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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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What is worse?  A trip to the dentist or the Department of Motor Vehicles?

After waiting for 30 minutes to get inside the DMV building, you get to wait in this room. The room is 3 times the size of what you see here. (photo: Reed)

I headed over to the DMV to get my car’s emissions levels re-inspected after a faulty oxygen sensor failed me the first time.  After passing the test, I went around the block to the DMV’s administration center to register my car in the District.

Primary elections in DC were being held next door to the center and parking was limited.  When I arrived I was greeted by a line of other DC residents snaking out the door.  And this line was just to get a number to get placed in another waiting area.  Typical!

I looked at my watch and saw that it was 9:18am.

In front of me was a guy who was passing the time thumbing away on his phone.  I realized that I was in for a long morning at the DMV and introduced myself to Chad and asked him to accept my $10.  Chad accepted and told me that he was there to renew his license and change his address.

Chad said he'd rather go to the dentist than visit the DMV! (photo: Reed)

“I went to get something notarized and they said that I needed a new license because one of the corners was broken because I sat on it,” he said before pausing.  “Man, I’d rather go to the dentist than come here!”

I’m with Chad on that one.

As we inch forward in line he tells me that this was his second trip to the DMV this week.

“So I went online on Monday and checked the cameras to see how long the lines were on Monday and there was no line at all.  So I came down here only to find out that the reason that there was no line was because THEY DON’T OPEN ON MONDAYS!!  The place was closed.” 

That’s funny.

Now holding number C325, Chad looked at the monitor that shows which number they are servicing.  He had 20 people in front of him.  I asked Chad how long he thought it would take to get through the system.  “I’ll hopefully leave here in 45 minutes so that I can get to work on time, if not, I’ll have to call my boss and say I will be late.”  That time came and went and Chad pulled out his phone and dialed his boss.  He got some extra time, but it proved to not be enough.  He finally left around 10:45.  It would take another 50 minutes before they called his number.  

My number was called a few minutes later.  As it turns out I waited almost two and a half hours to be called on.  It would take ten minutes to complete my transaction.  And here is the weird part.  They asked if I wanted to transfer my old tags to my new car or get new ones.  I had my old tags with me and said I would probably just keep my old ones.  Not only would it be cheaper but it would also be better for the environment.  But wait!  I was wrong.  It turns out it was more expensive to keep my old tags because they would have to renew them which had fees attached to it.  That’s insane.  So what did I do?  I surrendered my old license plates and got new one.

Chad filling out one of the many forms they give you. (photo: Reed)

The 29-year-old told me he was going to use the $10 to help pay for parking while he was at work.  “The hotel charges $35 a day, but I park nearby where it costs $13, so this will go toward today’s parking.”  

By the way, I learned that Chad was born and raised in DC.  He graduated from the LAB School and then went on to study business at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.  I had never heard of this university when I met Chad, but then heard of it again recently when the controversies over Delaware candidate for Senate Christine O’Donnell looked into her educational background.  After school Chad managed a McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant but later opted to leave for a less stressful position.  Now he is a server at a steakhouse in a luxury hotel in downtown DC.  

I asked him if any of the readers of the Year of Giving could help him in any way and he said he would appreciate it if any Life Coach would be willing to donate some time to work with him.  Several Life Coaches have reached out to me so I have the feeling we will find someone for Chad.

FYI this entry filled up the last page of my third notebook that I have used so far this year.  Tomorrow I crack open a new one.

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Five Guys cheeseburger and fries

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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After leaving the Black Cat on Day 242, we got some pizza on U Street and I offered to walk a friend of mine home.  On the way we noticed some bright lights in the CVS parking lot. At first I thought maybe they were filming something. As we got closer we noticed that there were five cloth backdrops with scenes painted on them, some portrait studio type lighting and two color printers.

You can find Carlton every weekend until October at the CVS parking lot near Florida and 7th (photo: Reed)

Carlton was holding a Canon Rebel camera. I asked what was going on and he explained that during the warm months he and his brothers set up in the parking lot there at the CVS and take people’s photos in front of the backdrops. “It’s ten dollars for a picture,” the 31-year-old tells me. I looked at my watch, it was about 12:30am…it’s a new day. Game on! I reached in and grabbed $10 and gave it to Carlton. “I’ll take your guys picture for you if you want,” he offers but I explain that I can’t receive anything in return for the $10.

Carlton’s uncle negotiated a deal with the CVS people to use their parking lot from 11pm to around 3am on the weekends. Then he and his brother’s got a friend named GQ to design all the back drops. There were five backdrops lined up: one that said “Wasted” and had some alcohol bottles on it, another with a Cuervo 1800 bottle, a third with a Mercedes, the fourth one had a Cadillac truck and the last one showed a beach with waves crashing under the moon. “My favorite is one that is not up tonight, but it’s one with two bottles of Moet champagne,” Carlton says.

Carlton at work (photo: Reed)

As we are chatting a group of nine presumably inebriated young people show up to get their picture taken in front of the “Wasted” backdrop. He takes their photo about four times until they are happy with it and then pulls the memory stick out of the camera and slips it into the printer and hits print. About 90 seconds later, their picture was ready.

“We print about 70 pictures a night,” Carlton says. “We got a lot of regulars too.” No sooner did he mention that he had regulars than a guy shows up who must have taken 30 photos of himself. He was wearing sunglasses and had his car stereo system pumping hard. He took photos in front of several of the backdrops but then he took some of him in his car too. Carlton printed what looked to be about two dozen photos and handed them to the customer. “He’s a regular,” Carlton says nodding toward the man as he pulled out of the parking lot. I hope he didn’t pay $10 per picture!

Carlton poses for a picture (photo: Reed)

Carlton and his brothers, DC natives who attended Roosevelt High School, have been doing this for four years. Sometimes they also set up in clubs and other places, especially in the winter when they are not out at this location.  Things get a little out of control from time to time too. “Sometimes ladies get naked, it’s crazy,” Carlton admits.

Some ladies strike a pose for Carlton (photo: Reed)

Two young ladies approach us and ask to get their picture taken. I now had my camera out and I guess they thought I was working there…reasonable assumption. I directed them to Carlton and they struck a pose in front of the Cuervo bottle. I captured Carlton taking their photo.

“I’m going use the $10 to put gas in my car,” he says as he slides the ladies’ photo into a sleeve.

Before leaving, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get my photo taken as well.  I chose the beach scene. You can find the photo on the Facebook Page.

