I gave my $10 away on Michigan Ave between Randolph and Lake (photo: Reed)
So today I broke a 293 day streak. It was Monday, October 4th, 2010 and I failed to give away my $10. Well, sort of. I gave it away a few minutes after midnight.
As you might remember I got to Chicago on Day 293. On Day 294 I was in meetings all day and then went to a work related dinner. By the time dinner was over and I said goodbye to my colleague, it was almost midnight. I had just a few minutes to find someone. I headed east on Washington Street toward Millenium Park. I was about five blocks away so I hustled down there. On the way I saw a woman walking by herself. I tried to give my $10 her but she refused. It’s particularly difficult to give to women by themselves during the middle of the night.
I got to Michigan Avenue and decided to walk north. The cold wind off the lake made it feel like it was in the 30s. I later saw that the low that night was 45, so I probably wasn’t far off. I was glad I had brought a light jacket along on my trip. I checked my watch and saw that it was now about 12:15am. Dammit, I failed to give it away before midnight. I slowed down now and took my time. The streets were a far contrast to the bustling foot and car traffic that filled them during the work day. Taxi cab headlights lit up the shadowy office complexes that surrounded me.
Alexander captures one of Phaze's pieces (photo: Reed)
Between Randolph and Lake I saw two guys sitting on empty milk crates playing chess. I slowly approached them. They ignored me…talking trash trying to distract the other’s next move.
Alexander finally noticed me and I said hello. I wasn’t sure what to think. All of a sudden I started realizing that it was probably not a good idea to just be venturing out in a city that I am not familiar with after midnight. Although I go to plenty of unsafe areas of DC, I usually know where I am, have someone with me, and know exactly what I am going to do if I get into trouble. Here I found myself not really knowing where I was and not knowing what to expect with these two guys.
Behind them were several cans of 16 ounce Steel Reserve 211 beer, some plastic grocery bags and a bicycle with a hooded sweatshirt draped over it.
Alexander told me that he was released from prison on August 18th. “I’ve been in and out of prisons and correctional facilities since I was 13,” the 55-year-old told me. Although he seemed harmless, there was something a little unnerving about reaching into my pocket and taking out my wallet in front of a life long criminal…but I did it anyway. I gave each guy $5.00.
I started to take some notes and they both got very suspicious. I mentioned I wanted to take some photographs too and they became even more skeptical. “You are a cop, man.” Phaze told me. He was convinced that I was with the police. I showed them my DC driver’s license, but that didn’t help, now they thought I was with a federal agency. You’ll love this though. Alexander chimed in, “No, no, no. He ain’t no cop. You know what he looks like. He’s a sorry ass public defender, that’s what he is. And I should know, I’ve known a few of them.” I loved that.
They stopped talking with me and redirected their attention to the match at hand.
Alexander showing me his picture and poetry in StreetWise. (photo: Reed)
“You ought to buy one of his magazines,” Phaze, the 29-year-old chess challenger said to me breaking the silence. Alexander reached over into one of the plastic bags and pulled out a copy of StreetWise, a street magazine similar to the Street Sense newspaper we have in DC. These papers/magazines are designed to give employment opportunities to the homeless and poverty-stricken as well as provide valuable insight into the challenges they and others in their situation face today. I am a big fan of Street Sense so when I saw that he was a vendor for StreetWise, I had to buy a magazine. “They’re two dollars,” Alexander said.
While I was searching for a few bucks Phaze shouted over for me to look at the last page. “Check out whose picture is in there next to their poetry,” he told me. It turned out to be a photograph of Alexander next to three poems that he had written. When I get caught up with my blog posts you will meet a Street Sense vendor named David on Day 304 who is a former convicted felon who also took up writing and poetry while in prison.
Phaze before he started to spit. (photo: Reed)
In my wallet I had two $5 bills and a ten. I gave him five knowing that there would be no change. He tucked the money away and went back to the game. Phaze knew his moves were numbered. “He is really good,” Phaze said about Alexander’s chess ability. “He usually beats me.”
I am not really sure what Phaze does. His passion is spitting or spoken word poetry. It’s a cocktail of poetry, hip-hop and rap all mixed together. After being defeated at chess, he asks me to buy one of his CDs. He keeps trying to get me to buy the CD for $5. In an effort to convince me to buy it, he gives me a sample of it. On this video you can see Phaze, whose full name according to him is Phaze Da King, spitting. At the end he gets a little bothered by my videotaping and hits the camera out of my hand. It’s all on video. Check it out!
I was ok and so was my camera. After getting him to settle down some, I gave him $5 for his CD. It doesn’t play in my CD player so I need to take it to a computer that has a CD tray so that I can listen to it.
Spitting was not Phaze's only means of expression. (photo: Reed)
So what do you think these two guys told me that they were going to do with their respective five dollars? Well, Alexander told me that he was probably going to use it to buy some more magazines to sell. “Or I might use it to buy me some food before that…or a toupee!” he said letting out a deep laugh. I looked over at Phaze and asked the same question. “I’m gonna hold on to it and give it to my son who is supposed to be born on January 1, 2011,” he said.
It was now about 1:00am. I was tired and had to get up early in the morning for more meetings. But my night was not nearly over. As I was leaving I met another guy named Michael who met Alexander while they were in prison. As it was now after midnight, I decided to make him the recipient of Day 295 and will share his incredible story with you tomorrow!
Here is a short video of Alexander.
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