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Archive for November, 2010

Good morning!  Today has got to be a better day than yesterday…I just wish I had a few more hours in the day.

I hope to send out the invites via email today for the Year-End Celebration…still waiting on the venue to send over the agreement.  At the event we will have a small auction of a couple of items to raise money for some awesome charities.  If you know of something that would make a really cool auction item, something that could generate some interesting bidding, and you have a way to get it, please let me know.  I am also seeking items to give away to the attendees when they leave.  You know in one of those “thanks for coming” bags.  If you have a contact that could get something interesting for us to give away, please let me know ASAP.  It could be t-shirts, could be books, could be Flip video cameras….whatever!  We would need about 250 units.

Also, I heard some people were sending emails to the Ellen show to suggest that she include the Year of Giving in her 12 Days of Giving.  If you want to send Ellen a suggestion…click here to submit your message!  I even broke down last week and emailed her and asked for some help making the Year-End Celebration happen.  No response yet.  Not even the standard, “Thanks for your email.  We get lots of mail so …. “

Molly holding the Sherman Alexie novel on the Metro. (photo: Reed)

Well today’s recipient threw me for a loop with what she did with the $10!  I met Molly 100 feet below the bustling city of Washington in our Metro system.  I was at the Tenlytown station waiting to board a Red Line train to take me back to Dupont Circle.  Molly looked like she was waiting for the same train so I thought I would ask her to be my recipient.  

Molly, who just turned 27 a week ago Saturday, is a researcher at an environmental institute here in DC.  She’s originally from Seattle which is maybe why she’s reading Native American author Sherman Alexie’s 1998 novel Indian Killer – it takes place there.

Within a minute the trained arrived and we boarded the subway car.  “I’m heading over to Capitol Hill,” she tells me as the doors close.  I looked at my watch; it was 10:20pm.  I had about eight minutes until my stop.  I hastily explained the project hoping to find out more about her, but frankly I didn’t learn much because there just wasn’t time.

She told me she was living on a tight budget so I thought the $10 would come in handy for her.  “I’m applying to law school,” Molly said suggesting that maybe she would use the money to help pay the application fees.  “Or who knows, maybe I will buy some drinks on my birthday?”  Ah, yes…I almost forgot, she was going to NYC to celebrate her birthday.  Well, ten bucks wouldn’t have gotten her very much there.  Then again law school application fees are hundreds of dollars probably, so really not much help on either front.

The metro screeched into Dupont and I nearly lost my balance as I furiously crammed notes down in my little Moleskine book.  I said good-bye and headed home. End of story, right?  Wrong.

So a few days later I got an email from Molly.  Here’s part of it:

…[it] was a rather rushed and, on my part, flustered conversation about what I would do with the money. Well, since then I’ve been thinking about that interaction a lot. And I’ve been thinking about the ten dollars a lot, too. For some reason, I can’t seem to spend it. And I can’t seem to stop obsessing about the best way to use it.  In fact, it’s starting to drive me a little crazy. So, if you don’t mind, I think I would like to donate it back to your project. Would that be possible?”

I think it is great that this experience has caused her to stop and think about it.  To think about different ways it could be used.  Certainly I didn’t want to stress her out, but she really pondered what to do with it.  Anyway, we are meeting Thursday and she is going to donate the money back to the Year of Giving and I am going to use it to help me pay for the Year-End Celebration.

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Day 331 – Freddy H.

I hope to announce the venue for the Year-End Celebration tomorrow!  It will be Tuesday, December 14th from 6:30-9:00pm here in DC.  If you will be coming and you use Facebook, you can RSVP here.  If you live thousands of miles away or are allergic to kindness and wont be able to go but still want to be a part of it, there is a chance I will have a live feed on Facebook….still working that out.  I will also be raising money for a few awesome charities during the event.  If you wont be able to attend but would like to contribute – I don’t know….$10 perhaps – you can click on the link at the top right of this page that says DONATE.

Freddy has been driving a cab in DC since I was three years old!

Today I present to you Freddy – a DC native who has been driving a cab since 1977.  A good cab driver can tell you as much about people and character as they can about how to get to the airport during rush hour and avoid all the traffic.  I love to talk to cabbies everywhere I go, especially foreign countries – as long as we both can find a language we share.  The worst was a Moscow taxi driver who spoke to me in Russian, which I made painfully clear I didn’t understand, and proceeded to speak to me for 30 minutes.  I just said “da” and “spasiba” a lot.

I flagged Freddy down over in Northeast, DC and headed over near Georgetown in Northwest.  We began talking and I enjoyed the banter and thought I would give him my $10 for the day.  He accepted it but said he had no idea what he was going to do with it yet.  I am going to try to follow up with him and see if he decided yet.

In the last 33 years he has seen everything and unfortunately I mean everything.  “In 1989,” he began to tell me, “I was shot four times and left to die.”  He said he picked up two passengers who asked to be taken to Takoma.  When he got close they pretended to not know exactly where they needed to go and finally asked him to pull over near a pay phone where they got out and conversed a little between themselves.  This is the point at which he should have left.

They got back in Freddy’s cab and asked to be taken over to Piney Branch.  On the way over one of them put a hand gun to his neck and demanded his money.  He handed it over and got out of the cab and was shot four times.  Once in the side, once in his hand, once in his thigh and once in his butt.  “The one that went in my butt is still there…they didn’t take that one out.” 

Fortunately he survived the horrific ordeal and continues to drive his cab.  “Most people are alright,” he optimistically said as I handed him the fare.  “It’s just a few of them who ruin it for the rest of us.”

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In addition to my work with World Wildlife Fund, I am the Executive Director of the Urban Philharmonic Society, a nonprofit orchestra that plays in diverse neighborhoods in the DC area.  The organization was started by Maestro Darrold Hunt back in 1970.  I actually met Maestro Hunt through the Year of Giving and gave him my $10 on Day 189.

Well he and I were heading up to see the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform a unique event focused on the complex Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.  It was half orchestral half theatrical.  Basically they played some of the highlights of Mahler but also had a small group of actors that tried to reenact an encounter that the composer had Dr. Sigmund Freud. 

It was an interesting performance.  The orchestra sounded very good, the acting portion was interested but I would have rather had more of the music.  Maestra Marin Alsop seemed a little off, but that was explained during a talk back session after the performance where she stated that she had been battling a severe cold all week. 

Margarita and Jack at Meyerhoff Hall

After the show, I ran into Margarita and Jack in the lobby area.  “We enjoyed the show very much,” they told me.  She said that she was more of a theatre-goer than a symphony-goer, but they thought they would check out this unique hybrid.  Jack on the other hand said he leaned more toward music.  “I played clarinet as a kid and had a drum set,” he told me. 

This performance seemed to have a special significance for Margarita.  “My father loved Mahler…and Freud for that matter,” she said. 

The couple seemed well-traveled and in fact I think they are currently in Colombia, where Margarita was born.  Jack grew up the son of a Foreign Service diplomat and lived in Brazil and Dominican Republic.  We got talking about different places we’d been and figured out that we were both in Brazil’s northeast city of Salvador at the exact same time in 2003 for Carnaval!  Small world.  I had been living in Brazil for just three months and decided to check out the celebration in Salvador.  Margarita and Jack were on their honeymoon!

“I think we’ll donate the money,” Margarita said looking for confirmation from Jack.  He nodded his head and shrugged his shoulders a little in agreement.  I tried to email them and see what exactly happened to it in the end, but I am almost positive they are in Colombia still and may not hear for them for a few days.  Stay tuned for an update!

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Of the 12,000 homeless in Washington, DC, Bill stands out.  Maybe it’s his charismatic demeanor the empathic tone of his voice.  Whatever it may be, I will remember my encounter with Bill.

Bill getting ready for bed on K Street.

I was walking north on 21st Street late at night.  I stopped and waited for the green walk sign to illuminate and crossed K Street.  It was void of all of the lobbyists and corporate types that fill the sidewalks during the day.  Despite the “Don’t Walk” sign I crossed the empty street.  As I approached the other side I saw a man on the northwest corner bundled in a sleeping bag in front of the glass doors of a bank.  The area was well-lit and I walked over to him.

Homeless on the streets of our nation’s capital for over five years, Bill ended up on the streets after the death of his father and subsequent loss of employment.  

Chills sprung up around my neck as he told me that he was born in Harrisburg Hospital in Pennsylvania.  Not only is it very close to where I grew up but it is the very same hospital where my mother died four years ago. 

We talked a little bit about the Central Pennsylvania area.  He went to York Catholic High School.  I went to Mechanicsburg High School.  And although we were separated by about 20 years I felt some kind of connection with Bill.

He lucidly spoke to me about being homeless.  “You have to be,” he began to say as he tugged at his dark hooded sweatshirt, “somewhat detached from reality to be homeless.”  He describes the mental state that one gets into as a sort of shock.  It paralyzes some individuals and they simply are unable to break out of the cycle.  “You could write a good book about being homeless though,” he perked up and said.  “You could call it Squirrels on Food Stamps.  I mean we sit in parks all day like the squirrels.”  

