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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I gave ten dollars to forty-eight year old Michael B, from Cicero.  I found him while I was walking around my neighborhood on a gorgeous day.  The weather is behaving itself, acting like a spring day should act, so lots of people are out “taking in the air.”

Michael was sitting on the curb outside McDonald’s, next to his blue bike.  Initially I’d thought to go into McDonald’s and find someone so I at first passed up Michael.  Inside I found a scruffy-looking middle-aged man drinking a cup of coffee by himself who let me explain the Year of Giving to him before refusing to take the money.

“You should find someone who really needs it,” he said.  Frankly, he looked to me like he really needed it,  but I took him at his word.

“Well,” I replied, “you could take it and then find someone worse off to give it to.”  He considered that option momentarily before again refusing politely.  I sensed I had hurt his pride.  Thanking him for his time, I left in search of another stranger.

Michael was still there, sitting quietly on the curb listening to his iPod.  He had a worried look on his face, and seemed absorbed in his thoughts.  As I approached he got up and started to unlock his bike.  I asked him if he had a minute to talk about a project and he said yes warily.  So once again, I explained the Year of Giving and my role in it.  

“Well, who wouldn’t want ten dollars for nothin’,” he joked.  “But what do I gotta do to get  it?”

“Nothing,” I said.

He looked taken aback.  I wondered if he thought I was trying to sucker him into a change-making scam.   I guess I looked too innocent for that sort of business because he started to act more curious than suspicious.

“So when is this supposed to happen,” he asked.

“Right now,” I replied cheerily.  “I’ve got the money right here in my back pocket.”  For some reason I felt like the Flying Nun at this moment, swooping in to save the day.

I saw a smile finally brighten his face.  “Sit right down, then,” he said, waving his hand in the direction of the curb as if he were ushering me into his office.

I handed him the ten as I sat.  He took it from me reluctantly, saying, “It don’t matter.  The money don’t matter.”  Once again, I sensed pride was at stake here.  I asked him right away what he planned to do with his ten.  He said he would use it to pay for transportation to work later that day.  I asked him what he did for a living.

“I’m a welder,” he replied with some pride.

“How’s business these days,” I asked.

“Terrible,” he replied, “just terrible.”  Michael went on to explain to me how his field has been railroaded by temporary hiring agencies like Manpower and Benchmark Staffing.  “You go to Careerbuilders.com and you look for welders or tool and die jobs, and you won’t find one—not one—that isn’t handled through an agency.”

The cost to Michael has been high.  Recently he was hired to do a job for $13/hr that would have paid him $25/hr a few years ago.  His income is now a fraction of the $70K he used to make, and as a result he’s been battling foreclosure for the past eight months.  Jobs for Michael only last a few months at a time, and then he is again on unemployment.  Sometimes that gets tricky.  For instance, he had listed his resume with 75 (yes, 75) different temp agencies.  One of those agencies reported to the government that he now had a contract with them, even though they had not supplied him with any work.  His unemployment was cancelled because of the meaningless contract.

Lack of health insurance is another problem.  Temp agencies rarely provide it.  Michael’s health is ok, but this past year has been tough due to a cold he has been unable to kick.  I could hear the rattle in his chest as we talked.  Occasionally he had to stop our conversation to cough.

“It’s from the public transportation,” he explained.  “I have to ride the trains and buses all the time now and there’re full of homeless people.  Homeless people are just livin’ on them, and they’re sick.  They’re coughin’ and sneezin’ and spittin’ on the floor.”  A look of disgust came over his face.  “I get better for a little while and then it just comes back again.”

I asked Michael about unions,  “Aren’t they helping?”

“They said they would help me.  I belonged to three unions, and I paid my dues.  I kept paying them until I couldn’t afford to anymore and then I gave up because they weren’t doing anything.  They were just sittin’ on the bench.”

In addition to the nagging cold, I could hear the exasperation in his voice. I share his frustration.  It seems to me the recession has settled into middle America like a lava flow slowly hardening around its ankles.  It has been enough to put anyone into a foul mood and I wished then and there I could do more for Michael.  I thought it might help if I got him talking about what has helped him survive this difficult time in his life.