If you want to get your photo taken by Carlton, you’ll find him or one of his brothers in the CVS parking lot at Florida and 7th Street, NW any weekend from 11pm to around 3am until October.

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Jon gets a fresh delicious pretzel for a customer (photo: Reed)

 

On Sunday I said goodbye to Sweetie and Manassas and headed back to DC. On the way home I stopped at the Tyson’s Corner Mall. I got to admit that I have almost no willpower when it comes to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I succumbed to the cravings and walked over and got a pretzel. My favorite one is the jalapeno, but they didn’t have that at this one so I just got the original. Mmmm…it was devoured in about two minutes.  

As I was eating I thought that maybe I could give my $10 to the guy who sold me the pretzel.  I walked back over and introduced myself to Jon and explained what I was doing. He said he would accept my $10 and I chatted with him while he prepared the place for closing, after all the mall was closing in about 10 minutes.  

Jon (photo: Reed)

 

After four months working for the pretzel gods, Jon says that the original pretzel is the most common. “We also sell a lot of almond pretzels,” he says. I never knew they sold almond pretzels but he says that they are quite popular with Asian Americans. Which is interesting, because when I used to live in Brazil they had pretzel shops there too, but they never sold salted pretzels, mostly sweet pretzels. Brazilians like salty snacks; I’ve always thought that the original pretzel would be very popular there.   Maybe they would like the almond pretzel!  Anyway.  

Jon comes across as a professional, charismatic guy. I was a little surprised that he was working in retail at the mall. He shared with me that he had been convicted of felony drug charges in the past and it was hard to find work. “I was sentenced to 15 months in Arlington County jail,” he tells me although he later explains that the majority of the sentence he served in a rehabilitation center. “That’s in the past now.  I’m clean now. I was at a point in my life when I needed change,” Jon said.  

Now he is focused on other things. He realized he had to exchange his old lifestyle and friends for a new lifestyle that would allow him to live a productive life. When he is not working he says that he enjoys going to the gym, playing sports and rooting for the Redskins. He has also invested time and money into getting his A+ Certification for computer systems. He has done all the coursework he needs he just needs to take the final exam. He got interested in computers at an early age and has been building his own computers for the past four to five years.  

Jon attends to some customers (photo: Reed)

 

A family walked up and ordered three pretzels. “We have a special that if you buy two you get the third one free,” he told her. That made them so happy. 

I learned that three nights a week they give their leftover food to a shelter program. Very nice. I am not sure why they don’t do it every night but I suspect it might present some logistical challenges.  

“So what do you think you will use the $10 for?” I asked him. He didn’t waste any time to blurt out, “Bus fare!” He sometimes uses a scooter, but relies heavily on the bus system. “Right now my scooter is in the shop actually,” he said. “It was supposed be ready the other day but now it wont be ready until tomorrow at the earliest – that’s the kind of stuff that used to set me off when I was using, but now it doesn’t really bother me.”  

One of his colleagues showed up from the other location that Auntie Anne’s has in the mall. I told him that I would let him go and packed up my stuff and tried to figure out how I was going to get out of the mall because some of the exits were now closed.  Jon told me how to get out and thanked me and I wished him a good night. He smiled and said, “Thanks, I will. I’m actually meeting my mother for dinner!”

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I have hit the streets every single day for the past 225 days searching for someone to give my $10 to.  This journey started out during a difficult time for me.  For the first time since I was 12 (stop calling the Department of Labor, I was a paper boy!) I was out of a job.  Through the Year of Giving I meet so many other amazing people who are in similar situations and every day they look for work or someone who will give them a chance.  Today I met a person who does just that!

Robert (photo: Reed)

Robert Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, the nation’s first “community kitchen”, where unemployed men and women learn marketable culinary skills while donated food is converted into wholesome meals.  Pretty cool, eh?

At 52, Robert’s life has taken an unlikely course for someone whose dream 30 years ago was to open the quintessential nightclub in the country.  Back then he worked in clubs and bars and even got to see the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen play in what is now the Darlington House in Dupont.  As we walk east along E Street, Robert explains how in 1989 he cooked up this idea to feed the poor after a volunteer experience.  20 million meals later, he and DC Central Kitchen have done a lot of good and given over 700 men and women full-time employment as well!

In one of our tangents, Robert explained how two men covered the entire country painting Mail Pouch signs on barns. One went and made the deals and the other followed painting he barns.

I had seen Robert once before.  He spoke at an event earlier this year and I was so impressed at how he sees the world.  He can take 5 random subject ingredients, toss them together and come up with a coherent message that is meaningful and memorable.  It’s no surprise that he spends a great deal of his time speaking to groups around the country about harnessing nonprofit power.

He was born in the little town of Milton, Florida (population about 10,000) nine months after his parents tied the knot.  “I was a wedding night baby!” he says with a wide grin that reaches outside of his goatee.  “1958 – me, Madonna, Prince and Kevin Bacon!”  Can you name three famous people who were born the same year you were?   I don’t think I can.

One thing you definitely notice about Robert is that he speaks fast.  Trying to walk and jot down notes was nearly impossible so I busted out the Flip camera.  Try to keep up…

As he arrives back at the DC Central Kitchen, a young woman named Becky walks by.  Robert snags her and beams as he tells me what a great job she has done leading their job placement program.  “We placed 20 out of 21 candidates in our last class” Becky says and then hustles back to work.

As she slips out of sight I shift back into my list of questions for Robert.  Before I could even get my next thought conjured up in my head another team member, Quinn, walks by.  Robert pulls him aside and says “I know exactly what I am going to do with this $10 and Quinn here is going to make it happen!”  Quinn’s face looked like most people’s face when I tell them I want to give them $10…a little confused.  But he goes with the flow and Robert explains how giving the $10 to Quinn will impact thousands of people in the DC area.  This is cool, check it out.

Not only is he the President of DC Central Kitchen, but he has parlayed his success as a social entrepreneur into two other related ventures, the Campus Kitchens Project and Fresh Start Catering.  On top of that he founded a political action group that represents the voice of social enterprise and non-profits called V3 and wrote a book (which I just bought!) called Begging for Change that is a plea for reform for the 800 billion dollar non-profit sector.

The guy is busy and keeps an insane calendar, but the chaos of his schedule puts him in front of people all across this country.  And when he is in cabs or waiting for a plane to depart he is updating his twitter and facebook status.  Hopefully you will get the chance to speak with Robert one day – it’s invigorating.  My suggestion if you see him, and you want to try to get him to sit still for a second, is to offer him big-ass margarita made with Herradura Tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice.  Drop me a line and let me know if it works!