Despite the obvious dark side of being alone and homeless in America, Bill tells me of a side many people don’t know about.  “It’s dangerous out here for those of us who are homeless.  Sometimes you end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Bill was referring to an incident a few years earlier where at that very spot where he was sitting he was attacked by someone while he was sleeping.  He woke up to bone crushing blows to his skull.  “Thankfully I am just a few hundred yards from GW Hospital.  The doctor there told me I was 15 minutes away from dying.”  He is still noticeably bothered about the incident.  His voice silenced and we both just looked at each another.  “You can still see some of the blood stains over there,” he said pointing to a grape jam colored spot just feet away from where he was going to rest his head that night.

I found out we have something else in common other than being from Central Pennsylvania.  Bill used to live around the corner from my apartment in DC.  “That area has changed a lot since I lived there.”  He lived there from 1984-1995 and said that his rent started at $350 and ended at $450 per month.  Well, I can tell you that it has skyrocketed since those days.  “I lived across from Nora’s,” he said referring to a high-end restaurant noted for being the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.  Some of you might remember that I took my father there for dinner on his 70th birthday on Day 306.  

“In fact I used to steal fresh herbs from their garden,” Bill said chuckling a little.

He was going to use my $10 to buy himself breakfast the next morning.  “I usually go over to Miriam’s Kitchen, but I get so tired of that.  I’m going to go to the cafeteria at GW and get some sausage and biscuits.”

Before I left I told him about the Lend a Hand project.  “You know what I would love,” Bill started to say enthusiastically, “an electric blanket.”  Now you might wonder how a homeless guy is going to use an electric blanket, but Bill is pretty smart.  He sleeps right next to an electrical outlet.  So if you want to make a 55-year-old man’s day, send me an electric blanket and I will deliver it to Bill.

UPDATE: 11/28/2010

This is a first!  Less than 12 hours from when I posted this someone already sent me a brand new electric blanket for Bill.   Thank you Michelle!!!  When I receive it I will take it to him and try to post a picture or video, although he was not comfortable with me taking his picture when I met him….so we will have to see.  Thanks again!  You have been such a great supporter of the Year of Giving!

UPDATE: 12/5/2010

 

I delivered the electric blanket that Michelle from NC sent for Bill.  He was so thankful and it is really cold tonight so I am sure it will get good use.  Can you believe that he said he wanted to write a little note to the bank to ask permission to use their electricity?  Unbelievable.   He said that he could also use some size 8.5 shoes or boots with winter coming.

 



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Today’s recipients were very memorable.  After reading this I think that you will agree.

Supporters of the Pittsburgh Steelers know that in almost every city across the United States, and even in some overseas cities, there is a “Steeler bar.”  One of these such locations is the Pour House, a no frills multi-level pub near Capitol Hill.  My friend Kimon, a former Pittsburgh resident, and I headed over there to watch the Steelers take on the Bengals on Monday Night Football. 

We got there about 30 minutes prior to kick-off, but there were virtually no seats left.  We headed down a well-traveled staircase into a basement bar that took me back to my college years.  It was also full, however, there was a small nook that was open at the far end of the space.  It was as if it was contaminated with something awful as no one was sitting there.  Our newly claimed land was rather subdued compared to the rest of the joint which was standing room only, not to mention that nearly everyone had on a Steeler jersey, except us. 

I am not sure what they are signing, it is close to the sign for "I love you." Hopefully it doesn't mean "Go away!" :)

I decided to take a walk around the bar before halftime.  I made my way back up the old wooden staircase and plowed my way through the crowd like a running back determined to get a first down.  With less than two minutes left in the half, the Steelers were threatening.  They scored right before halftime and the crowd went into a frenzy.  The deafening cries from jubilant fans were soothing to my soul and detrimental to my ears.

During all of this madness I saw a couple that looked to be completely unaffected by the chaos.  Only after I made my way around some stools and got closer to them did I see that they were speaking in sign language. 

A million things, ok probably not a million, but a lot, were going through my head at this point.  How the hell am I going to explain to them what the Year of Giving is about?  Will they be able to read my lips?  Can they speak back to me?  Will this be a disaster?

I didn’t really know of any other way than to just go for it.  I interrupted them and told them my name.  Bryan very quickly responded to me that they were deaf.  “Can you read lips,” I asked.  He nodded yes.   I think he might have been able to hear a little bit as he was using a hearing device.

I tried to explain to them what I was doing.  Despite me being nervous approaching them, it was quite a funny scene.  I spoke mostly through Bryan since he was able to speak back to me.  So I would speak to him and he would sign what I said to his girlfriend Allison.  I can only imagine what Bryan was really signing…it probably went something like this.

Me: Hi, my name is Reed and I would like to give you $10.  It’s part of a year-long commitment to giving that I have made.

Bryan signing to Allison: This guy is either really drunk or completely crazy.  He says that he wants to give us $10.

Well you can imagine how the rest goes.

The irony of it all too is that I could barely hear what Bryan was telling me.  The bar was still noisy after the Steeler touchdown.  But to them, not being able to hear the other person was second nature…for me it was a struggle.

We managed though.  I learned that they had been dating for the past three years and were planning on getting married.  Bryan said something to me and pointed to Allison but I didn’t hear.  I looked at Allison and she made a motion with her hand close to her tummy that even I knew meant that she was pregnant.  I congratulated them and asked if they knew the sex yet.  They both shook their head no.  “Surprise,” Bryan said.  

They met at Gallaudet University.  According to the school’s website, Gallaudet is the only university in the world that offers all programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.  It was founded in 1864 by an Act of Congress and their charted was signed by none other than President Abraham Lincoln.  They currently have just shy of 2,000 students enrolled.

I understood that Allison was originally from Puerto Rico.  As a Spanish speaker,   I wondered if she could read lips in both English and Spanish.  She was born deaf, whereas Bryan lost his hearing at age two he explained.  I am not sure how he lost his hearing.  I sent him a follow-up email thanking them for taking time to speak with me and asking a few clarifying questions, but it appears that I might have either taken down the email address incorrectly or they gave me a fake address – that happens fairly often.

Here is a little video from that night.  You will see Pittsburgh scoring a touchdown, the bar celebrating and then a special message in sign language from Bryan and Allison to you!

I think what they said is that they will put the $10 toward something for the baby.  “It’s expensive,” Bryan told me referring to having a child.

This was a very special experience for me.  I was really nervous approaching them.  I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable, but I think they were.  I wish we would have met some place else, where it was quiet (although again, that probably would have only benefited me) and we could have taken our time to get to know one another.  Maybe some other time…it’s a small world, you never know.

The Steelers went on to triumph over the Bengals 27-21.  For those of you who only found this post because you are obsessed Steeler fans and you read everything that has something to do with Steeler Nation, you already knew that!

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Day 328 – Elizabeth F.

Are you still stuffed?  Did you eat too much turkey and stuffing yesterday?  Well prop yourself up on your sofa and check out what happened with my $10 on Day 326.  I will keep it short to help you ward away the sleep inducing effects of all the tryptophan that is now in your body.

Elizabeth followed up via email, "You ended up being a great end to a day that didn't start off so well. Thank you."

Hockey season is once again upon us and I have gotten to go to a few games.  My brother Ryan has season tickets to the Capitals and is very generous in inviting me to go with him.  It was a Sunday and we met up at my apartment in Dupont.  We hopped on the 42 bus and headed down toward the arena.  I thought I would try to find someone on the bus that would accept my $10 and found Elizabeth sitting in front of us.

A Bilingual Benefits Coordinator at a local health clinic, Elizabeth was on her way to see The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, the third in the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson.  I haven’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies.  In fact I didn’t even know that this one was part of the whole Girl with the Dragon Tattoo thing.  

Anyway I gave her the $10 and got my notebook out to ask her some questions.  “I’m not very interesting,” she told me.  I hear that a lot, but just like with Elizabeth I usually uncover plenty of interesting sides of their lives. 

It turns out Elizabeth’s “uninteresting” life includes a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Ecuador.  That sounds like a pretty amazing experience.  My sister-in-law was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kiribati, an island nation located along the equator in the Pacific Ocean.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Peace Corps program however almost everyone raves about the people they meet and overall life experience gained.  

photo: Reed

The bus groaned a little as we motored down Connecticut Avenue.  We had an easy conversation during the 25 blocks it took to get to our stop.  Elizabeth had a lot of questions for me too.  She said she was going to put the money in her wallet and see what happened to it.  I later found out in an email from her that she was going to use it to go to get some drinks at the Bottom Line on Friday when they feature $1 Miller Lites from 4-7pm.  That’s pretty cheap…especially for DC!  But it must have been burning a hole in her pocket because it only made it to Tuesday where it went toward happy hour.

As for the hockey game, the Caps edged out the Flyers in overtime.  The Capitals have a pretty awesome record when I am in attendance!

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

There is SO much to be thankful for today.  Here’s just a few things…

the last 36 years 327 days ■ my amazing family ■ loyal friends ■ love that I feel ■ my job ■ my home ■ my sight ■ my hearing ■ my sense of taste ■ my sense of touch ■ my sense of smell  ■  asymptotes  ■   the ability to run  ■ our differences ■ our similarities ■ sleep ■ spell check ■ rain ■ nature ■ sun, moon and the stars ■ mornings ■  evenings in San Gimignano ■  laughter ■ children ■ gardens  ■  trust  ■   history  ■ spices  ■  caipirinhas  ■   tacos  ■   hugs  ■   music  ■   the 33 Chilean miners  ■   language  ■   my mother’s recipes – especially stuffing …

I could go on…but I if I did, we would never get to know about Meghan…and her friend John!

