Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Big Bald Nate and The Special Surprise

This entry was written by Nate for his own blog. I think he describes it the best. So without further adew, the article.

What happens when an ironing board, a Swiffer, four Americorps guys, Def Leopard, Bon Jovi, and Styx combine? If you guessed some crazy insane air band action, you were absolutely correct. This perfect combination happened on August 25, 2005, and will not soon be forgotten by the estimated 80 people who saw it. On this day, Big Bald Nate and the Special Surprise succeeded in their mission to rock the socks off of the Americorps talent show that took place at the Denver campus.

It all started out when Dave, Gabe, Elijah, and myself decided that we needed to be a part of last Thursday's talent show in some capacity. Next, we just had to decide which of our many talents were worth being shared with our peers. Dave is already a very accomplished ironing board juggler and Gabe has equal skills with a Swiffer. They both thought the talent show would be enhanced with an exhibition of these abilities. Still, Elijah and I did not know what to juggle, so the hunt for an idea continued. Than it dawned upon us that I have previous experience in lead air guitar and Elijah actually plays drums, combine this with the fact that an ironing board looks like a key board and a Swiffer a bass and one hell of an air band can be formed (and holy moly it was).

The name spawned from the fact that I had recently taken a razor to my head and, despite the bit of stubble growth on my head, am basically bald. The special surprise was the fact that a Swiffer and ironing board would in fact take flight at various points in the show.Next we took to finding the right music and practicing it. I am an accomplished air singer of the Styx song, Mr. Roboto, and that song was chosen pretty quickly. Shortly after, we settled on Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def leopard and You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi. All of these songs, we decided would get the crowd excited and had potential of blowing the roof off. Turns out our premenisions were correct, but I will get to that later. After finding the songs, we made out album and began to practice in the basement of the cafeteria. Here we began to choreograph some sweet jump kicks, guitar rifs, and other sexy moves that were sure to please. Elijah had to practice his one handed drumming since Def Leapord's drummer only had one arm. The seclusion down there was perfect and allowed us to practice for 1 1/2 - 2 solid hours before the campus police kicked us out. Apparently, we were not supposed to be there. I think the campus cops got a good laugh out of walking in on our practice session though, because they were pretty nice to us. Still run ins with the law definitely helps out the validity of a solid rock band.

Next, costumes had to be acquired. No reputable band goes on stage in regular clothing, they must look a little better than the average Joe to be good at all. Fortunately, my friend Jen is a rock star at heart and had some great clothes to lend me. Damn do I look good in women's red plaid pants. She also lent me a sweet red scarf to match, a tan pleather jacket, and a big hoop ear ring. Topped off with my steel toe boots, a bunch of wrist bands and some sweet shades, I looked like I was ready to take the world by storm. Dave also came up big by wearing a tight white T cut appropriately high at the midriff in order to show off hit amazing stomach. Gabe, not to be out done, dawned his favorite wife beater tank top and put on some sweet blind guy glasses. Elijah, since he was the too-cool-for-school drummer, kept it simple wearing a black T and some jeans. His hair was his biggest asset.All that was left, besides the show, was to get some roadies. Jena and Parker filled the roll perfectly.

Parker took charge of tuning the guitars and setting up the drums, while Jena was in charge of sound. Parker did an amazing job of introducing the band; both pumped up the crowd plenty. Jena really was huge when she was checking the microphone. The one provided on stage, simply would not work for out cause... too much sound was coming out of the damn thing. Luckily, she had a blow-up mike on her which worked to perfection. After they had everything set up, Parker was great at pushing play to get the music to start and Jena brought Elijah new air drum sticks when he broke his. They also served as great back-up dancers for Mr. Roboto.When the show time came, we were lucky enough to land one of the closing acts. I guess that those in charge of the show knew to save the best for last. As our turn came closer, Dave got extremely nervous. It ended up that he had to go outside and dry heave for a while to get a hold of himself. After some pep talks and a lot of jumping around, Dave was ready to go and so was the rest of the band.

We took to the stage and with a couple swift jump kicks we began to rock. Starting off with You Give Love a Bad Name, we really got the crowd into it. Women fainted and screamed while men wished they were us. Second, we played Pour Some Sugar on Me and everyone in the crowd was singing. The adrenaline rush was amazing, and only caused us to play harder and push the limits even further. That was out last song and we rushed off the stage only to hear chants of "ENCORE!!!". Luckily we anticipated this warm reception and had a song prepared. With that we went back out and performed Mr. Roboto to perfection. Styx would have been proud. After that song, the show was over and we hit the bars downtown to celebrate.My moment as a rock star was as wonderful as I ever dreamed. I hope to take this experience back to La Crosse where I can join my original air band 70sexy and make it even better. We all still receive compliments from our fellow corps members and get questions about an upcoming tour. Unfortunately, because of our commitment to community service a tour won't be possible and that wonderful Thursday night will most likely be the only time Big Bald Nate and the Special Surprise will ever play.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Drunk With Boredom