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Were you aware that there are people enslaved in the US today? Unfortunately this is all too common occurrence in the agriculture business; eight cases in Florida alone in the past 12 years and many more that go undocumented.

Recently I was walking home from work when I passed a truck parked up on the grass in front of the Church of the Pilgrims in between 23rd Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest DC. On the side of the truck was written “Florida Modern Slavery Museum.” It’s hard to believe that this exists in the US in 2010! But it does. A new case was just filed last month. As I browse through the exhibit I read the stories of those who have been held against their will, chained, beaten, pistol whipped and even shot.

Julia (photo: Reed)

I got the opportunity to sit down and speak with Julia and Lucas; two members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Their organization is one of three groups that have come together to produce the museum and travel the country educating people about the horrifying status quo of farming conditions in Florida and many other parts of the country. The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Their organization has communal in nature and has no hierarchy or executive director for that matter. They are 4,000 people united to improve the working conditions of the farmers.

Florida Modern Slavery Museum in front of the Capitol (photo courtesy of http://www.ciw-online.org)

Julia and Lucas are traveling accompanying the museum as it makes its nearly four-week tour up and down the East Coast. They explain to me that although the museum started this year, the CIW has been around since 1993. They share with me the “other side of agriculture…the dark side.” You might think that this is a situation that you are far removed from, however, Julia reminds us that we all are involved. “This is about the people who harvest the fruits and vegetables that you purchase in your local grocery store.” They explain to me that the grocery stores are a part of this too. They pay very low fees for the products that they get. So little that the result is that the farmers provide low wages and poor conditions to their workers. Some cases get so bad that the workers, who are often immigrants with little recourse, become held against their will in a modern enslavement of sorts.

Lucas (photo: Reed)

“Are there any grocery stores that have taken a strong position against working with any farms that are found to be offenders?” I asked. They told me that Whole Foods is the only chain so far that has stepped up and worked with their organization and committed to stop these deplorable conditions. So you might ask what it is that the CIW asks of these big grocery giants since so many of them are not working with CIW. They ask them to do three things that sound pretty reasonable:
• Pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes purchased to directly increase the wages of tomato pickers;
• Implement an enforceable code of conduct to ensure safe and fair working conditions for farm workers, including zero tolerance for modern-day slavery;
• Ensure a voice for farm workers in monitoring improvements and reporting abuses.

Some restaurants have agreed to these principles: Yum Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc), McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway.

I didn’t get a chance to ask them why it is focused on tomato-pickers and not more general, it seems like we should be protecting all types of farm workers.
I have two videos to share with you on this topic. The first one is an extensive conversation with Julia about the current situation as well as a call to action of what we can do to help abolish these inhumane practices.

The second video is with Julia and Lucas and it is in Spanish. (Este video se explica la situacion actual del abuso de campesinos en el estado de Florida)

Julia and Lucas will use the $10 to put toward gas and food for the crew during their journey. If you would like to meet Julia, Lucas and their colleagues and visit the museum, you can check them out here:
Aug. 9 Boston, City Hall Plaza, Intersection of Congress St & North St 10 am to 8 pm
Aug. 10 Northampton, MA, In front of Pulaski Park on Main St., near Masonic St. and Smith College, 10 am – 8 pm
Aug. 14 Baltimore – Location TBD
Aug. 16 Charlotte, NC, Compass Group corporate offices, 2400 Yorkmont Road, 10am – 6pm

If you would like to learn more about CIW or make a donation, please click here.

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Eric fights to protect the right to affordable housing in the District (photo: Reed)

Recently I met Ca’Vonn, a struggling mother of six in DC’s Shaw neighborhood who is part of the Tent City DC community at the corner of 7th and R Streets in Northwest.  On one of my other visits to the controversial Parcel 42 I met Eric Sheptock.  Eric is a homeless advocate who’s life story is as amazing as it is horrific. 

He tells me a chilling story about a couple who decided they no longer wanted there eight-month-old baby boy and attempted to murder the child by beating the innocent infant until they cracked his head open and left him to die in a New Jersey motel.  Thankfully someone found the bludgeoned baby and rushed him to the hospital.  Unfortunately this isn’t an except from a story by Stephen King or Richard Laymon, it’s Eric’s real life story 

This stomach churning saga has a happy ending though.  Eric survived the ordeal and five years of foster care until he was later adopted by a family in New Jersey: the Sheptocks.  If the name sounds familiar, you might have heard about them before.  They had seven children of their own and adopted 30 others.  That’s quite a family.  They have been in the media several times and there was even a book written about them! 

Eric and his family moved around in New Jersey and finally settled in Florida.  As a young adult he got a job there at a hospital and worked there for a couple of years until he left over a disagreement.  He took his final check and decided to go to New Jersey.  In 1994 his money ran out and Eric became homeless; a situation that he has maintained on and off since that time.  That was not the only tragedy of 1994.  On August 11th of the same year his petite 33-year-old girlfriend, a six-pack a day drinker, died of cirrhosis of the liver.  

In 2005 Eric was back in Florida living in a tent in the woods.  He was fed up with the war that we were waging in Iraq and decided to move to Washington, DC and become an activist.  He set out on July 6th which was President Bush’s birthday coincidentally. 

Eric at Parcel 42 aka Tent City DC at 7th and R in NW (photo: Reed)

He walked and hitchhiked most of the way.  He told me several amazing stories about his journey.  One that I will share with you is that as Eric was walking through Virginia he came into the town of Farmville late one evening.  There were no street lamps there due to some city ordinances or something but he did finally see a light off in the distance.  When he got closer he realized that the light was coming from the porch of a church.  Despite the porch crawling with large spiders, he made it his resting place for the night.  He awoke the next morning, Sunday, to find the spiders replaced by churchgoers.  They invited him in to service, fed him and gave him $84 from a collection they passed around for him.  He went on his way and was offered a ride by a passerby who ended up driving him almost 50 miles out of his way to a bus stop in Charlottesville, VA.  When Eric tried to offer him some money for the gas, the driver refused and actually gave him $20! 

Soon after arriving in DC he started advocating to keep the Franklin Shelter open.  He met with former Mayor Williams, current Mayor Fenty and others and shook their hand as they promised that they would all support keeping the facility open.  Sadly, once in office, Eric says that Fenty closed the shelter. 

