her doctoral thesis focusing on international policy and development in the Middle East.  “I just got back from a trip to Syria where I was doing some research.”

We were distracted from our conversation several times as Petunia insisted on being the center of attention.  Heather is using a plastic bag full of water that she drops on the ground to get Petunia’s attention when she gets excited.  While I think that Petunia needs some additional training on this, it seemed to be helping.  

I gave both dogs a little pat and headed home.

Note: If you would like to rescue a pet, visit your local Humane Society.
DC Humane Society
Washington Animal Rescue League

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Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene V of Twelfth Night. 

I’m in a Shakespearean mood since on Day 250 I spent the day at the Sidney Harmon  Hall helping out with the Free For All, a free event that the Shakespeare Theatre Company has produced every year for about the last 20 years.  In addition to having two free weeks of Shakespeare’s classic Twelfth Night, on Saturday there was a wonderful all day event for families where children got to explore their creativity and knowledge of theatre and the arts. 

A young boy finds just the right marker to finish his coloring (photo: Reed)

I have dabbled in theatre since my teenage years and had fun helping kids understand the world of Shakespeare as well as helping them with more tangible tasks such as coloring.  While I was helping the children color their tote bags with special markers that write on fabric a very famous individual walked by: William Shakespeare.  I was pretty startled, but the show must go on so I continued with my work.  At one point though I realized that I might be able to steal a few minutes with the great bard and give him my $10.  The rest is history. 

Matt was born in Danville, Pennsylvania but grew up in Tennessee.  He holds a BA in Philosophy from Columbia University and an MFA in Classical Acting from the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at The George Washington University.  He is currently working towards a PhD in Renaissance Theatre History at the University of Maryland.  He is also the Founding Artistic Director of the not for profit Theatre Company, Faction of Fools, which is managed by his wife Sarah.  Around for about a year, Faction of Fools focuses on mostly Commedia dell’Arte productions.  “These are plays that are very funny, very silly and very energetic,” says Matt. 

Mr. Shakespeare offers some artistic direction to the young apprentices (photo: Reed)

The Commedia dell’Arte began in Italy 500 years ago and quickly spread throughout Europe and continues to live in theatres around the world today. Its emergence during the Renaissance marked the beginning of professional theatre in the West; furthermore, the comic characters, themes and devices employed by early Commedia troupes influenced artists from Shakespeare, Moliere and Goldoni to The Blues Brothers, American musical theatre and contemporary sit-coms.

Matt’s interest in the theatre started at an early.  “I started telling stories when I was in the third grade.  My third grade teacher was a professional story-teller – which made her the coolest teacher ever!  I’ve been telling stories ever since.”  He says that his favorite Shakespeare work is the distinctively modern Troilus and Cressida, which focuses on the constant questioning of intrinsic values such as hierarchy, honor and love.  “It’s too everything.  It’s too philosophical, too poetic, too stupid, too funny…it blurs all the lines in terms of what a play can do and does it all on top of each another.” 

On this specific day, several of the children didn’t immediately recognize him as the bard from Stratford-upon-Avon.  “No less than five children thought I was a pirate,” Matt told me grinning.  “That’s ok, even my wife told me this morning, ‘your beard makes you kind of look like a pirate.’” 

I got my picture taken with the great William Shakespeare! (photo: Reed)

I thought I would ask young Shakespeare a few things about his life.  He told me that he was born in 1564 and although his exact birth date is unknown it is commonly believed that he was born on April 23rd since he was baptized on April 26th and 3 days were commonly passed before baptism.  In addition to this, the fact that he died on April 23rd, 1616, many historians hold steadfast to the April 23rd date for both is birth and death. 

Matt was quite busy with the activities of the day and I didn’t want to keep him too long, but I did get him to agree to do a very quick question/answer on video.  Check it out: 

Although Mr. Shakespeare would have preferred to receive pounds and shillings, he readily accepted the ten dollars and promised to donate it to the Faction of Fools Theatre Company. 