She looks sweet and innocent, but Meghan was ready to club me with her 1/2 steel bike lock had I been an attacker.

So on a cool evening I wandered over to Dupont Circle to see who I would find.  I immediately saw Meghan sitting next to a bicycle on the east side of the circle but I decided to make a lap around the fountain to see if I found someone who caught my attention.  Nope.  It was Meghan.

The 28-year-old from Richmond has been in DC for almost six years.  She has a government job which she says that she doesn’t enjoy very much.  “I’m waiting for a friend and where going to go for dinner,” she told me when I asked what brought her to the circle that night. She said she would probably put the ten dollars toward the evening.

As we were talking her friend John showed up.  It’s cool how they met.  They both worked for years for the same agency on the same floor but didn’t know each other.  Then on a trip to Spain Meghan found herself in a cozy little tapas joint in Sevilla.  John, who also happened to be in Sevilla on vacation, happened to come over and talk to her and it turned out they worked together!  Now they are great friends.

“She’s one of the funniest people I know,” John told me.

Meghan, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood, changed her mind and decided to give John half of her ten dollars…who knows, maybe that compliment literally paid off!  “He’s great,” she told me.  So then something happened that had never happened so far this year.  John said he wanted to give me his five dollars!  What could I do but accept it.  I’ve put that five dollars toward covering my costs for the Year-End celebration on  December 14th!

“I saw you walk around the fountain twice and then come over toward me,” Meghan began saying, “I was ready to hurt you with my ½ inch steel bike lock!”  Phew…good thing I made a good impression!

Me, Meghan and John. Meghan holding her $5, me holding the $5 that Meghan gave to John and he passed on to me!

Here is a quick story to make you feel good on Thanksgiving!  John told me that he was at the American Museum of Natural History New York City this summer when he found $70 on the ground.  “I turned it in to the information desk figuring someone had dropped it,” he explained.  He gave them his information as well and would you believe four months later they called John and told him that since nobody had claimed it that they were going to send it to him.  Wow…can you believe it?  It gets better.  “I told them to keep it and consider it a donation,” John said humbly.  I love it!

We’re getting ready to sit down for dinner now.  I was in charge of making two stuffings…one a regular bread stuffing full of celery, sausage and sage that my mother used to make…it’s my favorite.  The other is a cornbread stuffing that my grandmother (Dad’s mom) used to make.  I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, but do take a moment to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for.

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I was attending a training seminar at the Hilton Hotel near the King Street Metro in Alexandria.  I had some roof leaks the night before during a heavy downpour and I ended up getting no sleep.  I arrived right at the time it was starting.  Hmmm…do I sit at the front and hope that helps motivate me to stay awake, or do I try to hide in the back, I thought.  I chose the front, although that ended up being a poor choice because I ended up surrendering at points to the inner need to sleep.  

I felt terrible…I was really interested in the subject matter but I just could not fight the narcoleptic impulses that pulled my eyelids downward.

Tiffany sent me this photo of herself.

The person sitting next to me at the conference was Tiffany.  She works as the Director of Philanthropy at a VA based nonprofit.  Originally from the DC area, Tiffany moved to Alabama for three years but returned recently.  “My parents and two brothers live here, so it’s nice to be back in the area,” she told me.

We chatted at the breaks.  She even offered to nudge me if I slipped into a slumber.  At the end of the day I asked her to take my $10.  She did and the fun began.  We talked about a lot of things; however, the thing that I could not get past was her unique obsession with hedgehogs.  Yep, hedgehogs.  Now, I think people often interchange hedgehogs and porcupines, but I’m going to assume that her infatuation is in fact with the hedgehog (Erinaceinae).

She has a hedgehog collection which started on a missionary trip she took with her father to Romania.  “This guy had 200 figurines and he gave me one,” Tiffany recounted.  She’s got them from about 20 countries although she was quick to point out that, “There not on display!”

It gets better though.  She later bought a live hedgehog in North Carolina and named him Darcy after the Lost character.  Well, this gets fuzzy (no pun intended) here but she transported Darcy to Virginia which may or may not have been legal.  I did a little research and found that there are about a half-dozen states that do not allow hedgehogs, however, I didn’t find anything related to Virginia or North Carolina that prohibits them.  THEN she decides she has to sell little Darcy and sold him on craigslist!  Well, before you go commenting that you can’t sell animals on craigslist, there is a little loophole.  She actually didn’t sell Darcy, she sold the cage and accessories and gave Darcy away to a veterinarian student.  I hope they didn’t use Darcy for lab work.  Tiffany had thought of this as well.  “There was one stipulation, no dissecting,” she told me.  

Hedgehogs apparently make good pets.  “You don’t have to walk them,” she said.  “And he was really cute and stayed up while I studied, they’re nocturnal, and he would run on his little wheel.”  The drawback she told me was that her clothes started to smell like hedgehogs.  She smelled fine when I met her though!

Tiffany has crossed paths with hedgehogs in other periods of her life.  Her sorority “little” had one too!

In all fairness, let me tell you that Tiffany is totally normal and even told me that she doesn’t know why she thought of the hedgehog when we were talking.  It definitely made for an interesting and educational chat though!

Oh, and remember that trip to Romania where the whole thing started, that was through Oakseed Ministries.  They help abandoned children and the poor throughout the world.  Tiffany donated her $10 to the organization.

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This photo is from the video below.

Hey, so some people have been nominating the Year of Giving for the Most Creative Social Good Campaign for the 4th Annual Mashable Awards.  If you would like to vote for the Year of Giving as well, click here!

After 323 days of giving, I naturally gravitate to things that are new or happen for the first time.  Like on Sunday I shared with you a story about me giving my $10 to my dentist – which by the way I got lots of feedback that people don’t like to see teeth on my website!  That was the first time I had given the money to someone in the medical field who saw me as a patient.  On Day 317 I gave my $10 MSNBC morning host Willie Geist.  It somehow mixes things up for me.  Well today I have another “first” as I like to call them. 

I was at a writing workshop that is put on a Borders Books at 18th and L Streets in DC.  For six weeks we would meet and practice our writing.  On this day, Trevor, an unemployed 32-year-old political campaign veteran showed up.  He was very talented.  At the end of the class the discussion turned toward my Year of Giving.  “I’m unemployed and haven’t had dinner yet…I’ll take your ten bucks,” he said to me.  I haven’t ever given to someone who has asked outright for it except for the homeless and street panhandlers.  But I thought sure, why not.

He put a creative spin on his current employment situation.  “I like to think of myself as between jobs…or funemployed…or maybe consulting or freelancing, or maybe I should just call myself an artist.”  Most recently he was working on political campaigns for the Democratic Party.  “I feel like my purpose is to write attack ads against Republicans.”

He’s got a plethora of work experience.  He’s worked in a pornographic book store, has done screen writing and started a nonprofit.  “That one gave me a nervous breakdown,” he said.  “And it job taught me the difference between having a job and a mission.  It’s not good to have a mission.”  I’m not sure I agree with that…maybe I misunderstood what he was getting at.

Currently he is supporting himself with some photography.  He lists Sally Mann of Virginia as a photographer that he appreciates.  She’s got a book called the Deep South that was sitting on the chair next to him.  Trevor offered to photograph the year-end celebration on December 14th…hopefully he’s willing to donate his services for that in the spirit of the project.  

Check out some excerpts from my conversation with him…

Some other random tidbits… Trevor told me that for his 18th birthday he bought himself a pair of custom leather pants.  In London he won $3,000, half of which he spent on a gold lamé suit.  He promised to send me a picture and tell me what he was going to do with the $10, but I haven’t received it yet…maybe he will update us all.  

All in all a pretty interesting guy and wickedly talented …unfortunately we didn’t see him at any more workshops.

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Today’s post is from Election Day.  I thought it would be appropriate to give my ten dollars to someone who was exercising their civic duty by voting.

I walked over to my polling location and voted.  As an aside, what is wrong with our voting system?  They only have one electronic voting booth.  The rest is done by paper ballots.  I used to live in Brazil where they had fully electronic voting.  The electronic machines were introduced there in 1996 and fully implemented in 2000.  Ten years later, we have one machine in my voting district!  Parabens Brasil!

I approached several people who came out of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, my local polling location.  I first approached a white woman in her 50s with short dark hair who sat on a bench by herself.  She wasn’t very friendly toward me and asked me to give it to someone else.  Then I saw another woman leaving the voting center.  Amina refused as well, however, she said she liked the Year of Giving concept very much.  “I ran a soup kitchen in Johannesburg, South Africa for four years,” she shared.  “But for me to take your money and then give it to someone else just seems wrong.  I can use my own money to do that.”  We chatted for a little while longer before she went on her way.

Silvia and Salvador choose not to sleep in DC's shelters.