Eric continues to advocate for homeless members of our community as well as those who have housing but struggle to keep up with rising rental rates.  He has over 4,000 friends on facebook and 700 followers on twitter.  This is impressive given that he says he didn’t know how to use a computer until four years ago.  

With his feet-on-the-ground approach coupled with his efforts in social media, Eric has become the voice for so many who have been muted due to their social and economic situation.  He hopes to some day find gainful employment that allows him to secure affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals.  Although he has been successful in doing this for a handful of people, he wants to scale his efforts to a more seismic level.  

Eric says he will put $5 on his Metro card and use the remaining $5 for food. 

I had the opportunity to record some of his passion for affordable housing for DC residents.  The following video is a little long (when I tried to use my free editor, it lowered the quality so bad that I felt it was better to leave in its original uncut format), but very informative.  Take a minute to listen to Eric and learn about the current struggles related to affordable housing in our nation’s capital.

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It seems like I am fighting an endless battle to get caught up on my blog posts.  I have some video to show of Anthony getting more items that I need to get edited and share with you and I also have some items for Garrett.  I saw him again today and agreed to meet him later to deliver the items but he wasn’t there when I returned.  I’ll keep trying.

Other day I checked my wallet and I had seven dollars in it so I went to the ATM and retrieved $100.  I then walked inside the bank and asked if I could get the twenty-dollar bills broken down into ten-dollar bills.  I shared with Catherine the idea of the Year of Giving and she got so excited.  “Ooh, I’d like somebody to give me $10!”

I left and headed home.  I went back to the bank with my notebook and camera about three hours later to see if Catherine was still there.  She was helping a customer and at first did not recognize me.  “She can help you at the next window,” she said as I waited while she attended to her customer.  I politely refused the help of the other teller explaining that I wanted to speak with Catherine.  When my turn came, she looked at me and recognized me.  She was so excited and ran around the other teller windows and came out on the left side to meet me.  Her energy was contagious. 

Catherine's smile is contagious. (photo: Reed)

I discovered that  27-year-old grew up in Ghana.  Her native language is Fanti, but she speaks perfect English in addition to speaking French and a Ga, another native language of Ghana.  Nine years ago she moved to Akron, Ohio to pursue a degree in Political Science.  Then in January she moved to DC to try to further her career; however it’s not been easy.  “I can’t find anything related to my career,” she told me.  She ended up accepting a job at the bank in order to pay her bills.  Her $1,000+ monthly rent is grossly more expensive than the $320 she paid for her place in Akron.   

Given her short time in DC and economic situation right now she says that she hasn’t gotten out much and has yet to meet a lot of new friends.  Thankfully she loves her coworkers at the bank.  “They’re great!” 

photo: Reed

She hopes to find a job in international development and possibly work with Africa.  At some point she says she hopes to return to Ghana.  “My dream is to run a HIV/AIDS awareness organization back in Ghana.”  I know that many readers of the Year of Giving are involved in that area of work and I hope they might be able to help Catherine.  Drop me a note and I will connect you with Catherine. 

As someone who works with money all day long, I was quite interested to know what she was going to do with the $10 I gave her.  “I’m going to put it toward gas,” she says.  It sounds like she could definitely use a little extra money too; she estimates that she has racked up more than $450 in parking and speeding tickets since moving here earlier this year.  Hmmm.  I might suggest the Metro as an alternative to get her to and from work!

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So my first two days at work are in the history books.  I am still in orientation mode, but I can tell you that this organization is full of talent.  The WWF is doing really meaningful work around the world.  Please visit their website to learn more about their 19 priority areas.

I am still trying to catch up on my blog entries!  Today was actually day 211, so I am 13 days behind in my writing.  Oh, by the way, if you are at the supermarket this week and see a magazine called Woman’s World, there should be a story in this week’s edition about the Year of Giving.  I haven’t gotten to the store yet to check it out but am going tonight, so I will let you know.

Alexander on his pedicab (photo: Reed)

Day 198 was interesting.  I spent the entire day over at my brother and his wife’s house dealing with my sick computer.  At 11:00pm we were still running into dead-ends.  I hadn’t given my $10 away so I grabbed my things and headed back to DC in hopes to find someone along the way to give the $10 to. 

Right off of Pennsylvania Avenue near James Monroe Park I spotted a pedicab waiting to pick up a late night fare in front of Kinkead’s restaurant.  I parked the car and walked over and introduced myself to Alexander.

After a career as a military air traffic controller, he tells me that he has been pedaling for the past three years for a company called DC Pedicab.  “We’re the original pedicab company in DC, we started four years ago,” he tells me.  It’s a nice alternative to a traditional cab.  You slow down your travel and actually can take in some of the rich history of our nation’s capital.  While Alexander is pedaling away he likes to share some of that rich history with his customers.  After an hour and a half of chatting with him I can assure you that he is very knowledgeable about the city. 

photo: Reed

Fares typically run about $15-$30, but this all depends on how far and how many people he is pulling.  “I actually charge a little more if the customer is considerably overweight too.  It’s a lot more work!”  And he is a good judge of weight.  He said he could guess my weight and what do you know, he guessed mine within five pounds! 

I asked him what his longest fare was and he said he once took a wounded veteran from the centerfield entrance at the new Nationals Stadium all the way to Walter Reid Medical Center.  How much?  $150!

Alexander found this job on Craigslist.  “I like it.  I pay a monthly fee for the pedicab and then I can work the hours that I want.”  He says that he earns good money and stays in shape.  He also likes that he gets to meet all different kinds of people.  “You never know who you are going to meet.  I even drove Sir Richard Branson around at the Virgin concert at Pimlico.”  Here Alexander talks about another very memorable fare that he had.

We sat and talked for a long time about a myriad of topics.  From what he was doing the day MLK was assassinated and racial tensions in America to what it was like growing up in a Polish-American household in Bridgeport, Connecticut (his mother was first generation and his father second generation.)  Not to mention all the DC history he shared with me.

If you live here or will be in the DC area, I encourage you to give Alexander a call.  You could do a romantic night out on the town or maybe an hour-long guided tour of Washington.  He offered a special rate of $45/hour (please tip him on top of this!) for the readers of the Year of Giving.  Trust me it will be worth it!  He can be reached at 202-531-7432.

Almost forgot, his $10 went on his metro card.  Sometimes Alexander wants to sit back and relax when he travels!

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View nearby where I am staying in Manizales, Colombia (Photo: Reed)

I have arrived safely here in Manizales, Colombia.  I am a little behind with my posting but that is somewhat acceptable if you consider what my internet set-up might be in such a beautiful location like this.