This has definitely been one of the most truly uneventful, boring, sheerly sloppy and pathetic weekends I’ve had in a long time. In comparison of course. In fact, just realizing how boring this all has been prompted me to cease all boring tasks at hand, like filling out Americorp paperwork, cleaning my bedroom space which surrounds my air mattress, taking out the recycling and actually inspired me to write this entry. Close to an hour ago, I went for a walk outside to talk to my friend Justin in Califor-nia. It was real nice. The air was cool, the sun just began to set, it was quiet. This was the first time I step foot outside all weekend. The rest of the day involved planning all the fun things I will do when my parents come to visit me back in Denver in 2.5 weeks, in addition to taking care of my fundamental needs like eating, pooping, watching Aladdin.

This isn’t completely by choice. Let me explain. Friday night I hurt my ankle during the Flogging Molly concert at the Irish Heritage Fest on Harriet Island. I was Irish gigging in this space a young lad made for me in the mosh pit. That’s until I messed up and did one of those moves where your foot misses the ground and you step on your ankle, creating a t-square of pain, ankle perpendicular to leg. The thing that is most stupid is no one even touched me at the time of injury. Surrounded by people who could have caused this accident, I have no one to blame. The same thing could have just as easily happened at home. All of this went down just shortly after I got there, during their third or forth song. I quickly realized I needed to get out of there and was lucky to be able to follow this group of people that were carrying this girl that was in much worse shape then me. So I sat in the back, next to people sitting in chairs, tending my injured foot contemplating if I should go to the first aid tent, which required locating the first aid tent, which required bypassing hundreds of drunk Irishmen that could easily step on my foot. I decided to say seated, until I got bored and hungry enough to get up and test out my foot. I spent 5 dollars on a chicken sandwich the size of a white castle hamburger and another 5 on a scone and an ice tea. I hate festivals, with their food tickets. The food didn’t make me feel any better. Neither did the three mile walk back to the car.

Regardless of the tone of the first and second paragraph, although boring, this weekend has been great! I did nothing but sleep, talk on the phone and read. I loved it. Sometimes when boredom is a rarity, it is also bliss. Holler.

Ah crap. What a perfect place to stop writing, why do I gotta screw everything up by remembering more things that I feel is necessary to write about. So in the process of walking back to the car after the show, Gabe and I completed the process of assigning street baller names to everyone on our team. The list as of now stands, no changes.

Team A
Gabe – Swiffer
Tay – Bibel
Katie – Hey Steve
Jeffrey – Shwibbey

Team B
Audrea – Holy Mackrel
Nate – Toodeli Doo
Dave – Hi Ho Cherrio
Trish – Fe Fe

Injured List
Michele – Crack Corn

Last week also marked the completion of one of the activities on my life list. I finished a Crave Case of White Castle with my friends. Although a small goal, a goal nonetheless, not to be belittled or dismissed. It was a glorious way to finish off our day of service. On the way home I proudly displayed the case to people on the road and at a red light I gave one of the tasty little burgers away to the guy driving next to us. Yum!

Monday, August 01, 2005

24 Sheets & The Shredder Went Out

I found out my next and last project. I laugh every time I think of it, it sounds like something I would make up. All kidding aside, my team is sponsored to be a “civic troop” that dresses up as different historical figures like George Washington and Martin Luther King and will go to schools in Colorado to educate kids about different historical leaders. I’m also going to be local in Denver, which I am also excited about. I think it will be a great way to finish off my Americorps term and I will have the opportunity to further explore Colorado.

Something strange happens whenever discover my next project. Being away from campus and my other Americorps friends I sometimes make the mistake of forgetting I’m part of this massive organization. I start to think that I work for the site sponsor, but whenever I learn of my next project it kind of sucks be back to reality in a way. All in all, even with the frustrations of this project, the traffic, the out of control kids, my initial disappointment, I have been enjoying this project and I will miss many things about it, especially the kids. They are good kids and I have a lot of fun with them. Last week we started making cards for some of the VISTA staff that are leaving. The kids did not seem to be to upset until they remembered that we would also be leaving at the end of the summer program. I guess we all have the ability to fall into routine and forget to stop and appreciate the things we enjoy. It is a lot easier to acknowledge the frustrations, then it is to appreciate the rewards.