DC residents have an opportunity to see Matt this November at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre.  He stars in The Great One-Man Commedia Epic, single-handedly bringing to life 12 characters drawn from historical Commedia dell’ Arte.  It’s a hilarious tale of some common Shakespearean themes that come together to bring an entire town to the brink of tragedy before love prevails, normalcy is restored, and comedy triumphs.  It’s on my calendar, maybe I’ll see you there?  

The Great One-Man Commedia Epic
Wooly Mammoth Theatre
Wed, Nov 3 — Sun, Nov 7
8pm Wed, Thu, Fri, & Sat / 3pm Sat & Sun

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Located about 1,000 miles southeast of Florida, the Dominican Republic is home to about 10 million people, about twice the population of the Greater Washington, DC area.

Yudith sat on a wooden bench in a small park near the Dupont Metro.  This is the very same area where I met Alex on Day 109, John on Day 115 and the forthcoming story of Kathryn on Day 260.  Originally from the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo, the 34-year-old now lives in Maryland with her parents.  She was waiting for her mother and agreed to take my $10 which she says she will give to a friend.  “My situation is not the best, but at least I have a job, she doesn’t have a job.”

“Life here hasn’t turned out to be what I hoped for,” she tells me in Spanish.  “I came here looking for a better job, but in some respects life was better back home.”  Yudith, a single mom, left her three daughters with her aunt five years ago and moved to Boston in an effort to earn enough money to provide for her family.  She later moved to DC where she at least has the stability of having her parents near by.  “My plan is uncertain right now.  I sometimes think of going back to Boston.  Finding a job there was difficult before but here has even been worse,” she says adding that she currently works in a beauty salon.  “I make between $300 and $600 a week here whereas back home I would only make about 4,000 pesos a month,” which was equal to about $135 at the time.  She wires money home every 15 days to help support her children.  What makes things even more complicated is the fact that her visa expired years ago and she is now here illegally.

She says that although things have been difficult here and she misses her daughters and many things about her life in Santo Domingo, there are many great things about the US as well.  “One thing that I really like about the United States is that there is less difference in how people treat others based on their economic status.  Back home there is a much bigger difference in how rich and poor people are treated.”  

Yudith’s mother arrived and I introduced myself to her.  She was friendly and smiled warmly at me.  I said goodbye and continued on my way.

I have lived many places.  In the US I have lived in California, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.  Outside of the US I have lived in Mexico, Spain and Brazil.  I have an idea for what it is like to live far from home; to adapt to new cultures and foreign languages.  One thing that I have always taken with me from the training that I received as a Rotary Youth Exchange student is that things are neither better nor worse in another country, they are just different.

I felt that Yudith understands this and is trying to make the best of it.  It must be really hard though.  She has a much more challenging situation than I had in any of my experiences in other countries.  I wish her lots luck.

By the way, I guess the Year of Giving was featured in a Chinese newspaper.  I have received so many nice emails and comments from readers in China.  Xie xie!  I think that is thank you in Mandarin.

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I am so excited for you to meet today’s recipient.  Her name is Charlotte.  She is 93, born and raised in New Orleans, LA.  I had the pleasure of meeting her as she and her sister enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon view of the harbor in Annapolis, MD.

People always ask me how I select the people that I give to.  I wish I had some really good answer, but it’s much more of a spur of the moment decision than any type of scientific process.  On this day I could have given my $10 to several other people.  I could have given it to a struggling Naval Academy plebe that I had seen that day carry boxes…

At the Naval Academy the plebes were tirelessly carrying boxes all over campus. Some looked near exhaustion. (photo: Reed)

Or these young kids that were patrolling the harbor…

It wasn't until the boat got closer that I realized that they were kids and we were not being attacked. (photo: Reed)

I even tried to give the $10 to Alex Haley…

Me trying to give my $10 to Alex Haley, award-winning author of Roots. (photo: Reed)

Or this guy playing guitar…

A busker playing some music steps from the pier. (photo: Reed)

But in the end I chose the right person…

I hope that I have half of Charlotte's energy, humor and joie de vivre when I am 93! (photo: Reed)

I saw Charlotte sitting on a bench with Jewell, the youngest of her five siblings.  I immediately knew that I wanted to give her my $10 for the day.  She looked so happy and relaxed sitting there watching the sail boats glide by.  You would have never known that she had gotten up early and flown 1,100 miles from New Orleans earlier that day.