“I’ve always had to fight,” he replied.  He went on to tell me about moving to Texas as a child.  His father promptly bought a fancy car and left his mother there with five kids.  Michael never saw his dad again.  Later they moved back to Chicago where he lived until he was sixteen.  “Then my mom kicked me out because she had all those other mouths to feed.”

“Michael, I’m sorry,” I said.  “That sounds really tough.  I can see you’ve had to fight to survive a lot in your life.”

I hoped I sounded genuinely sympathetic and not like I felt sorry for him, or like I wanted to smack his lousy parents for making him feel unwanted and unloved.  But Michael, I could tell, was not going to feel sorry for himself.  “The Lord gives me strength for it,” he responded.  “He has a plan for me somewhere along the line.  Besides, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

These are the gritty slogans that keep Michael going, and frankly, I’m amazed he can live on such thin soup.  He told me sometimes he gets inspiration from watching Joel Osteen on TV.  I can’t say I get inspiration from a man whose greatest struggle in life is deciding whether to live in a really big house or a mansion.  However, I am moved by Michael, who is fighting tooth and nail to keep his modest home, his health and his dignity as a skilled working man.  We stood and shook hands.

“Well, Michael,” I said, “I better let you go.  I know you have to get to work.“Good luck with…with.”

Michael laughed as together we both finished the sentence together“…with everything.”

Michael climbed on his bike, and I turned and walked towards home, wondering if a ten-dollar band-aid could possibly fix anything.

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Blog post by Maria D., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

 

Give a warm welcome to Jay. He’s a 22-year old born and raised in the District who currently works at Washington Sports Club.  Jay considers himself to be currently underemployed, like so many of us, and has aspirations of being a mechanic. “I’m going to go into the Coast Guard.  They gave me an offer to be a mechanic, which will put me on my way to pursuing my longtime dream of having my own mechanic business.”

 

Jay has been the first person I met so far who knew about the Year of Giving and Reed.  “Hey, wasn’t that guy in the newspaper, I think Street Sense? His story was really inspiring.”

 

How so, I asked. “Well here was this guy who had a great job, then lost it, and was unemployed but handing out money to people.  I especially remember the story on the tall, black homeless guy with long white dreads and a staff.  Yeah, that story was really inspirational to me.”

 

And what will Jay be doing with the $10?  “You know, Metro’s getting pretty expensive, so that’s where it’s going to go.” But Jay was also concerned with how I’d be able to give him the money. I’m budgeting for it, by giving up lunches out this week.  “Well now I feel bad, are you sure?”  Ha, YES! Somebody take the money, please!! But a sweet sentiment, nonetheless.

 

A few things I took away from this encounter are 1) It’s amazing how much money I waste all the time that I could be saving for a rainy day, giving to others, etc. and being underemployed helps put things in perspective; 2) It’s exciting to meet people like Jay who have aspirations and are finding the path and taking the steps to lead them to their goals; 3) Reed is kind of a big deal…  Looking forward to tomorrow!

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Being a Kindness Investor is a very interesting study in human nature. Especially my own. Especially when I allow myself to follow my gut and not my mind’s predetermined plan. For instance, my intention to give away my fifth $10 was specific: I was on my way to Ray’s, a well-known Seattle restaurant with a breath-taking view of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. On my way, I kept catching glimpses of an exceptionally clear, majestic day which was hosting glistening water and a horizon boasting one long dance of snow-capped peaks.

 

John holding his newspapers in front of his truck.

As I descended off a main road, preparing to make a left turn under a bridge to get to Ray’s, there stood John at the corner, several cars ahead of me. In that instant, my plans completely changed. I had to talk to him.

 

I made a U-turn, and then pulled around and under the bridge to park. John was clearly a bit confused as to why I was getting out of my car and approaching him. I’m sure I’d seen him before at this well-traveled intersection, but until that day, I never saw him.

John is one of hundreds of Seattle’s homeless people who sell Real Change, a weekly newspaper dedicated to advancing not only the facts (instead of assumptions) about those who are living on the streets, but also providing a safe and legitimate way for them to make money (as opposed to holding a sign or otherwise asking passers-by for spare change). When I meet a person who is offering this newspaper and asking that I purchase it for $1, I also see a badge which indicates that s/he is a bona fide participant in the Real Change extended family.

