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One third of the year is already behind us. Mild weather in the DC area made winter merely a memory of last year. My blog posts have become intermittent at best as I spend the majority of my time on some new projects, but from time to time it is nice to give pause and revisit some of the remarkable people whose stories became woven into the Year of Giving.

Photo: Jonathan Capehart

This last weekend I ran into one of my better known $10 recipients – Willie Geist from Day 317. Saturday night had become Sunday morning and the scene at the Italian Embassy where MSNBC was hosting their White House Correspondents Dinner after party was still going strong. My friends often refer to me as their mini-celebrity friend due to my 15 seconds of Year of Giving fame, but this place was full of real celebrities – where the heck was TMZ?!? Woody Harrelson sipping on a beer by the bar as Dave Chappelle checks out the D.J. booth – or maybe he was just checking out the cute young lady spinning the tunes. Across the room stands the much-thinner-in-real-life Jimmy Kimmel, surrounded by an impressive entourage, relaxing a bit after roasting President Obama earlier in the evening at the dinner. The stunning Rosario Dawson sends a smile my way – or maybe it was intended for Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet who was standing behind me. In any event, you get the idea.

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Willie Geist talking to Jimmy Kimmel.

At some point my eyes lock on Willie chatting Jimmy Kimmel. The popular television host of MSNBC’s Way Too Early with Willie Geist and Morning Joe is pretty tall – so I spotted him pretty quickly. I waited around trying not to look like a stalker until he finished his conversation. He greeted me with his infectious grin and said that he remembered me, or at least politely pretended that he did, and we chatted for a while. I can’t really say that I know him but he seems to be a really genuine guy. He said that he’s been busy since we met. After churning out two books in six months he said he was just “lying low” for a while. I smirked a bit – the idea of being on television every day and also laying low seem to be mutually exclusive in my book. In any event, it was great to catch up with him.

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Lindsay Czarniak, me, Craig Melvin

I also ran into Today Show correspondent Craig Melvin and his wife Lindsay Czarniak who is a reporter for ESPN. Craig, a very likeable guy in addition to being a great journalist, did a story on the Year of Giving back in 2010 when he was a news anchor for NBC4 here in DC – where he met Lindsay. They married last fall and have since moved to Connecticut.

Click here to visit the original posting for my $10 encounter with Willie Geist.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

When you put people first and politics second, you can get things done.” -President Bill Clinton at CGI 2011

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks during the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 22, 2011. (Reuters Photo/Eduardo Munoz)

Even after having worked in his organization for 18 months, the hair on the back of my neck still stands up when I am in the presence of our 42nd president Bill Clinton. The 65-year-old statesman is one of our greatest political thinkers.

I can’t think of a better place to volunteer than at the Clinton Global Initiative, an action oriented meeting of some of the most influential people and organizations in the world. It’s hard to grasp unless you have been there, but I will try to give you an idea.

On my way to my first assignment there, I passed Bishop Desmond Tutu, who by the way has one of the most intoxicating laughs I have ever heard. He was leaving his session where he and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar talked with Charlie Rose about human rights, democratic governance and ethnic reconciliation. On the escalator up to the next floor I turned around to see Procter & Gamble’s CEO Bob McDonald standing behind me.

I arrived at the session I was assigned to volunteer at which was titled “Securing Global Nutrition.” Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times led a panel discussion which featured the head of USAID, the president of WWF International, the CEO of Britannia Industries and one of the leading agronomists in the world. They were gathered to discuss how to tackle the nutritional challenges we face, primarily in the developing world.

Later I headed to a session on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) where I was tasked with taking the official notes of the meeting. About 30 people were gathered – including two princesses from Jordan, the actress Fran Drescher and executives from the American Cancer Society and PepsiCo.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

Before it was all over I saw President Obama speak about service and the economy, watched Chelsea Clinton moderate a panel on leveraging technology to help women and girls in developing countries, saw actresses Heather Graham and Geena Davis and chatted with Michael Jordan’s mother – who’s a sweetheart by the way.  And just when I thought I had seen all that I was going to see, Ted Turner popped his head into the lobby bar of the Sheraton at the end of the day.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

Willie and I in October of 2010

A memorable moment for me last year during my 365 day journey was giving $10 to MSNBC morning host and author Willie Geist on Day 317.  He’s intelligent and witty.  His calm demeanor and intoxicating grin create a feeling like he’s a guy you’ve known all your life.

Now usually when I post an update, it’s because I have met up with the recipient and found out how they are doing.  Well, I have tried to follow up with Willie, but he’s a busy television personality and understandably doesn’t probably have time to reply, however, what I want to update you on today is an awkward moment that Willie suffered through this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

TIME Magazine editor at large, Mark Halperin, has one of the weirdest moments on TV that I have seen in a while.  The exchange goes like this:

Joe Scarborough: Mark Halperin, What was the president’s strategy? We are coming up on a deadline and the president decided to please his base, push back against the Republicans. I guess the question is, we know a deal has to be done. Is this showmanship? A lot of times you go up there and both sides and they act tough so their base will be appeased, then they quietly work the deal behind the scenes.