By the way, I have been thinking that it would be a good idea to document the giving experiences from Colombia in both Spanish and English.  For one reason, if a recipient doesn’t read English very well they won’t be able to read their own blog posting which just seems wrong.  Given my schedule, it would be great to have a native speaker “guest translate” for each of the days that I am here.  If you are interested, let me know.

Last week the New York Mets baseball team was in town to take on the Washington Nationals.  I grew up a huge Mets fan.  Living in Central PA you would think that I would be a Philadelphia Phillies or Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  The only explanation that I can give is that I started to follow them because we got WWOR Channel 9 from Secaucus, NJ which carried almost all of the Mets games at the time.  It certainly wasn’t because of the team’s record back then.  I started following them in the early 1980s when they were not a pretty sight.  They got better though and went on to win the 1986 World Series.  My father took me to game 5 of the National League play-offs that year against the Houston Astros.  It’s one of my fondest childhood memories.

Anyway, I made it to two Mets games last week.  My friend Chris and I were leaving the game and getting on the Metro when I saw a young guy playing the violin.  I offered him the $10 but he declined when he learned that I would write about the encounter on the blog.

I scanned the scene for another recipient.  It was almost as if a river current was carrying everyone to the Metro.  In the middle of this swift moving mob was a woman holding her own against the current while she handed out the Express newspaper; a free paper published by the Washington Post that is mostly distributed to commuters.  I have given several times to the vendors of Street Sense, but I have never given to anyone from the Express organization.  So I did.

Sharon hands a Metro rider the Express (Photo: Reed)

Sharon was busy trying to capture the attention of the mostly disinterested passersby.  She has handed out the Express for three years she tells me.  “On a good day I hand out about 1,500 papers.”  I remember responding to her with something like, “Wow, you sell a lot of papers!”  I knew the paper was free but I just misspoke.  She quipped back, “Honey, if I was selling these things I’d be a millionaire by now!”

She went on to tell me that “the people are the best part of the job!”  Although that evening was almost perfect, Sharon says that she dreads the hottest and coldest days of the year.  “That’s the worst part about this job: the weather.”

Originally from West Virginia, the 49-year-old now calls Washington, DC her home.  She certainly makes a lot of us feel at home here when she give’s us our paper and wishes us a nice day.  She told me that she was going to use the $10 to help pay for her transportation to and from work.  I didn’t want to keep her from her job much more so I thanked her (and she thanked me right back) and said “goodnight.”

I am looking forward to writing more about Manizales this week.  It’s a beautiful tranquil space.  This should be a very busy and exciting 10 days!

Check out this short clip of Sharon in action!

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I got another package for Anthony (Day 67) last week.  This time it was from Jamie in Alabama!  Take a look!

Later that day I came across Robert. 

Robert shared with me that he had a serious drug and alcohol addiction in the past; PCP, crack, heroin, you name it.  But after getting high one time and breaking into a school in PG County, he was arrested and served 12 months of an 18 month sentence.  That he said cleaned him up. “I did my time and I appreciate what it did for me, but I don’t ever want to do it again” he told me.

Now Robert lives with his mother and makes a living selling personalized greeting cards at the corner of 17th and H in DC.  Although never married, he has five sons. 

You can see some of Robert’s work here.

Robert is going to put the $10 toward his Metro card so that he can get to and from the corner where he sells his cards.  He says he is there Monday through Friday from 7am to 7pm.

If anyone knows of jobs related to drawing, Robert welcomes your help.

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Last Thursday my friend Rick got some cheap tickets to see the Nationals play the Colorado Rockies so I went to the game.  I figured it would be fun to give my $10 to whoever was sitting next to me at the game.  We had tickets in section 309, row C, seats 1-3.  So, I figured whoever had seat 4 is getting $10!

It turns out nobody was sitting in seat 4…but there was a woman who had 5.  So I offered her my $10 but she refused.  I gave it my all to try to convince her but I was unsuccessful…she wouldn’t even tell me her first name.  Oh well.  I then found Jimmy.

Jimmy, Nationals Ballpark (Photo: Reed)

Jimmy is a vendor who climbs the steps of the stands all game long hawking snacks and beverages.  This is not an easy job…you are constantly carrying around a backbreaking container of goods navigating your way up and down stadium steps.  And get this, there is no salary.  That’s right, Jimmy said he only gets commission and tips.

He works for a company that places him in a variety of different stadiums.  Hailing from Baltimore, he said he is not that much of a Nationals fan.  Actually he says he likes football more than baseball, especially the Baltimore Ravens. 

I couldn’t keep Jimmy too long.  After all, he was working and his wages are a direct correlation to how much he sells, so I didn’t want him to lose potential income.  The 28-year-old says a good day he brings in a couple of hundred dollars.  My $10 was going toward gas he said.

Check out this short video of Jimmy in action!

The Nats ended up losing the game 2-0.  On an upside though, it was Earth Day and the ballpark had a special offer that if you brought recyclable items to the stadium you could buy a future ticket for half price.  I did just that and will be going to see my favorite team, the New York Mets, play when they come to town in May!

Don’t forget to tip your servers and vendors for good service!

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Katy’s decision to destroy the $10 seem’s to have sparked some interesting discussion.  That’s good.

So last week I went to the opening day game of the Washington Nationals.  I have went to the opening day game every year since I moved back to DC.  I thought it would be fun to find someone at the game to give my $10 to.  Well, I had a little trouble getting in the game at first…I thought that I would just pick up a ticket at the stadium, however, with Obama throwing out the first pitch and the Phillies in town, there were no tickets at the box office.

I finally got a ticket after the 2nd inning.

I was standing next to a couple in the outfield section.  That’s right, I only got a standing room only ticket…couldn’t afford much better, but all I really cared about was being there and being part of it.  Well, it’s also nice to win too!

I was waiting until the innings changed to ask the couple if they would be a part of the Year of Giving.  I didn’t want to disturb them while the game was being played.  Well, the inning was going on forever.  The Nationals were getting clobbered.  They pulled pitcher John Lannan in the fourth inning, better than last year when he was pulled on opening day in the third inning.  Clear sign of improvement.

Juan and his girlfriend on opening day (Photo: Reed)

Anyway, by the time I got to asking the couple, the guy had went to get some hot dogs or something.  So I asked the young lady who gave me a look like, “look buddy, don’t hit on me” and assured me that her boyfriend would be right back.  Ok, so I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally Juan arrived with beverages in hand.