I then found a couple sleeping upright on a bench as they soaked in the sun’s warm rays to balance out the cool November air.   They were on the west side of the church.  I had seen them earlier, but didn’t want to wake them.  I noticed Salvador wasn’t able to sleep so I walked toward him.  As I got close to him, he nudged Silvia with his right elbow to wake up.

Silvia is 41 and is originally from El Salvador.  Salvador is 29 and is from Mexico.  She’s been here since 1984, him since 2002.  They are both homeless and sleep near a church at 16th and O Streets in DC.  “We even made it through the big snow storms last winter,” Silvia told me in Spanish.  “In fact, Salvador made us a really good shelter by the church with all the snow.”  

Salvador works at a restaurant somewhere near Thomas Circle I believe.  She works downtown cleaning offices I believe.  “I’ve got to work,” Silvia said.  “I have to pay $130 every month in child support.”  She has three children between the ages of 16-18.  She told me that she became homeless after a “situation of domestic violence.”

Salvador was rather quiet.  Maybe he was skeptical of my kindness.  He did say that he became homeless three years ago.  

Both of them said they would buy food with their portion of the ten dollars.  “I’m going to get me something from Chipotle,” Silvia said with an electric smile.  

They used the $10 for food.

It was five o’clock.  Salvador headed over to the church to start preparing their shelter for the evening and I walked with Silvia to the Dupont Metro where she needed to catch the train to get to work.  I gave her a hug and wished her luck.

This couple needs some basic items for the winter…please check out the Lend a Hand section if you are able to help them out.

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Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable than a diamond. ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

Today I’m going to take you where many people loathe to go.  That’s right, the dentist office.  Now I have been going to a great little dental practice up in Bethesda for many years: Dr. Juan Loza.  But they don’t accept my new insurance so I started looking for a new one.  We have a wiki site at work and I found some good comments about Dr. Margo Robinson at Watergate Dental, so I decided to make an appointment.

It’s very much like any other dentist office, with the exception of the hallway that is full of photographs of notable people (I guess they’re notable, I didn’t stop to check any of them out) who presumably have been there for dental work.

Dr. Robinson didn't find any cavities. (photo: Reed)

I plopped down in one of those reclining chairs and the dental hygienist started cleaning my teeth.  I guess my teeth were ok…she didn’t find any major issues. 

Then Dr. Robinson came in and took a look.  I was thinking that if I gave her $10 maybe she would say I didn’t have any cavities.  She did say that I have some “notching” or recessed areas on parts of my gum line though.  Dentists have been telling me this since I was in my early 20s.  She gave me a mirror and pointed out several places where the gum no longer covers the lower part of the tooth.  “The good thing is that the root is not exposed,” she told me.  However, if they keep receding she advised me to get some bonding done on top of that to protect the area.  

These are NOT my teeth, but here is an extreme example of notching. (photo courtesy of oakvillefamilydenistry.com)

After the exam I asked her to accept my $10.  I bet at first she was thinking, “$10 isn’t going to cover your office visit!”  She agreed and I spoke to her for a few minutes, although I was aware somebody was probably hanging out waiting for her to go and examine their teeth as well.  “I’ve got a second,” she said.  “I’m actually waiting for another patient to get numb.” 

Dr. Robinson received her D.M.D in 2006, spent two years working in Connecticut, where she is from, and then moved down here and joined Watergate Dental Associates.  “This is a fantastic practice,” she said.  “I was very impressed when I interviewed here and am really happy to be a part of it.”  

I asked her for some dental advice for you guys.  “Prevention is key; regular cleaning.  The biggest issues usually stem from patients ignoring problems.”  She also spoke very highly of conscious sedation.  “It helps patients with oral disease cope with their fears.”  Conscious sedation, she explained, is where the patient is in a state where they can respond to verbal directions, but he or she feels little to no pain.  I think she said they don’t remember anything either.  Freaky!

Dr. Robinson gave her $10 to a street musician near the Courthouse Metro. (photo: Reed)

She wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the ten dollars.  I emailed her yesterday and she told me that she gave it to a street musician who plays the trumpet near the Courthouse Metro stop in Arlington.  In fact, she told me in her email that she has been giving much more to Street Sense vendors and other homeless since learning about the Year of Giving.

When Dr. Robinson is not helping people keep their teeth in their mouths and have beautiful smiles, she enjoys running, biking, swimming, skiing and golf.  She’s pretty active.  She even told me that she was supposed to run the Marine Corps Marathon the previous day, however an injury interfered with that.  It didn’t hold her back too much though, she still ran in 10K event that’s held along side the marathon!  Way to go Dr. Robinson!

I got my complimentary tooth-brush and floss and was on my way.

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If you are in DC this morning, get off your computer and run down to the mall and check out the Help the Homeless Walkathon sponsored by Fannie Mae.  If you can’t get out there and still want to help, you can donate by clicking here and selecting your favorite local organization.  I didn’t see Street Sense on the list, which many of you know I support.  They are a small organization that uses their funds wisely and are in need of support…click here to directly donate to DC’s only homeless newspaper.

Today’s recipient I found at Dupont Circle around 8pm on a Sunday night.  Sandra is from La Puente, California.  La Puente is just east of Los Angeles and north of Anaheim.  After attending mass at St. Matthews, her sister Aida went searching for a Whole Foods while Sandra waited for her on a picturesque park bench in earshot of the soothing fountain at Dupont Circle.  “She’s a health nut,” Sandra said referring to Aida.  Then they were planning to go watch Trick or Treaters.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking, “Reed is really behind on posting his blogs.”  You would be correct.  This is from October 31st!

I asked Sandra what brought her to DC.  “I’m in town because she is attending a conference here, the NCURA or something like that!”  It turns out she remembered correctly, it’s the National Council of University Research Administrators

Our Metro system here in DC is pretty good – when it is working!  They had arrived the day before and took the Metro from Reagan National Airport to Dupont.  Well, it turned into an awful ride because they arrived while the hundreds of thousands of rally-goers were trying to get downtown to see Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity.  “People were mean,” she said.  “It was a big mistake.”  

Our attention was occasionally side tracked by someone walking by in costume.  There were a lot of people dressed up as bananas?  What the hell is that all about?

Anyway, Sandra is one of the 14.8 million people who are unemployed in the United States.  After her mother passed away in May of 2009, she found herself a little lost and unsure what she wanted to do.  She ended up quitting her job last February to go and live with her father.  “He’s much better now,” she told me. 

“I was doing procurement work and I am not sure that is what I want to do now although I have a lot of experience doing that.  I’m kind of reevaluating my life right now I guess.”  I encouraged her to make the leap and try something she is passionate about.  “I just don’t know what that is though right now,” she said.  I think that is pretty common.  I am very fortunate right now to have two jobs that are mentally and emotionally rewarding.  It’s not worth it in the long run just to go in to work every day just to get a paycheck, although sometimes we find ourselves having to do that to keep the electricity on or to feed our family.

She told me she was going to use the money to help someone else out.  I’m hoping she will update us here on what happened to it.

Sometimes when I approach people at night, especially women, they are intimidated.  You have to be careful.  She made me laugh when I asked her if she was intimidated when I approached her.  “No, not really.”  Hmm…it’s a good thing I didn’t choose bank robbing or something like that for a profession.

The temperature was dropping and I was sure Sandra was chilly being from Southern California.  She was well dressed though; she had on a dark coat and gloves.  Aida arrived and we chatted briefly before I excused myself.  Sandra didn’t want her picture to be taken…so no photo for you today.

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Save the date!  I am still working hard to secure a space for the Year End Celebration for December 14th here in DC.  Still no definite venue, but I am working on it.  If anyone knows of a venue who will do a lot of this for free or a group, company, law firm, individual person, whoever, that might be interested in sponsoring the event, let me know.  There will be plenty of media there…could be a very interesting opportunity for the right company or group.

Jacob holding his "cowbell" sign next to his father. (photo: Reed)

Anyway, on to today’s recipient!  Today we’re going back a few weeks to the Rally to Restore Sanity that was held in Washington, DC on October 30th.

My father had come to DC to attend the rally.  Dad and I took a bus from Dupont Circle down to Chinatown and walked down to the mall and picked up my friend Tricia.  We were supposed to meet up with lots of other friends and family there however it was a complete zoo and cell phones weren’t working.  There were hundreds of thousands of people, many toting signs, cramming onto the Mall.  I wish I could tell you what was said or what happened, but due to a lack of jumbo screens and speakers I saw and heard very little.  One of the best lines that I later heard that Stewart said referring to a lot of the political rhetoric is that, “If we amplify everything we hear nothing.”  I get it, but if you don’t amplify enough…the thousands of people who come to see you can’t hear you.

Another sign I liked (photo: Reed)

One of the things I did see was Jacob – a 16-year-old from North Carolina who came up the night before with his father.  I was scoping the crowd looking for people I knew when I spotted his sign, “THIS COUNTRY NEEDS MORE COWBELL.”  There were lots of funny, crazy signs being carried around…there were some that were very serious and even a few that were downright hurtful in my opinion.  But this one just made me laugh with its Saturday Night Live reference.  If you haven’t seen this skit featuring Will Farrell and Christopher Walken…stop whatever you are doing now and check this out!  Don’t worry your boss will think it’s funny too.

photo:Reed

Anyway, I made my way over to Jacob and gave him my $10.  He was cool with receiving it.  “I’m going to give it to the other person I saw carrying around a ‘NEED MORE COWBELL’ sign,” he told me explaining that he had seen a similar sign.  “If I can’t find them then I might give it a hobo.”  This sparked a great moment…his father’s face exploded into a smile saying something like, “Hobo?  Maybe a homeless person, but there are very few real hobos anymore!”  I’m hoping Jacob will drop us a note here and let us know what happened to the ten bucks.