Mark Halperin: Are we on the seven second delay?

Mika Brzezinski: Lordy.

Halperin: I wanted to characterize how the president behaved.

Scarborough: We have it. We can use it. Go for it. Let’s see what happens.

Brzezinski: We’re behind you, you fall down and we catch you.

Halperin: I thought he was a dick yesterday.

Scarborough: Delay that. Delay that. What are you doing? I can’t believe — I was joking. Don’t do that. Did we delay that?

Halperin: I said it. I hope it worked.

Scarborough: My mom is watching! We’ll know whether it worked or not.

All along Willie Geist is sitting very uncomfortably next to Halperin.  And it only gets worse.  They come back from commercial and Halperin apologizes while Willie looks on with a look of disappointment and awkwardness.  Check out the video below from the Daily Show where Jon Stewart takes this train wreck one step further and suggests that Willie should chaperon all broadcasted public apologies.

I felt bad for you Willie!  You’re the best!

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

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

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

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

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

Reed talking to Willie.

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

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

Jimmy "The Rent is 2 Damn High" McMillan

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

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

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

Willie said he would pass the $10 along.

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

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

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On Monday morning I was enjoying a chat with my friend David on the sun-drenched patio of Kramerbooks.  David was in town from New York City, where people are apparently accustomed to seeing famous people all the time. 

We hadn’t been seated for more than a few minutes and David said, “The guy who plays McNulty on The Wire just walked in.”  I don’t watch The Wire, so I wouldn’t have recognized actor Dominic West even if I had seen him.  About two weeks ago I walked out of the Asian restaurant RICE here in DC and didn’t notice actor Kal Penn holding the door for me.  I am simply lousy at recognizing actors – I once got frustrated with Sir Anthony Hopkins and elbowed him.  I had no idea it was the famed English actor.  I guess I just don’t watch enough television and movies, or perhaps I just don’t pay enough attention.  Who knows?

Anyway, I suggested to David that I give my $10 to the hit HBO series actor.  David got up and did a quick sweep of the store and said that he had already left out another door.

We went back to talking.

About 30 minutes later David says to me, “You are not going to believe this, but Peter Ustinov is sitting behind you.”  Ok, what is the chance of David seeing two famous actors in the span of about 30 minutes…4 blocks from my home in Washington, DC no less!  I found myself repeating his name in an effort to draw a connection to who Peter Ustinov was.  Spartacus is the only thing that came to mind…but I couldn’t recall the details of his appearance.  Both of us showing our geek side quickly Googled the actor’s name on our phones and sure enough, the man behind me looked a lot like him.  The man sitting behind me looked a little younger than the image on my phone, but was pretty similar.

I decided to offer him my $10 and see if we were right.  David reminded me, “If he has a British accent, then it’s definitely him.”

I approached the man and explained my giving project.  In an English accent, he politely replied, “I would love to but actually I have to be leaving to take a flight.” 

I asked for his name just to track in my records which is my common practice. 

He replied, “Peter.”

This is him!  Wow, this is kind of exciting.  I had to ask him if he was the famed English actor of Spartacus, many Agatha Christie movies, Lorenzo’s Oil, etc.  “No,” he said shaking his head side to side.  “I get that a lot, but I am much younger and not nearly as fat as him!” he said with a grin. 

My first thought was that he was politely denying being the real Peter Ustinov…I mean what are the chances that they look similar, have British accents, and are both named Peter!

Peter Ustinov

Pieter Ariaans (Photo: Reed)

As it turns out, I was speaking with Pieter Adriaans, an accomplished Dutch professor, scientist, and painter.  He was sitting by himself reading Programming the Universe by MIT professor Seth Lloyd.  “It’s interesting, however, I disagree with some fundamental points that he makes in the book.”

Pieter probably can make a good case for his arguments too!  He studied philosophy and mathematics in Leiden, The Netherlands and has been active in research in the areas of artificial intelligence and relational database systems since the mid 1980s.  He later cofounded a company called Syllogic that he sold to little company out of Plano, TX called Perot Systems.  Since then, he has focused mostly his research, sailing, and painting.

Pieter was part of a very interesting sailing project to make a state-of-the-art sailing vessel that had superior auto-piloting.  You can find out more here at the Robosail Sailing Lab’s website.

I don’t know when he has time to do his painting, but apparently he does.  He has hundreds of impressive works.  You can browse through his paintings on his website which has paintings that date back to the 1960s.

Pieter was such an interesting person that every answer triggered a new question, but I was ever mindful of his time, so I thanked him for sharing a few minutes with me and said goodbye. 

David says he will leave the $10 as an extra tip for someone working in the service industry while he is here in the US.

As we were leaving, David said he saw Harrison Ford walking into the bookstore.  Ok, I just made that up!

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