I told him what I was doing and he said he was up for it.  Juan is in the landscaping business and was taking the afternoon off.  Juan’s father started the business shortly after the family moved to VA from El Salvador.  He has since handed over the reigns of the company to his son Juan.

Juan originally said he would use the money to buy some beers.  However, a little later he said that he wanted to give me the $10 back if I would give it someone else still today.  Well… I can certainly do that…in fact, I am pretty good at it.  So, back to square one.  I think in the future I might not accept the money back with any conditions.  After all, I don’t put any conditions on those who I give to.  There is some discussion on this from Day 8 when Kevin gave me the money back.

Juan’s nice gesture to give the money back turned into the good fortune for a young guy from Havertown, PA.  Yes, a Phillies fan.  No surprise really, pretty much everyone at the game was a Phillies fan.  Alex was down in DC visiting his friend Brynn who is a pre-med student at Catholic University.  

The 22-year-old fan said he skipped his job as a Project Administrator for a commercial pool company in order to come down and watch his team beat up on the Nationals.  

Philly fans Alex and Brynn (Photo: Reed)

I didn’t want to bother Alex too much more since the game was in progress so I just asked him two final questions.  I asked if he needed anything that I could help him with via the Lend a Hand section and he couldn’t think of anything right then.  As for the destiny of the $10, Alex said it would go toward gas to get him back up to Pennsylvania.

I noticed that people were flooding out of the stadium.  While I was talking to Alex, the score somehow got to 11-1.  And I thought last year was bad when we lost 12-6!

NOTE: I did also try to give to Andrew who was working at the stadium, however he was unable to accept the money due to company policy.  Also, first post I think that I am in both photos that I have posted (if you look close in both pictures, I am in the reflection of the sunglasses!)

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Mark your calendars.  June 15th is the Worldwide Day of Giving.  I know what you are thinking.  You’ve never heard about this day.  Well, that is because I just made it up.  It’s going to be an amazing day though.  Let’s see how many people throughout the world we can get to give $10 (or the local currency equivalent) to a stranger on that day and then share their stories here on the Year of Giving.  More details to come…but start telling people now.  This is your chance to experience the exhilaration that I have been feeling every day for the last 3 months!

On Day 87 I met Rick.  He was sitting in front of a hair salon on Connecticut Avenue.  I remember seeing Rick about a month and a half ago when I was giving my $10 to Ron.  Ron asked if I knew Rick…he said, “Everybody out here knows Rick.” 

Rick says he has been homeless for 7 months…but that doesn’t seem to add up with the fact that everybody seems to know him.  Even Rick himself told me that everybody knows him.  Maybe he has been panhandling longer…but just lost his housing 7 months ago.

He says he doesn’t like to stay in shelters.  “They’re full of drug users in there” he says.  Most nights he sleeps on the streets.

He keeps one eye always on the foot traffic…especially the ladies.  He is quick to shoot a smile their way.  A couple people fill his cup with dollar bills as we talk and a few regulars say hello.

Rick is a little too smooth.  I wasn’t sure what to believe or not to believe. Sometimes he seemed to lose his train of thought…maybe it was the booze.  His breath was soaked in alcohol…although he wasn’t sloppy. 

Check him out for yourself and find out what he thinks of his family, where he sleeps, and what he says he is going to do with the $10!

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I decided to go over to the Shaw neighborhood today.  On my way I ran into Kenneth from Day 30.  He said he was having what he called “death nightmares” and was being admitted to Georgetown hospital today.  Kenneth, who suffers from various mental illnesses, was not sure how long he would be there.  My friend Mike had his own battles with mental illness and about eight years ago also went to Georgetown Hospital.  He said it completely changed his life and he now has his situation under control.  Kenneth usually sells Street Sense outside the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro…keep an eye out for his return and welcome him back with a smile and a hello…heck buy a paper!

When I came out of the Metro at Shaw, I was greeted by a fight between some teens.  The one boy got free and ran away.  It’s definitely a different vibe than my neighborhood.  I was about 15-20 blocks from my home and I thought that I would start to explore the neighborhood and gradually make my way back to my place on foot.  A few blocks later I met Dannie.

Photo: Reed S.

He was sitting at a bus stop, dressed in work clothes and a hard-hat.  He lit a cigarette as I sat down next to him and introduced myself.  Originally from North Carolina, Dannie now lives in the nation’s capital and says he loves it.  “It’s the land of opportunity” he says.  He is referring to the fact that he feels fortunate to have had plenty of work over the past 20 years.  Right now he is working on a window installation project at a local high school.

I asked him what he planned on doing with the $10…he smiled and said he would use it for transportation.

Dannie is a father and talked to me about the importance of his kids getting a good education.  Dannie didn’t continue his studies after high school and is now studying to become a carpenter…but he says that it is much harder going back to school at his age.  “It’s been over 20 years since I’ve done fractions!” 

Check out the video below of Dannie talking about education and how it has influenced his life.

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I found James on the streets near Chinatown in Washington, DC.

I have debated what to write about my encounter with him.  I have heard some interesting and sometimes unbelievable and crazy stories.  For the most part I think that you need to have faith and give people the benefit of the doubt that they are honest.  That being said, I just didn’t believe James’story.

He claimed that he needed money to get home from his job as a “Class B Engineer.”  He had a tool belt on, a measuring tape on his jacket, a flash light, miner’s head lamp, and a half a dozen other small details that would suggest he was an electrician.  However, there were several things that simply didn’t add up.  I guess the bottom line is that I just didn’t buy it.  Plus, his speech sounded like he might have had a few alcoholic beverages before I met him…check out the video and you judge for yourself.

As for the $10, James says that he will use it to get home and get a cup of coffee at McDonald’s.

Maybe James will check out the site and leave a comment and tell me that I am wrong.

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Nikki panhandles near Dupont Circle, DC (Photo: R. Sandridge)

Nikki has been homeless off an on for the past 20 years.  She is 55 and says she suffers from various health complications stemming from some aneurysms that she has had.  She sits on the cold concrete ground, rocking back and forth, and never looking at me in the eye.  The emotion in her face has been completely drained.  She maintains that cool steady expression during the entire time that we speak.

I asked her what she planned on doing with the $10 and she said that she would probably use $5 for food and the other $5 to put on her Metro SmarTrip card.