Jacob goes to a special high school that has a five-year program that basically gives you the equivalent of an Associate’s Degree when you graduate. That sounds like a good program now, I’m not sure I would have liked the idea of a five-year high school back when I was in school.  

“I’m going to give it to the other person I saw carrying around a ‘NEED MORE COWBELL’ sign. If I can’t find them then I might give it a hobo.” - Jacob (photo: Reed)

When he’s not studying or playing XBOX 360, he’s learning to drive.  “You see this?” his father asks pointing at his hair, “it’s causing my hair to turn gray!”   

These two were a lot of fun.  They made my day since I didn’t get to see much of the rally.  Thanks guys.

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Connie holds a sign showing William Thomas, the co-founder of the Peace Vigil. (photo: Reed)

193 days ago I shared with you the story of Start Loving who I met in front of the White House.  He fills in tending to the Peace Vigil that Concepcion Picciotto started with William Thomas in 1981.  The vigil can never be left unattended and they must not sleep while there.  It is remarkable to think that she has been there every day, with a few exceptions, since I was seven years old! 

The other day I wandered over to Lafayette Park which is in front of the White House and saw Connie, as she is often referred to, talking to some tourists.  I waited patiently and then approached her.  Our conversation lasted about 45 minutes and weaved back and forth from English to Spanish.

"I've learned a lot about inequalities in our society." - Concepcion Picciotto (photo: Reed)

Originally from Vigo, Spain (on the west coast just north of the border with Portugal), she came to the US in the early 60s.  Although she told me that she lost count of the years when I asked her how old she was, some sources online claim that she is 65.  

She has an amazing story.  In addition to the $10, I gave her $15 for a book that she sells to help support her efforts.  Almost all the information in the book you can find here online.  It is worth checking out.  It spans her immigration to the US, troubled marriage, the adoption and loss of her daughter, etc.  

The part about her daughter really touched me.  She couldn’t have children so they ended up in Argentina trying to buy a baby from a variety of doctors.  It sounded a little shady; doctors showing up in cars with newborns in their arms.  The short story is that in 1973 she finally made it back into the US with a baby girl, Olga.  But ended up losing her 20 months later when her husband gave her away while Connie was being kept in a hospital.  To my knowledge the two have never been reunited.  You can listen to a heartfelt letter she has written for Olga.

Picture courtesy of Connie's website.

Connie said she was going to use the $10 to help either print more books or possibly come out with a new book with additional material.

I believe that Connie has suffered a great deal in her life and my heart goes out to her.  She told me stories of her being beat, subject to harmful chemicals and tortured.  “I lost my teeth because of chemicals they have used on me,” she says referring to the government and military.  “I now have the teeth in a jar.”

I caught up with Nature Boy during his "office hours" in Lafayette Park.

I really enjoyed meeting her. I gave her a hug when I left and cut through the park where I ran into my friend Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander Jr. from Day 185…check out this picture.  I love it!  And if you look closely at his legs you will see hundreds of scratches from squirrels that were climbing on him!

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Amanda enjoys a perfect fall day in DC. (photo: Reed)

As I walked through Dupont Circle the other day I saw Amanda sitting on a bench eating her lunch.  “I normally go to the Greek deli on 19th and M but today I went to Moby Dick’s and got the gyro platter,” she told me.  The spot where she was sitting was ideally located in a shady part of the circle.  It was one of those beautiful fall days that are warm enough that you don’t need a coat during the day. 

Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

“I’m half Jewish half Mexican,” she tells me.  “And I grew up in an all black neighborhood in Chicago.  She and her husband moved here from the Windy City for her husband’s job in government.  She now works for a non-profit that focuses on assisting Hispanics pursue higher education.  Although she likes DC her dream is to live in New York City.  “And own a doggie day-care!” she said adding that they had a rescue Boxer-Pit Bull mix.

I was really touched by something she shared.  Amanda said that her mother was disowned by her family when she married her father, a then illegal immigrant from Mexico.  Now separated from her father, her family still has not accepted her mother even after 25 years!  That just seems crazy to me.  Family is family and you should be able to count on them unless you’re killing people or something like that.

Amanda rescued a dog and dreams of one day opening a doggie-daycare. (photo: Reed)

Would you believe that I am not sure what happened to her $10!  I know, I’m slipping.  Almost three weeks have passed since I met Amanda so my recollection is fuzzy.  I know she said she was thinking about buying flowers for her office…but I don’t know if that is what she settled on, so hopefully she will fill us in! 

Help me out Amanda!

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A couple of weeks ago I told you that I had given my $10 to celebrity…well today is the day that you find out who I ran into.

Willie Geist on MSNBC's Way Too Early with Willie Geist

An unscientific statistic that I came up with tells me that somewhere between 16-17 million people wake up and tune in to morning show programs.  I occasionally turn them on while I am getting ready, but most the time I listen to NPR.  Anyway, I watch them enough that I know a little bit about each program.  Well, I was surprised when I stopped in my local book store and found one of the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe there.

It was the likeable and funny Willie Geist who also hosts Way Too Early with Willie Geist which is on immediately before Morning Joe for all those early birds who are up at 5:30am.  I haven’t seen that program yet…I rarely am up at 5:30 and if I am I doubt I am checking what is on TV.  Anyway, he was making an appearance at the Borders Bookstore at 18th and L Streets in DC. 

“Hmmm….would he take my $10,” I thought.  What the hell, let’s give it a try. 

Reed talking to Willie.

He was talking to a large crowd about his newly released book American Freak Show.  A long line formed to meet him and have him sign books.  I decided to wait around.  Then I noticed that his wife Christina was there.  I checked with her to see if she thought Willie would be game for my ten bucks!  She was lovely and told me that he probably would be thrilled to be a part of the Year of Giving.  Interestingly enough, I think I remember a comment in the bio section in his book that says that he and Christina met in the sixth grade or something like that…she was helping him with his homework.  Willie’s a pretty smart guy so I’m guessing he just wanted to find a reason to spend some time with a smart attractive girl like Christina!  Anyway, they’ve been married for seven years, have two children and live in New York.

So I finally get to meet Willie.  I asked him to sign a copy of his book for my father, which he graciously did.  The book is pure satire and a fun read.  It kind of reminds me of the concept of the Onion.  It takes real people and creates completely fictional occurrences, like Sarah Palin winning the 2012 election and delivering her inaugural address from the WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Ice Palace in Tampa.  He also has a fantastic chapter on former governor Rob Blagojevich.

Jimmy "The Rent is 2 Damn High" McMillan

I asked Willie if there were any individuals that he felt got left out of the book.  There were two that got their 15 minutes of fame after he had already sent the book for publication.  “It’s too bad that I didn’t get to include Christine O’Donnell or Jimmy McMillan – ‘The Rent is 2 Damn High’ guy,” Willie explained unable to hold back a chuckle as he envisioned the stories that he could create about those two.

I explained the Year of Giving to Willie and asked him to accept my $10.  “Oh, I couldn’t accept your ten dollars,” Willie said.  “I would just give it to someone else who needs it or donate it.”  I assured him that he could do that and he accepted it.  

Willie had been there now for a couple of hours and it was after 9:00pm.  “I’ve got to get up in about four or five hours to do the show,” he explained.  He looked as if it had been a long day.  I imagine it was too…he probably got up around 3:00am, did his shows, took the train down to DC, made some appearances and now was focused on getting to his hotel.  Accompanied by his wife, three-year-old daughter Lucie who had been so well-behaved all evening, and a few personal friends, Willie slowly made his way to the front of the store.  I wished him luck with the book and said goodbye to him and Christina.

Willie said he would pass the $10 along.

By the way, I did a little research online about Willie and thought I would share the following with you.  Now 35, he was born in Evanston, IL and graduated high school in Ridgewood, NJ where he was the captain of the football and basketball teams.  He went on to graduate college from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  His little sister is an accomplished documentary film producer (Crazy Love, Black Magic, Ring of Fire) and they are the great-grandchildren of Herbie Lewis who led the Detroit Red Wings to two Stanley Cup victories.  Check out Willie’s satirical video blog on msnbc.com called Zeitgeist!  Oh and I love this.  On MSNBC’s website it reports that he is proficient in Microsoft Word. Well done, my friend!

Note: If you live in Miami and want to meet Willie this weekend, he is scheduled to be at the Miami Book Fair this Saturday.

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Here is a good photo that I found courtesy of Michael's Facebook page.

Between Jorge yesterday and Michael today…I seem to be finding lots of people in interesting outfits!

I had a meeting for my homeowner’s association which wrapped up around 9:00pm.  I still needed to go out and find a recipient.  On R Street I encountered a wave of people walking toward me.  I asked where they were coming from and they explained that tonight was the 2010 DC Drag Queen Race over on 17th Street.  I hustled over there but the race had already ended, but there were lots of people still out.