I introduced myself and Jewell, who lives nearby, told me that she had heard about the Year of Giving.  The ladies invited me to sit down and we chatted for probably 45 minutes.  The proud mother of ten children, Charlotte shared her entire family with me.  There was the ordained priest, the Jesuit brother, the daughter that lives on a boat, Tommy who moved to Houston many years ago, Charlotte who they call “Suzie”, the son who lived in Pohnpei in the SE Asian Caroline Islands, her 6th, 7th and 8th children who were all boys, and the youngest two who were girls.  Although her first five children didn’t have children the other five combined to have 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.  

Jewell, Reed, Charlotte (photo: M. Legrain)

Charlotte graduated high school at 16 and went to Normal school to become a teacher and began teaching in the New Orleans public school system in the mid thirties at the age of 18.  But it was one summer that she was studying at Loyola that she met the man who ended up being her husband.  “My friend Charlie introduced me to him.  He lived over on Bank Street.”  She told me how things were different back then and they used to go out more in groups as friends rather than couples.  “I had decided that I was going to start dating someone else, but then my husband asked me out for every Saturday night for the next year!”  That’s a pretty good strategy.  Unfortunately he died in 1978 after 40 years of marriage.

The sun began to lower in the sky slightly and I could feel my neck starting to get burned.  Charlotte seemed comfortable though.  She came prepared with a beautiful scarf that not only protected her skin from the sun but also matched her earrings and necklace.  The hot sun might have had a slight influence on her decision to get some ice cream with the $10.

Travel seemed to be something that she really enjoyed.  “I’ve been to France, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Belize, Thailand, Hong Kong – come to think of it I left a bathing suit in Hong Kong,” she said making us all laugh.  She also made several trips to the Pacific to visit her son who lived in the Caroline Islands.  He had gone there initially as part of a mission and ended up running an agriculture school. 

Mmmmm...Central Grocery's Muffuletta

No matter where she has traveled, she always ends up back in New Orleans.  “You can get just about the best food in the world in Nawlins,” according to Charlotte.  I have to admit, some of my favorite meals have been there.  From the turtle soup at Commander’s Palace to fried green tomatoes from Jacques-Imo’s Café to the world’s best muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery, it’s a food lover’s paradise.  By the way, how do you spell muffuletta…I have seen it this way and also muffulatta and muffalata…but it doesn’t seem consistent.  Anyway, even the coffee at Café du Monde is pretty extraordinary – or maybe it’s the side order of beignets that makes the coffee so delicious!  “Maspero’s Café also makes a good muffuletta sandwich,” according to Charlotte.  I will have to add that place to my list.

About this time Charlotte looked at me and said, “You know the more I think about this I think I have heard about what you are doing on the news in New Orleans.”  There was a short pause and she thought for a second, “But I remember thinking when I heard about it, ‘that’s never gonna happen to me!’” 

We laughed a lot. From L-R, Charlotte, Jewell and Jewell's husband. (photo: Reed)

Jewell’s husband arrived and took a seat next to his wife.  “I made ten dollars while you were gone,” Charlotte quipped. 

I had so many other questions in my head for Charlotte.  She was such a wonderful woman, but they needed to get going.  She doesn’t use email so she game me her home address.  I plan to send her a letter with this blog posting printed out.  I told her that I was going to look her up the next time I was in New Orleans.  She smiled and said that that would be nice.  She’s avid bridge player and I’m looking forward to having her as my bridge partner. 