Nikki says that people can stop by and say hello to her.  She is in/around the Dupont Circle most weekdays.  Also, she could use some help from somebody who understands Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  She has been denied benefits and says that her case manager is not very helpful in getting the issue resolved.  So if anyone has some knowledge about this and is willing to share with Nikki, please let me know.

I taped a little video with Nikki which you can see here:

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I met Moe on Monday evening.  My cousin Cheryl and I hailed a cab in DC to take us over to Rosslyn, VA to meet with my brother, sister-in-law, and friends Conor and Scott.  We were meeting them at Piola, a good pizza joint that I was first introduced to in Buenos Aires in the late 90s.  Later, I ate at Piola in Sao Paulo. 

Piola - Rosslyn, VA

About a year ago, Piola opened up here in DC.  In an age where pizza seems to be getting so processed and tasteless, Piola is a little bit of hope.  Even the pizza they make here is not as good as the pizzas they serve up in Sao Paulo though…then again, Sao Paulo has some of my favorite pizza in the world.

Cheryl and I didn’t talk to Moe much on the drive.  We were busy chatting away.  When we arrived, Moe said he had to ask a question about what happened at the end of Cheryl’s story.  Cheryl explained and we got out of the cab.  Normally I would probably think it was rude for the cab driver to be so nosey as to ask something like that, but, not the way Moe asked.  He had a real genuine interest. 

We paid the fare and got out of the cab, Cheryl noticed she was missing one of her rings and looked all over for it.  The driver got out and checked around the car, under the seats, everywhere.  But it was not to be found.  The 58-year-old former real estate executive and father of two twin boys took our contact info and offered to get in touch with us if he found it.  

I was touched how thoughtful and kind he was and I pulled out my $10.  He took it and said he would use it for gas.  

In all the craziness about the ring, I forgot to get his contact information to invite him to the year end party and maintain contact with him throughout the Year of Giving.  So, Moe, if you check this out, drop me a note!

By the way, Cheryl found the ring in her hotel room the next morning.

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February 13, 2010. 

Today was the wedding of my brother and his fiancée (well, now his wife!) Mandy.  After spending a couple hours chiseling ice off of drain spouts around my building and shoveling snow off of our flat roof (by the way, flat roofs in regions where snow is prone, not a good idea), I headed over to meet my dad and brother for a shave at the Grooming Lounge on L Street in DC.

If you have never gotten a professional shave, I recommend it…at least for you men out there.  Matt gave me my shave.  He did an excellent job and I recommend him if you want to check this place out.  Your face just feels amazing afterwards.  I do kind of wish they would use the straight edge razor…the one that you use the strop with.  But they use safety razors…the same kind I shave with at home and claim that you can get as good of a shave with the modern safety razors as you can with a straight edge razor.  Any opinion on this?

I then hurried around, picked up my dry cleaning at Georgetown Cleaners (they are pretty good) on Florida Ave., reviewed my notes for the ceremony and headed down to the Hotel Monaco for the wedding.

I think I have mentioned in other posts that my brother and Mandy asked me to perform the wedding ceremony.  This is not something that I have a lot of experience doing.  In fact, I didn’t have any experience.

I think it went well though.  I did forget to tell the guests to sit after the bride and groom came in though.  So, everyone stood for the ceremony!  Oops…good thing it was only about 12 minutes long.

Mandy and Ryan (photo: Maureen Buckley)

The reception was wonderful.  The hotel setting was beautiful, the food was fantastic, and all the other details were perfect.  I got to see a lot of family and friends that I have not seen in some time… only wish I could have spent more time with them all.

I sensed the reception was coming to an end…could it have been the Neil Diamond tune that clued me in?  Who knows?  I found a hotel staff member cleaning up and thought I should offer him my $10.

Issa is a 50 year-old-man originally from the West African country of Sierra Leone.  He is a Banquet Captain at the Monaco and has worked there for about 7 years…pretty much since they opened in 2002. 

He is tall and slender and was very appreciative of the gift.  He said that he would use it to put gas in his car and buy some juice.  Issa was busy and I let him finish his work so that he could get home.

Several of us headed to the hotel bar, Poste, for the penultimate drink.

Congratulations Mandy and Ryan!  Your wedding was beautiful and I am very happy for you both.  I love you very much.

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Snowpocalypse 2010 (photo: R. Sandridge)

I woke up this morning to more snow!  After going down and shoveling the stairs and sidewalk in front of my condo, I headed out to give away my $10.  I found Melise, Kevin and Danilo…all said they could not accept my $10 for one reason or another.  All were nice and interesting to speak with…however, I was on a mission.  After more than an hour searching, I found Jeremy.

Jeremy was standing in a covered entry way for an office complex where he sought refuge from the cocktail of cold, wind, and snow that was swirling around Farragut Square in DC.  He is 48.  His stained clothes and weathered look led me to believe that he was homeless.  When I asked him if he was, he struggled with the answer.  Jeremy said he tried to stay with friends mostly or in a shelter near 2nd and E Street. 

Conversation was awkward with Jeremy.  He was extremely polite but seemed to be in a slightly altered state.  I don’t know if it was the cumulative effect of being out in the cold or a result of substance abuse or something else.  He took out a folded piece of newspaper that he had in his stained jacket and wrote down my name and other information I told him.  Every time I would jot something down in my small notebook, he would write something on his paper.  

Jeremy hopes to make a few dollars shoveling snow (photo: R. Sandridge)

I asked him what he was doing there.  He said he thought that some of the maintenance crew of the nearby office buildings would pay him to shovel some snow for a few dollars.  I asked what he would do with the $10 and he said that he would get some food, hot tea, and maybe use the leftover for bus fare.

We didn’t talk more.  I felt he was uncomfortable and I was freezing by this time.  I asked if I could take his picture…he obliged and I took the photo you see here. 

Would you believe on the way home I passed Melise again…the first woman who refused my $10 today.  She was nice and recognized me immediately.  Small world.

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I woke up early this morning to see that the snow we got overnight had pretty much melted away.  At least the roads were pretty clear.  The sun was really bright today and if it wasn’t for the snow on the ground and Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of 6 more weeks of winter, you would have thought Spring was here!

I hopped in my car and headed over to the Unemployment Offices off of Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast DC.

Unemployment Office near Rhode Island Ave. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Unemployment Office near Rhode Island Ave. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I arrived to find out that the woman with whom I had a meeting, Ms. Bonham, was not in, probably due to the snow.  Ms. Bonham has been very good to work with.  She is professional and follows up on what she says she is going to do.  The woman at the reception said that she was aware that I would be there and that Ms. Bonham had arranged for me to meet with someone else.  I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to make another trip out there. 