I came across today’s recipient in front of the Soviet Safeway.  “I’m Cruella de Vil,” she told me.  I guess my childhood was deprived because I had no idea who Creulla de Vil was.  Cruella, aka Michael, made the 101 Dalmatians connection for me and I kind of remembered the character.  

Greg Kinnear

It was a little tough chatting with Michael because so many people wanted to get their picture taken with him.  As he posed for some photos he looked at me and said, “You look like Greg Kinnaer.”  Well… I do know who he is, but haven’t heard that I look like him before.  What do you think?

Anyway, Michael says that he didn’t win the race, but was just happy to be a part of it.

Michael posing after the 2010 High Heel Race. (photo: Reed)

“I’m going to use the $10 for a taxi to get to work tomorrow,” he said eluding that he might be out a bit late that night and a speedy commute might be helpful the following morning.  When not impersonating the Disney villain, he works at a nearby university in their school of business. 

You can find some more photos of the race here.

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Jorge was born on the second floor of what is now the Russia House. (photo: Reed)

I was walking along Connecticut Avenue when I saw a guy dressed up in a Roman outfit.  It was getting close to Halloween, so I thought perhaps there was a costume party.  Then I realized he was having his picture taken…I decided to walk over and give my $10 to him.  

“I’m a rock’n’roll pop singer, song writer and producer,” Jorge told me when I asked him what he was up to.  “I am out here today doing a photo shoot for my electronic press kit for five of the largest major record label groups in the world.” 

Most of my conversation with Jorge was captured on my video.  Check it out and find out what he’s doing with Vanilla Ice.

It’s a bit self promoting, but I guess he needs to be getting the word out as he gets ready for his forthcoming albums and books – Jorge’s also a non-fiction writer and poet!

As for the $10, he said he was going to put it toward some food and transportation.

You might recognize the Royal Palace in the background from Day 309. (photo: Reed)

If you would like to listen in on some of his music, you can check it out on his MySpace page: mutatioformulae.  You can also check out his Facebook page.

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Hey!  I am still looking for a place to hold the year-end celebration.  If you know of someone with a philanthropic heart who would like to be a part of this special day, please shoot me an email at reed@yearofgiving.org!

On Sunday after a weekend visiting friends in southeastern Pennsylvania, we headed to Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick, PA.  When you go to their website you will see this picture of the shopping center.

 

What they don’t show you is this.

 

That’s what you would see if you turn 180 degrees from the place where the first picture was taken. Twenty minutes before arriving, I could see the two cooling towers and the billowing cotton-like smoke streaming out of them.  As I pulled into the parking lot I have to admit that I was surprised to find this nuclear reactor so close to the mall.  It was literally next door to the outlets. 

Mario has worked at the outlets for two years. (photo: Reed)

After grabbing some lunch and saying goodbye to my childhood friends, I spotted Mario hustling about the grounds of the mall emptying the trash.  Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, he moved here in search of a better paying job.  In Spanish he explained, “I chose this area because I had some relatives already living here.”  Back home, his wife and five children receive regular money orders that he sends from his modest pay checks.  It’s been almost four years since he has seen them.  He’s been working at the outlets for about two years.

Mario took a second to let me snap this photo of him with the nuclear cooling towers in the background. (photo: Reed)

Some of you might have heard about the heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in his home state of Oaxaca back in September.  I asked him if his family and loved was were affected by the disaster and thankfully he said that they were all safe and doing ok.

Mario reminded me a little of Paulina from my second day of this year-long journey when he promptly told me that he would donate the money to his church.

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Dane fishing in the waters of Valley Creek in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Reed)

While I was visiting my friends up in Pennsylvania we decided to go for a hike in Valley Forge.

Along the hike I spotted Dane doing some fishing in the Valley Creek.  I couldn’t resist trying to give my $10 to a guy wading knee-deep in the water.  I yelled over to him and he made his way to the shore and I handed him the money.  I’ll chalk that up for a first: Gave $10 to person in the middle of a creek!

I honestly thought there was a 50/50 chance that I was going to fall in the creek, because to be able to get close enough to Dane to give him the $10 I had to maneuver down part of the bank where I placed one of me feet on a branch and the other on a rock that jutted out from the bank.

Me photographing Dane along the banks of Valley Creek. (photo: K. Kanelakis)

I asked him how the fishing was.  “I haven’t caught anything today,” he told me.  I realized that if I didn’t scare the fish away when I yelled over to him that my friends two boys were taking care of it as they proudly dumped as many rocks as they could into the creek.  When Dane is not fishing, he is looking for work in journalism.  A graduate from UNC, he hopes to find work in Sports Radio.

Here is a little bit of our conversation…

Later that evening Dane was heading to game six of the National League playoffs.  Sorry the Phillies lost Dane.  I was impressed that four or five hours before they threw out the first pitch Dane was chilling in creek doing a little fishing.  

He said he was going to use my $10 get some Mountain Dew.

If anyone can help Dane find a job…leave a message!

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Victory Brewery, Downingtown, PA

Some high school friends of mine decided to get together in metropolis of Spring City, Pennsylvania.  I carpooled up with my friend Kimon, who lives close by in DC.  It’s about a three-hour drive but we hit some traffic getting out of DC and made slight detour to visit Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA.  All in all it took us about five hours.

This place was packed.  The parking lot was completely full.  We left my car in a questionably legal parking spot and went in just to say we were there, have one beer, and pick up some beer to take to Maureen and Josh, our hosts for the weekend.  When we got inside, you could barely walk.  I was sure that there was some special event going on, but we were later told that it was just “another Friday night.”

I first approached a woman named Kathy.  She was a little bit interested, much more so than her husband who showed up a shortly thereafter.  The couple was waiting on a table and it conveniently became available giving them a polite excuse to exit the situation.

I scanned the area while sipping on my malty Storm King Stout.

Kathy and Jim (photo: Reed)

Nearby I found another woman named Kathy and her husband Jim.  I noticed that Kathy was drinking wine. What?!  Wine in a great brewery.  “I’m allergic to wheat,” she told me.  Not Jim…nope.  He was happily enjoying some of their cold refreshing brews. 

Kathy tells me that her real name was Myra, but as a young girl she attended Catholic School and all the nuns thought she was Jewish…so she went by Kathy.  Jim I think was really named Jim…or James…at least no confessions were made to the contrary. 

Speaking of Jim, I learned that he has a bit of daredevil inside him.  While in the Poconos he went bungee jumping.  “This sketchy guy tethered me to this rope,” Jim explained adding that he wouldn’t do it again.

It turns out this couple was having a little time out before they picked their daughter up from her high school where she was decorating for Homecoming which was the following evening.  And Jim is going to drive one of the cars in the parade too!  “It’s a red BMW 328 convertible.”  Grinning he added, “Everyone should own a convertible once in their life.”

The $10 went toward a glass of wine and tip for the bartender. (photo: Reed)

It was right about then that I got to see my $10 passed along.  Kathy made her way up to the crowded bar and ordered another glass of wine.  Seven for the wine and three for a tip.

Later I received an email from Kathy with an update…here is an excerpt.

“It was fun talking to you and even more fun connecting to your web site and reading all the stories of the people we are ‘one degree of separation’ from. I loved your 10-10-10 story!  We should have told you about our 8-8-08 night at the Triple 8 vodka distillery in Nantucket!  Anyway – I wanted to tell you that even though $7 of the money you gave us went to the alcohol – $3 of it went to the bartender..not sure if that is ‘donation’ or not but either way good luck in your final leg of your interviews and GOD BLESS YOUR MAMA!”

And as for homecoming…

Jim driving his son and fellow homecoming court nominee. (photo: Reed)

“Everyone had a blast. I think Jim enjoyed the parade more than my son Kevin. It was a beautiful fall day. The home team won.  Life is good.  Keep up the good work – you are on the home stretch!

-Kathy”

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"There's a lot of practice that goes into it. There's a lot of prep work." - Kyle (photo: Reed)

Do you think that you are funny?  A lot of us do.  But what would you do if you had to go up on stage and actually make people laugh for a few minutes?  Would you do it?  Could you do it?  Do you really think you could make a group of 50 people laugh hysterically?  Well Kyle found out the answer to that question.

After a dinner with coworkers at the iconic Tabard Inn in DC, we shuffled next door to the Topaz Hotel where on Thursday nights they have open mic comedy.

The place was full and the only seats were in the very front.  You know what that means!  Yep.  I was seated with a coworker from California and the comedian starts with the, “So, are you guys on a date?” type questions to me.  After dodging any severely awkward moments, he found a new person to pick on. 

Near the end of the show the host welcomed back a young guy who had performed his first stand up routine last week…and was brave enough to come back for more!  That was Kyle.  After the show I saw him and figured I would ask him to accept my $10, I mean after all anyone who has that type of courage to get up in front of a crowd and try to make them laugh deserves a few bucks. 

Originally from New Hampshire, Kyle is in DC for an internship.  He’s a journalism major working for a talk radio station here in Washington.  With graduation next month, he has mixed feelings about going back home.  It seemed like he really liked the possibility of staying in DC.