On the day I met John, the wind seemed to gather even more momentum as it whipped around the cement columns and twist through the underpass where we spoke. John’s pickup was parked near the corner where he stood patiently, albeit freezing, hoping that those who were sitting snugly in their cars would not ignore him at the stop light and perhaps buy his newspaper.

John was more than happy to accept my $10. He pointed to his truck. “I’ll probably buy some gas for my truck or propane because I live in the back-in the camper. There are a few of us who park over there in an empty parking lot at night and we use the propane to keep warm. No, I don’t light the propane in my camper,” he continued as my brow knitted in obvious concern.

“I’ve been homeless for about 12 years. I’m 43 and it all began after a very bad divorce. I lost everything, including my daughter.” John had lived a warm and productive life in Tennessee where he had a business – a store which sold everything from carpet to hardware supplies.

“We lived on a 12 and a half-acre farm. My ex-wife and her family are rich. But they wanted me gone and to keep me down. So here I am.”

I was struck by John’s optimism and confidence. Throughout our conversation he quoted several verses from the Bible which punctuated a point he was trying to make. His breath left a wake of steam as he spoke.

“I really need a job. I have a lot of experience doing many things. So if you or anyone you know needs help with building or painting or any of that kind of thing, please think of me.” John ran back to his truck and returned with a one page resume which was clean and professional. “They help us with our resumes at the office (of Real Change).”

When I asked him about staying at homeless shelters, he didn’t actually diss them but offered his own observation. “In a shelter they label you.  You’re a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or just plain crazy. Hey, I’m just out of work. Besides, I like living and sleeping in my own place – as humble as it is.” He gestured to his truck again.

Throughout the years, John had been to Texas where he worked off-shore on a boat fishing, but that didn’t stick as two of the guys were drunks. He had part-time job at the post office and then decided to move to California.  There, he had a sleeping bag, a tarp, and a man who helped him out by hiring him for some construction jobs.

He was quick to give the staff of Real Change a lot of credit. “This newspaper and the organization – what they do – has helped me in so many ways. I’ve been able to buy clothes and food because of it. They give me four papers free and I buy the rest for $.35 a paper. I sell it for $1, so I make $.65 off each one.”

While John’s day was just beginning, my ear lobes were bright red and my nose was running from the biting cold. And I grew up in Minnesota where this day’s weather was SOP!

I asked if he could use a blanket. “Always,” he replied with a smile. I ran back to my car and pulled a small blanket out of my emergency car kit and handed it to him. Then I remembered that I needed to buy the paper. I offered John $5 for a copy of his Real Change, he said no-I’d already given him $10!

“That was a Kindness Investor gift. This is for the paper. And since I don’t have change, please take the $5.” He did.

A hug and “good luck” was the only appropriate way to say good-bye to John. He smiled and waved as I climbed back into my car and hit the fan which blew warm air over my face and hands.

Driving home I was once again overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. Not because I was returning to my own warm home with (some) food in the fridge and an inviting bed. I was grateful that I met John and had an opportunity to learn about him, his life, and ambitions. He really does have a striking resume. I hope I will someday be in a position to hire him. That would make me even more happy.

-Petra from Seattle, WA

 

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View from Tabaq of the Washington Monument keeping watch over DC.

On day 352 I headed over to Tabaq Bistro, the venue for my year-end celebration, to meet up with my friend Patricia who managed the entire event.  She’s a rock star and knows how to run events.  We went over a bunch of logistical issues about things you’d never dream of (i.e. will they have waiters or a buffet table, what kind of connection cables does their sound system use (1/4 inch if you were wondering), does the price quoted include serving plates and napkins, and the list goes on.  After an exhausting review of items, my head was sufficiently cloudy and we decided to get some food upstairs and figure out what we had forgotten.

We maneuvered our way up the two flights of dimly lit stairs to the upper level of Tabaq which has one of the best views in DC if you haven’t been there.  Its wall to wall glass gives sweeping views toward the downtown, the monuments and beyond.  We grabbed some space at the rather empty bar area and ordered a drink and began perusing the dinner menu.  Muhammara, that sounds interesting.  It’s a roasted red pepper and walnut puree.  We got one of those and chicken breast stuffed with spinach, cheese and peppers that glistened with thin layer of port wine sauce.  My mind swirled like the cocktails the bartender was serving up.  There were a myriad of things that had to still get done that day.  One of which was to deliver my $10 to some unsuspecting individual.