The center is rather empty due to the weather I imagine.  I grab a seat and wait to be called.  Just a few minutes later the attendant asks if anyone could translate for a Spanish-speaking individual.  I offered to help.  There was nobody available there to translate.  Maybe they should hire me to translate for them there :).  After I helped the first gentleman, I was called upon again to help another man, “Miguel”.

Miguel explained that he had been unemployed and then started to work for a few days, but that ended and he was unemployed again and needed to know how to handle the situation.

Originally from Puebla, Mexico, Miguel has lived in Maryland for 20 years.  He is married and has a 5-year-old son.  I asked him what kind of work he was doing and he said he was skilled working with concrete.  If anyone knows of any job opportunities working with concrete, let me know and I will pass it along to Miguel as he doesn’t have internet and has limited English.

Miguel is seated with some other Latinos.  They are noticeably shocked when they hear what I am doing.  The fact that someone who is out of work themselves would be giving $10 away seems very foreign to them, and I have to admit it is a bit out of the box.   He says that he will use the $10 to put gas in his car. 

We chat for a while.   I learn that he loves to cook and we reminisce about Mexican food and how we both love the carne asada in Mexico.  He says he misses his parents dearly.  At some point, I get the feeling that he suspects that I may not be who I say I am…that my altruistic gesture may not be just that.  I mean, why is this strange guy giving me $10 and asking me all these questions?!?  When he learns that I will post this on the Internet, he gets uncomfortable.  He didn’t say why, perhaps he thinks that I am with the Immigration Office or something.  I offer to change his name to Miguel for the purposes of the blog and he seems to be more comfortable.

I leave to go have a call that I had scheduled with a potential employer.  Unfortunately I spent a long time waiting at the center and would have to do the call from my car.  As I sit in my car talking on my cell phone, I see Miguel walk by me to go to his car for something.  Does he think I am calling the Immigration Police right now?  I hope not.  On his way back, he smiles and gives me a thumbs up.

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Some friends of mine were in town this weekend and we met for brunch at Kramer’s in Dupont.  For those of you who have been following the blog, you probably have figured out that I like that place.

They have a decent brunch.  I am not sure that I am a brunch person…I always struggle between the breakfast and lunch options.  It doesn’t really matter I guess though, whatever you order you are going to eat too much probably and feel a bit comatose when you’re done.  As we forced our sluggish bodies out of the iconic locale, we saw a homeless man right outside of the door.  I decided to see if he would accept my $10.

Norman outside Kramer's in DC

It’s a strange feeling when you stand inches away from someone who has committed heinous crimes and feel compassion for them rather than fear.  To say that Norman is a likeable fellow is an understatement. 

His home now is the New York Avenue Shelter.  He says that he tends to be a bit of a loner preferring not to associate with other people at the shelter.  He explains that taking sides is how you get into trouble; probably a lesson he learned in prison.  I asked him what his future looks like.  He kind of shrugged as if to say that he doesn’t see his life getting much better.  I asked him if he was aware of organizations that could offer him help to get back on his feet.  His eyes look downward, then up and into my eyes, “If after 35 years in DC, 18 years in 7 different prisons, you don’t know how to take care of yourself, you aint ever gonna learn.”

Norman said he was going to use the money for some food and transportation this week.  He said it was very generous.  On a good day he told me he can bring in about $110 panhandling.  One time a doctor over near P Street gave him $40.

Like many of the other homeless people that I have met, I feel sad to say goodbye.  I know that I am going back to my warm comfortable home and he will still be here in 20 degree weather.  I shake Norman’s hand and give him a smile and tell him to take care of himself.  I hope that I run into Norman again.

By the way, I have updated the statistics page this weekend and continue to add to the Lend A Hand section.

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So today is my birthday!  I am 36 today.  No big plans…since opening night of my play is tonight.

Yesterday was another busy day filled with last minute errands for the play, resolving unemployment issues, job searching and interviewing, updating the Year of Giving, etc. 

I found myself again close to midnight and still holding on to my $10.

I dropped off a friend from the theatre and then decided to head over to the area around 14th and U Street and find someone.  I had NPR on my radio hoping to hear some more of a report that I heard earlier in the day by Laura Sullivan  on our prison systems.  I really like her journalistic style.  When you hear one of her reports you feel like you are there with her.  Maybe I can get her to check out my blog and give me some tips on writing :)

It was raining and I thought I would find a place indoors to give away the $10.  I found myself in front of Bus Boys and Poets, a hip urban joint that I have frequented a few times.  It was open and there was a parking space out front. 

The place is pretty cool.  It is part book store, part coffee-house, part restaurant, part bar, part… meeting place.  I think the poet for which it is named, Langston Hughes, would be proud of the place.  My eyes scanned the bar and saw two young women working on a computer together, a female bartender wiping down the liquor bottles, and a guy who looked like he could line up against the Steelers’ James Harrison and hold his own.  Hmm…I could easily go chat with the girls, but I am more intrigued by the linebacker-like individual.  I mean what’s the worse that could happen?  He could crush me with his forearm?

Allen turns out to be a soft-spoken guy.  He does love his football though.  He stammers a little as he tells me that he is a Redskins fan.  There is that look that a sports fan gives you when they open up and tell you that they love a losing team.  You have to respect that.  That doesn’t happen much in other areas.  I mean you never find someone saying, “I love that mutual fund that is losing me lots of money” or “Even though Dr. Wilson has killed many of his patients, I still love’em!”  Sports is different.  A fan is a fan is a fan, it doesn’t matter what their record is, they are still going to show up and cheer them on.

The 22-year-old from Montgomery County, MD was in DC to film a band.  You can see some of his video work on YouTube searching for abseven4.  I asked him what he was going to do with the money and he said he was going to put it toward gasoline.  Allen will be using quite a bit of gas as he plans to go back to college.  He has about two years left to finish a Sports Management degree at Bowie State University.

Allen dropped out of school a couple years ago but after struggling for a couple years he realized he really wanted to go back to school and get his degree.  He may be starting as soon as Monday, but that depends largely on the financial aid he hopes to receive.  If he doesn’t have everything he needs, then he will have to wait until the fall semester most likely.  I hope he finishes his degree.  It will be an amazing gift for him.

I chat a little more with Allen and realize that I need to get home and get to bed.  When I walked in the door, I discovered my place was cleaned up and there was birthday gift from Daniela waiting on the counter.  Thank you!  That was so nice.

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