The three turned their backs to the sail boats and the glimmering water and Charlotte steadied herself behind her walker.  I watched them fade toward the center of picturesque Annapolis. 

What amazing people I meet!

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Five Guys cheeseburger and fries

 

Who doesn’t like a good burger?  Ok, maybe a vegetarian, but probably even they like a good veggie burger, right?  I live dangerously close to a Five Guys burger joint.  I have to exercise incredible restraint in order to not end up there too often.  Well, you might find yourself wanting a burger by the end of this post. 

Late in the evening of day 247, I spotted a guy crossing Connecticut Avenue carrying what looked like high chairs that restaurants have for small children.  I hurried across the street to catch up with the man who was now loading them into a vehicle.  It was close to midnight and I was interested in what someone does with restaurant high chairs in the middle of the night. 

Julio loads some high chairs that need fixed into his car. (photo: Reed)

 

I called out to the man and he turned to face me.  Julio is a manager for the Five Guys on Connecticut Avenue in the Dupont area.  He explains to me that he noticed that the high chairs needed to be repaired so he was taking them home to fix them. I wasn’t surprised that the 34-year-old was looking out for kids when I learned that he was the father of four daughters and one son.  The oldest is 16 and the youngest is ten months! 

Before joining the fast growing burger chain, Julio was doing work on floors in VA.  Before that he said he was living in Brooklyn, NY.  I asked some more questions about what he was doing in NY and he looked at me very squarely and told me that he spent 14 years in New York State prison.  I asked him what he was convicted of and he just said “violence.”  Now you might think that this would make me a little nervous, not at all.  He is the nicest guy.  “I’ve learned a lot about life,” he says.  “I got spiritual.”  He was released four years ago and moved his family away from his old barrio to the DC area to start over. 

Now here is the part I started to question.  How was his wife having these kids while he was serving his sentence…  He told me that he had kids that were 16, 11, 8, 2 and 10 months.  How was he having kids while he was in prison?  The answer: conjugal visits.  Yep!  I actually did a little research on this and according to Wikipedia conjugal visit privileges have been removed from all federal prisons and all but six state systems: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington.  I am not condoning criminal behavior, but if you are going to commit a crime I recommend one of those states.  I’m just saying. 

All that seems left of his past are some tattoos that decorate his arms.  “I was young,” he says referring to the fact that he was incarcerated at the age of 16.  He says that his focus now is on work and spending time with his wife and five children.  I asked him where he would like to be in 10 years and he said he hoped to own a couple of Five Guys franchises and possibly get into real estate.  He could use some help getting there though.  “I could use some financial planning advice,” he told me.  He wants to make sure that he manages his finances in such a way that he is able to realize his goals.  If any good financial planners out there are willing to do some pro-bono work, let me know and I can connect you with Julio.  Speaking of money…Julio said my $10 would get spent on gas.  He drives back and forth to Maryland every day for work. 

Julio has been with Five Guys for two years (photo: Reed)

 

So now the fun part.  Did you think I was going to end this without giving your stomach something to think about?  Well, I couldn’t resist asking Julio what his favorite burger was.  He said that was easy.  “Cheeseburger, all the sauces – ketchup, A-1, Bar-B-Q and hot sauce – pickles, onions and extra cheese.”  And with that he says you gotta order the Cajun fries.  Or maybe a little bit of both the Five Guys style and Cajun fries. 

Now as I explained on Day 238 to Paul, Five Guys is awesome (and they are even more awesome for investing in a good guy like Julio), but my favorite burger is from Ray’s Hellburger in Rosslyn, VA.  He said he hadn’t heard of Ray’s so some day I am going to take Julio over there with me and get him a burger.  Heck, maybe Paul will come with us too!