Rachel chatting with Patricia.

Our bartender was a young woman named Rachel.  Why not give it to her?  She was very friendly and frankly had the time since at the time we were her only customers.  The Connecticut native had been working there for about a month.  She recently graduated from American University with a degree in graphic design and photography.  My friend Patricia also went to American University here in DC and actually knew exactly where Rachel lived in Connecticut.  Small world…almost freaky.

Rachel mixes up the perfect martini.

The world is in fact small for Rachel.  She loves to travel.  Maybe it’s because her father is originally from New Zealand and she has always had the international bug.  Her father grew up in Auckland.  “I’d like to move to New Zealand some day,” Rachel says.  “Maybe try sailing or just hang out for a while,” she added.

At some point the conversation turned very technical focusing on the specific fonts she used to develop her website – which you can find here!  “I used universe font,” she started to say, “I tried to avoid gil sans and helvetica.”  Fonts…hmm, I can barely choose between wearing brown or black shoes in the morning much less what kind of font I am going to use on my website and documents.  Patricia and Rachel debated the finer points of fonts – the conversation gliding far above my comprehension.  I drifted in and out of the conversation while shifting my attention to the hearty portion of Muhammara that was still in front of us.

A cherry blossom photograph that Rachel made. For more of her work, click on the photo to visit her website.

Rachel stood close enough to get us something should we need it but not too close to make us feel uncomfortable as we ate.  “So what do you think you will use the ten dollars for,” I asked the camera shy bartender.  She paused for a moment and told me that she would probably use it to pay for the Metro or maybe put it toward a dinner she planned to make that week for a really good friend of hers.  “I’m thinking about making chicken picatta,” she said.

 

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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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Ben, me and Ian. I look ridiculous I know! (photo: Reed)

One thing I did not do enough of this summer is ride my bike.  I meant to meet up with Mark E. from Day 132 and go for a ride.  He is an avid rider and offered several times to meet up.  I did manage to get out a few weeks ago though and took my $10, notebook and camera with me.

Somewhere about a mile or so north of Georgetown is a place called Fletcher’s Boat House.  It was there I spotted Ian and Ben.

You can rent boats to go out on the Potomac River at Fletcher's. (photo: Reed)

“I’m officially a police officer,” Ian tells me.  “But I consider myself an EMT.”  It turns out he is quite the busy guy.  He is juggling classes at George Washington with his work as a police officer and EMT.  “I hope to go to med school,” he says in a steady confident tone.  Somewhere in all of that he finds time to get away and enjoy the beautiful crescent trail.  And let me tell you, it is stunning this time of year.

A senior at GW, Ben is figuring out what he wants to do.  “I’m leaning toward the music industry,” he says shrugging his shoulders a little bit.  He’s double majoring in philosophy and psychology, you’d think that this would help to give you the critical thinking skills necessary to figure out what direction to go in, but who knows, maybe it just complicates the entire equation. 

Ian's got his eyes set on going to medical school. (photo: Reed)

My notes say that Ben was going to use his $5 to buy some bottled water.  Next to that I wrote, “or deep fried H20” it looks like.  I have no idea what that means, I certainly don’t remember him saying that.  Let’s see if he checks in on the site and tells us.  As for Ian, he was going to put it toward his Metro fare card to get to his EMT station.  

I got a kick out of something Ben told me.  “Ian is time-locked in the 80s.”  That’s kind of funny, because if I do the math right he was born in 1989.  I guess that first year really influenced him!  “Music, TV-wise, movies….he loves Scarface,” Ben goes on. 

Ben needs our help to get an internship at a performing arts center. (photo: Reed)

Hey performing arts centers…Ben needs an internship.  Ideally he would like to get a programming or production internship at the Kennedy Center.  Shoot me a message or leave a comment if you can help Ben out.  Oh, and by the way, if there is dancing at the year-end celebration, I hope Ben comes.  Ian told me, “Ben can dance to absolutely any kind of music.”  Wow…the bar has been set pretty high.  Maybe instead of his internship he ought to try out for the show So You Think You Can Dance?

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