“I’m going to take your $10 to Lucky’s…they have $3 well drinks.  This will buy three drinks and still have a dollar left for a tip!” he told me.

I put him on the spot and asked him to do some of his comedy material.  This is not easy to do at the drop of a hat, but he was a good sport and obliged.  Kyle took a second and pulled out a folded up piece of paper that he had notes written on.  Even if he had been ready, it is a lot easier when you have an audience and can feed off of the crowd’s laughter.  Here goes…

Comedy at the Topaz Hotel (1733 N Street NW) happens every Thursday night at 8pm. No cover.

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This weekend we had a snapshot of the cold that awaits us this winter.  This morning it was near freezing when I went to the gym.

Today’s post took place during a really busy work wise.  Long days followed by work related events in the evening.  After an event at the Brazilian embassy, I headed across town to meet up with a friend of mine from Spain who I hadn’t seen for years.  Although it was late, this was our only chance to meet up so you push yourself a little and try to squeeze everything in.

Exhausted, I hailed a cab home to my apartment in Dupont.  The driver was a man named Tekele.  He was really nice and I enjoyed talking with him.  Originally from Ethiopia, he’s been driving a cab here in DC for 18 years.  Before that he worked almost nine years for PMI, a leading parking management firm.  “I like driving a taxi very much,” he told me.  “But you have to be really disciplined to do well at this,” since you work your own hours and set your own schedule for the most part. 

Having been in the business for such a long time, he has seen it all.  “Just other day a guy got in my cab and told me to go to Georgia Avenue,” he began to tell me.  “Then he fell asleep.  When we got there I tried to wake him up but he was really sleeping hard.”  Tekele finally got the man out of his cab.

There is a large Ethiopian community in DC.  Tekele says that many people like himself fled his homeland as a result of the civil war that began there in the 70s.  “I originally escaped to Italy,” he told me explaining that he spent six months there until Catholic Charities arranged for him to come to the United States.  He hasn’t traveled back to Ethiopia much.  “It’s so expensive especially with kids,” the father of three told me. 

Ethiopian platter at Etete

I shared with him that I had tried Ethiopian food many years ago and didn’t care for it.  This is odd too because I like almost all kinds of foods from other countries.  Especially spicy food, like Ethiopian food.  I guess I just had a bad experience because I recently went to a place called Etete at the corner of 9th and U Streets and tried it again and really enjoyed it.  The injera, a spongy flatbread made with a thin sourdough batter, took a little getting used to.  “Etete is a good place,” Tekele confirmed. 

We got to my place and I explained my Year of Giving to him and asked him to accept my $10.  He agreed and I paid him the fare and tip plus the ten dollars. 

I got home and realized I totally forgot to ask him what he was going to do with the money!  It was late and I was really tired.  He had given me his cell number so I called him on Sunday October 31st and asked him.  He was happy to hear from me and explained that he had donated the money to his local Virginia police department.  Hopefully he gave it to the actual department and not the Fraternal Order of Police.  I’ve had a very bad experience with the telephone solicitors from that organization and no longer give to them.

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photo: Reed

I live nearby a cozy wine bar called Veritas at the corner of Connecticut and Florida.  The other night I was meeting a friend there for a drink.  We grabbed a table in the outside terrace and were greeted by our personal sommelier Fred. 

Now I am a bit of an accent junkie.  I love trying to figure out where people are from based on their accents.  On top of that I have a bizarre condition that makes me want to imitate the accent of the people with whom I am speaking.  Ok, it’s not really a condition, but we seem to make everything else a condition or disease, so why not this, right? 

Fred moved the US from England about 10 years ago. (photo: Reed)

Anyway, Fred had an interesting accent.  Sometimes I thought he was British other times I thought he was Africa or maybe he was from the States…who knows? I was perplexed.  It turns out he is originally from the United Kingdom.  “I’m guessing you’re a Manchester United fan,” I told him.  “He grinned widely and said, “Absolutely.”  As for the accent he says, “The more I drink or the more I watch football (and he’s not talking NFL), the more the English accent comes out.”

The Royal Palace...this is possibly where the $10 ended up. (photo: Reed)

He brought us our bottle of wine and I asked him if he would accept my $10.  He readily agreed.  I asked him how he was going to use it and he said, “You see that place across the street?”  I turned all the way around to see the Royal Palace, a questionable looking “gentlemen’s club” that from the outside oddly resembles a Chinese take out joint.  “It’s going right there!”

He laughed a little and disappeared back inside.  I couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking.  A while later we went to pay.  We couldn’t find Fred and it seemed as if he had left for the night.  Or maybe he seriously took off across the street to the Royal Palace!  What category would I put that in?  “Something for themself” or “Gave the money to someone else?”  Hmmm…I’m guessing the latter.

Fred apparently cut himself pretty bad. (photo: Reed)

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Hey, so yesterday I totally screwed up on my twitter account.  I thought I was sending a private message and apparently I broadcasted my mobile number!  Ooops.  Thankfully LilaScot noticed it and sent me a message to let me know.  Thanks!  I got it taken care of now.

One of my favorite pubs, Ireland's Four Courts in Arlington, VA. (photo: Reed)

So today you are going to meet five amazing, intelligent, beautiful people.  With a description like that they could only be one thing…that’s right Steeler fans!

Dave, Julie, Cathy, Scott and Brandon were all watching the Steelers game at one of my favorite pubs: Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington.  All of them but Brandon were clad in their Steeler jerseys and shirts.  If any of you are wondering what to get Brandon for the holidays, I’m guessing that a Steelers jersey would be much appreciated!

Some of them live here in the DC area, others live in Pittsburgh and Cathy came all the way from Panama City. 

From L-R, Cathy, Scott, Brandon, Dave and Julie. (photo: Reed)

I tried to figure out how everyone knew each other.  So Dave and Scott went to middle school together at Eden Christian Academy.  Julie and Scott are dating and I think Cathy and Dave are too….they actually met playing World of Warcraft online.  Hey, maybe Ashanti will meet someone there too….he used to be a big fan of the online game. 

I commented on Brandon’s hat and learned that he actually bought it in Germany.  “So I was there for Oktoberfest with Julie and Scott,” Brandon told me.  “I have a big head and it’s not easy to find a hat that fits…so when I found this one I got it!” 

All five of my new Steeler friends agreed to put their $2 share of the $10 toward their bar tab. 

I offered to put something on the Lend a Hand section for any of them and got some interesting requests.  Cathy would like to meet the Steelers’ all-pro safety Troy Polamalu.  In fact she said that she bought Head & Shoulders 2 in 1 shampoo just because his commercials for it!  Advertising works.

Brandon would like some help finding a job as a research analyst in the criminal justice field.  The 25-year-old lives in Northern Virginia and has a degree in public policy specializing in criminal justice. 

My new football friends hanging out at the Four Courts. (photo: Reed)

Dave joined in and said he would like some Steeler tickets!  And if you donate some tickets to Dave, add an extra ticket for me!!!  I’ve never been to a game in Pittsburgh.

Well the Steelers went on to trounce the Browns 28-10.  Hey, catch the Steelers this Monday night take on the Bengals!  I’m thinking about going to the Pour House to watch the game if you are in the DC area and want to join.  Who knows, you might even get ten bucks!

UPDATE: 11/20/2010

I just got an email from Cathy…I was right, they are dating, in fact they are engaged.  And guess what, she told me that Julie and Scott have just got engaged as well!  Congrats guys!

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The knights parading into the arena. Our knight, the Yellow Knight, didn't do so well and was defeated early on. (photo: Reed)

The day after my father’s birthday we took him up to Medieval Times at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover, MD.  It’s a unique place that feels like an 11th century dinner theatre with some carny overtones.  It’s cool to see a dozen horses or so galloping around inside of a mall.  Oh, and it’s a money-making machine!  From the time you arrive until you leave there are opportunities to buy things!

Ashanti has been working at Medieval Times for a couple of months. (photo: Reed)

Once seated in the dimly lit arena, we were greeted by Ashanti who explained that he would be taking care of us that evening.  I decided that he would be a good recipient of my $10.

I asked him what his official title was and he said he was a serf.  “What’s above a serf?” I asked him.  “Just about everything,” Ashanti told me disappearing to go and bring more food out.

He came back out with our entrees which were pretty hearty portions of chicken and ribs.  I asked him how he planned on using the $10.  The 19-year-old said he would probably put it toward the purchase of some video games.  “My favorite game used to be World of Warcraft…now I don’t know.  I guess I don’t really have one,” Ashanti told me.

Ashanti at work. (photo: Reed)

At one point in the show I noticed that Ashanti was down in the middle of the arena with the knights!  Actually if you could blow up that photo of the arena you would see him at the very back of the parade.  But his job isn’t all fun.  He told me, “Someone threw up on me once.”  There was a silence and we both just kind of looked at each other.  

All in all it was a fun “knight!”

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David is one of the most interesting and talented individuals I have met this year. (photo: Reed)

You know that I love the Street Sense organization.  Not only do I love what the paper and the organization stand for but I also have got to know many of their vendors and am honored today to call many of them my friends.

So when I heard about the Silent Auction benefit that Street Sense held to raise money for their organization, I made sure I was able to go.  It was a great event and they raised a record amount, but what I will remember most is meeting David.