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Knox gets his first customer of the day (photo: Reed)

Yesterday was a great day.  I ran into my very first recipient for the first time since we met on December 15, 2009.  I embarked on this journey 259 days ago when I placed $10 in the hands of a man named Knox who was shinning shoes on a bitter cold afternoon on the corner of 21st and P Streets.  I walked by him yesterday and I wasn’t sure if it was him, so I asked.  “Yeah that’s me,” he said.  He remembered meeting me too.  We talked and I got his phone number so that I can invite him to the year-end party.  “I’m gonna be there,” he assured me.  He also offered me a free shoe shine which I politely declined.   It made my day to see Knox again!  Here is an updated picture of him.

Knox, the Year of Giving's first recipient! (photo: Reed)

I am about two weeks behind writing up the blogs…so today’s recipient is from Day 246.  I was in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC when I realized I was close to the restaurant Social.  You might remember I visited this place on Day 84.  It’s a cool place that is hard to categorize.  I called it a restaurant, but it is rather chameleon like.  It is a restaurant, bar, lounge, living room…it is what you are looking for.  I ended up talking to some people sitting outside on their patio.  I offered a woman there the $10 but she refused.  Then a guy at the table suggested that I give the $10 to the next person that walked by.  Well, I was thinking that it might be difficult to get someone to stop and talk to me since it was almost midnight.

About 100 yards away we spotted a guy walking and when he got close I asked him to accept my $10, but he declined.  I sat back down and enjoyed one of the tasty beers they have at Social.  About five minutes later we spotted someone else approaching the patio.  One of the guys at my table said, “Oh my gosh, you may want to skip this guy,” because the man who was walking toward us had fluorescent blue hair, eyebrows and goatee.  When I saw him, I wasn’t discouraged, in fact, I knew that he was the one.

Freakshow isn't so freaky, he's actually a really nice guy (photo: Reed)

Somehow I wasn’t surprised when the 45-year-old Altoona, PA native told me, “They call me Freakshow.  I’m a DJ.”  He’s been mixing high energy music for several years here in DC creating a music genre that he calls “funky junk.”

I had to ask him about his color choice for his hair.  “It’s always changing; from leopard prints to zebra stripes, to an American flag mohawk.” (I’m back to using the word mohawk on my blog!)  He channels his creativity in many other ways too.

Freakshow is a flower designer and a re-creation artist; someone who takes “something that is considered to have outlived its useful purpose and give it one last chance at being worthwhile.”

He told me about one of his artworks that got a considerable amount of attention from his neighbors.  He decided to reuse his downspouts in a new and creative way.  Check out these photos from the Prince of Petworth’s website.

Freakshow's downspout art (photo: Reed)

"Creativity takes courage" -Henri Matisse (photo: Reed)

Like or dislike his creation, it does get a reaction.  It generated 90+ comments on the August 9th Prince of Petworth blog post.  Freakshow himself even chimed in to explain himself.  I personally don’t care much for the result of his new arrangement of the downspouts, but I get what he was doing and what I like even more about it was what he said about how his experiment triggered social interaction within his community.  “I in the past two weeks have had the opportunity to meet more of my neighbors than in the two years I have lived at this residence. I have made friend and foe but I have lived an experience that allowed me to see and grow, to realize how people can be so utterly judgmental of another person’s vision. I never claimed beauty or functionality I only took a moment to look at life from a different perspective and my god it was a journey.”

"It's always changing." Freakshow commenting on his hairstyle (photo: Reed)

By the way, Freakshow told me the whole creation was held in place by three screws and some duct tape.  I may be wrong, but I believe that he has since removed the downspout.  He wrote in the blog post comment that he envisioned replacing it with a brick patio, flower-cart and bench that hopefully won’t offend his neighbors.

So I bet you are wondering what this guy did with my ten bucks right?  More duct tape perhaps?  Nope, he joins previous recipients Matt and Isaac in using my $10 to purchase cigarettes.

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