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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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