He was asked to share some of his spoken word poetry at the event.  It was powerful.  David is so talented and brought the house down.  I knew he was my recipient of the day.  Here is one of the poem’s he shared with the attendees of the Silent Auction.

After he was done I approached him while he was by himself having a bite to eat from the delicious food that was generously donated by Fresh Start, a venture created by Day 225’s Robert Egger and the DC Central Kitchen.  David was so excited that I wanted to give him my $10 of the day that he started telling people around him.  His enthusiasm was beautiful.

David shared that he was released from ADX Florence, a level-5 Supermax prison in Colorado about 18 months ago.  “I shot a few people and threw them out of a window,” David told me picking at some fresh grapes on his plate.  “I had to serve my sentence there because of the violent nature of the crimes,” he went on to explain.  It was an odd juxtaposition.  In front of me stood this kind smiling man with a deep warm laugh who was sharing this information that didn’t seem to jive with the gentle giant in front of me.  He seems to be on the right track now; focusing on the positive.

Going through old photos I realized I had seen David once before. Here is a picture I took of him at the David Pike Awards. That's David on the left with Sam Ford of ABC7/WJLA-TV (phot:Reed)

David was homeless before serving his sentence and is homeless again.  One good thing is that he just was able to rent a storage locker.  “That’s a problem when you don’t have anywhere to keep your stuff safe,” says David.  He explained that he needed to go buy a proper lock for it.  “It costs $11, so I’m going to put this $10 toward the purchase of that lock!”  I happily reached in my pocket and handed him one more dollar to fully cover the cost.  He gave me a $100 smile.

David told me a story that I haven’t forgot.  While in prison he befriended another inmate who was illiterate.  Since David was good with words, this other inmate would have David write letters to his lady friend.  David would read the letters that she would write and tell him what she said and then write back to her.  “I was getting pretty interested in her,” he told me.  Here he was vicariously falling for another guy’s girl all because some guy couldn’t read or write… that’s movie material!  And a message for the kids, stay in school so other guys don’t steal your women while you are incarcerated!

I want you to watch David perform two of his other poems.  They’re powerful and deal with heavy subjects. 

David could use your help.  He would like to find additional employment.  “I’ve been cooking for years,” he said, but he would like to find something where he has more community engagement.  I was very impressed with this man.  He is one of the most interesting and talented people that I have met this year.  Although he is not always at the same location, often times you can find him selling the Street Sense at 13th and Pennsylvania in northwest DC.  Go visit him and tell him I sent you!

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Rain drops on the metallic chairs on Love Cafe's patio. (photo: Reed)

I don’t know why I carried my umbrella over to U Street with me; I didn’t use it to ward off the drizzle that fell as I dodged puddles along the uneven sidewalk.  I ducked in to Cake Love’s Café on the corner of 15th and U Streets.  I think its actual name is Love Café…according to the young Latina behind the counter it opened seven years ago…a year after the original bakery opened in 2002.  It’s a cozy little place with a spectacular corner view perfect for people watching.

Gerald with the original Cake Love in the background. (photo: Reed)

I met Gerald there. When he came in he said, “That’s where I usually sit…it’s got a great view.”  Gerald tells me that he lives across the street which turns out to be the same building that Almena from Day 21 lived in.

This is one of those encounters that I don’t even know where to begin.  We spoke for hours.  Gerald is a character too.  Some of the stories sound too sensational to be true but he swears by them; from being born in Freedmen Hospital (forerunner to Howard University Hospital) in 1943 to looting liquor stores during the riots of 1968 to inheriting a million dollars from his step-father. 

Gerald grew up living on Columbia Road around 12th Street.  “There was only one white person on my entire block back then,” he said. 

7th Street post MLK Assassination riots in DC in 1968.

During the riots Gerald said he was working at the Post Office.  On the day the riots started he was taking a test at the Watergate building.  He got home and painted “Black Power” on the side of his 1961 Dodge Polaris and headed out into the city.  “I didn’t have any prior riot experience, so I didn’t exactly know what to do,” he said.  He decided to go over to the People’s Drug Store and crossed the line of National Guard soldiers and stepped through the broken glass of the front door.  The store had already been heavily looted but he remembers thinking about taking a watch he saw inside, but didn’t. 

Gerald displays his $10 purchase. (photo: Reed)

Armed with a .357 Magnum he went down to Central Liquors at 9th and F Streets and then headed over to another liquor store on U Street.  All in all he says he took more than 22 ½ gallon bottles of top shelf liquor.  “I had two years worth of liquor!” 

Years later he got a job with IBM.  Now to appreciate this you got to understand that he was making about $6,100 a year at the post office and then was offered a $15,000 salary plus bonus at IBM.  The next couple years he made a lot of money and bought lots of material goods…namely cars. 

At some point the good times ended.  He divorced.  He lost his job.  He lost several houses that he owned and said he was even homeless at one point.  Now he lives in a very modest low-income housing complex.

I wish there was some way to bottle the loquacious couple of hours we spoke and serve it up here, but you just had to be there.  Before I left I asked him one last time if he knew what he would do with the $10.  He decided to go next door to the picturesque Best DC Supermarket and purchase a bottle of Dogfish Head Brewery’s Miles Davis Bitches Brew.  I walked over with him and even spotted him an extra buck to pay for it.

We exchanged numbers and he walked back to his apartment and I went the opposite way toward my place.

So something funny is that he put my number in his phone but never added my name.  Over the next week he called me about six times thinking I was somebody else or maybe he was just hoping that I would be giving another $10 away!

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In addition to her stage and television work, Bonnie has produced two radio shows. (photo: Reed)

I recently learned about a local writing workshop.  I thought, heck, I should have seen something like this 303 days ago!  When I started this I had no idea how MUCH writing I would do.  I’ve also never really stopped to think about my writing style or how I can improve it.  Hopefully I have learned something along the way but certainly I could benefit from a more structured environment to develop my writing skills.

 

 

The leader of the workshop is an inspiring and energetic woman whose name is one letter different from yesterday’s recipient!  Bonnie is a former stage and television actress who studied at the performing arts school in New York City that the movie Fame was based on.  She went on to study at Howard and UCLA and helped found the Los Angeles Theatre Works and has taught workshops to all kinds of audiences, even prison inmates!

 

Now divorced, she lives in the DC and has two grown sons; one a cinematographer and the other a plastic surgeon.  

 

Bonnie asked for a few days to consider how she wanted to use the ten dollars.  In an email to me the next day she wrote, “I donated the $10 to the Seva Foundation.  One of their programs addresses preventable blindness.  Through a dynamic network of partners around the world, Seva helps communities develop their own high-quality, affordable eye care services.”  Pretty cool that she decided to use it to help others see…something that many of us take for granted.  On a side note, I have wanted to give my ten dollars to a blind or deaf person.  I don’t know why I am a little obsessed with this idea, but I am.  Haven’t been able to yet, but I still have some time!

 

Bonnie on the set of Good Times

I was so moved by Bonnie’s interest in the Year of Giving.  “I’m going to be up half the night trying to think of ways to help you and your project,” she told me.  Since then she has made some introductions for me in an effort to find a venue for my year-end celebration.  Still nothing confirmed yet, but hopefully soon I will have more details.

 

 

 

In the workshop she asked us to think of one word that described ourselves.  As I write this I wonder what one word Bonnie would use to describer herself.  I can think of a couple: creative, sincere, confident, inspiring, etc.

 

So I did some digging and found some old clips of Bonnie doing some television shows back in the 70s.  From kissing Redd Foxx on the cheek on Sanford and Son to playing J.J.’s cousin on Good Times, she did some exciting work!  Check out this clip of her on successful TV series Good Times.  She plays Naomi and first appears around 7 minutes and 30 seconds.  If you watch the entire episode (there are three parts) you get to see more of Bonnie and hear Jimmie Walker utter his famous phrase “Dyn-O-Mite” twice!

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I was walking down Columbia Road toward Adams Morgan when I ran into Yab from Day 231.  He was doing well and seemed in good spirits.

The bus stop where I met Ronnie at 18th and Columbia Rd. (photo: Reed)

A few blocks north, I came to the intersection of 18th Street.  This is the heart of the lively Adams Morgan district.  I spotted a man in a wheel chair wearing a black and white checkered hat who was waiting for the bus and thought I would go over and give him my ten bucks. 

Ronnie was extremely suspicious of my offer to give him $10.  In the end he accepted it but he was reluctant to tell me much about himself much less allow me to take a photograph.  When I reached him, I noticed that he was missing his right hand.  He used his left hand to control his motorized chair.

Currently unemployed, Ronnie says that he will use the money for food.  He said he was very involved with his church and sings in the choir.  “I’ve been singing all my life,” the 50-year-old DC native told me.  

Ronnie's bus pulls away into the night. (photo: Reed)

I heard the growl of the 92 bus bound for Congress Heights as it barreled through the intersection toward our stop.  “That’s my bus,” Ronnie said.  Three others got on the bus and I went to the driver and asked him to lower the ramp so that Ronnie could get on.  All in all it took about four minutes to get Ronnie on board and get the door closed.  The bus pulled away and headed south down 18th Street.

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