What else can I share? On a less serious note last week was sprinkled with high jinks and highlights. I’ve heard some real interesting stories and had be given some really bizarre things during our Friday cleaning sessions, like the sweet lady who thought I looked like Jesus and the woman who sent us home with gigantic pine cones, but on Friday, we ran into what I’d say is the most interesting crew during our senior cleaning. There were four of us at that site and when we went down to eat there was an enormous amount of food. The seniors not only love to cook for us, but the ones that do take great pleasure in watching in the act of eating there food and ask us if we like it and if we want more, over and over again. There were also two boisterous Jewish residents, one man and one woman who put on a show for everyone. The man would say something outrageous and the lady would yell at him for all his nonsense. It was very charming. Peggy, the lady, was very nice and invited me to go to synagogue with her before I leave town. Before we left the building, we were forced to pack up all the leftovers, which where 2 shopping bags full to take back home. We didn’t have any complaints about this, actually it spurred a conversation of what else can we give them before we left, which ended up being a bread maker from the kitchen which they said they would never use and a kitchen juice dispenser that they were going to throw away. They even wanted to give us their organ. We definitely made out like bandits.

During the weekend, we went to the art car parade, a street parade of individually customized art cars. That was pretty redundant. Anyway, the event was really cool. My favorite cars were one that looked like a turtle and one that was a living room couch. Not kidding, the thing was a couch. On the way back to the van I spotted a jewel of a dumpster that was overflowing with goods. Since being in Minneapolis, we’ve heard a lot about dumpster diving, the act of taking things from someone’s dumpster for your own personal use. I don’t know what Minneapolis’ connection is with it, but everyone seems to talk about or on occasion partaken in dumpster diving. Not fully convinced I should be poking around it someone else’s trash I continued back to the van. Once there, my friend Gabe convinced me that we needed to go back. I’m glad we did. Seeing it for a second time, I realized the true magnitude of such a find. Somebody must have been evicted or something. It was like one day somebody decided to throw away all their possessions. Half archeologist, half garbage man I started to sift through some of the stuff on the top. Bags and bags of stuff. We found a CD burner in its box, a jump rope, a imitation swiffer the loveable broom slash mop like cleaning device, some interesting books and behold, a paper shredder. I can go on and on about the stuff we saw that we did and didn’t keep. We did make really good use of the lovable swiffer. It was amazing. We even had someone invade our turf, one guy walking down the street joined us in digging through the dumpster. Most of the time people would just walk by, smile, say something like “dumpster diving eh?” smile, and continue on their way. I was slightly weirder out by how socially acceptable this all felt. It was a lot of fun, until you work your way towards the bottom. The more we dug, the worse it smelled and the less cool stuff we found. We were lucky to find a can of Lysol in the dumpster that we used to extinguish some of the smell. We’ve made good use of the things we found. Gabe and I have been playing with the paper shredder, seeing how many sheets of paper it can take. Right now it max is 24 sheets, although that clogged it so I don’t know if it counts. There shredded that’s for sure.

Turtle, Turtle, Turtle

On Sunday, we volunteered at this 5K race sponsored by St. Paul Parks & Recreation. We helped set up and hand out water to the runners while discussing how much fun it would have been to dress up as a rabbit and turtle and run in the race or how we should of entered our van in the art car parade. After the race, while Gabe, myself and the folding table were waiting to get picked up, I held my umbrella over Gabe shielding him from the sun Michael Jackson style and asked random park goers if they would like to meet the Prince of Macedonia. Most of the people kept walking, although a couple wished him a nice stay in St. Paul. I think it worked quite nicely. The End.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Who's Cliff?

Finally some time to write. Good. I am often wondering where does all the time go. It’s true that we don’t get all that much free time in Americorps, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it has more to do with the fact that on are off time, we get distracted or better yet, entertained by one another that its easy to go a week without any personal time. It’s hard to get away from it all and I’ve come to learn that although I love to be surrounded by people, it can get awfully overwhelming at times. The good thing is that when I do get a moment, I have so much to write, remember and share. Such fine memories would not have transpired if I wasn’t living and working with these people. And for that and much more, I am incredibly grateful to my friends, to my coworkers, to my temporary family Shuffle Earth 3.This project so far has been filled with memories that will last a lifetime.

Last Saturday we went to the Minneapolis Dragon Boat Festival. I know they have these events in cities all over the country. When we were back in Denver during our transition round, someone was trying to get us to volunteer at a similar event in Denver. Basically it’s an Asian heritage festival. The big draw is they have dragon boats, large 10-12 person canoe like structures that race up and down the riverside. I spent most of my time watching different martial arts demonstrations. It was fascinating. The rest of my team got up and walked away. It took me almost an hour to realize that they had left. I learned a lot about mixed martial arts fighting, like how to get out of a headlock (something that I was asked a couple days before and didn’t remember from my wrestling training) and I also learned all about the art of Tae Chi. It originally developed as a deadly martial art those teachings were highly guarded within a noble family. The slow dance like Tae Chi that I am more familiar with, developed at a time when much of the Chinese populate was sick and old. The form was revised and taught to the people in an attempt to strengthen the nation.

When the demonstrations were over, I walked around a bit until I was drawn to this booth filled with people wearing bright green t-shirts that read “Who’s Cliff.” A couple of my friends were there, trying to make sense of all of this. I had trouble following the lady in the booth’s story. Something about Cliff being the president of some company and one of the paddlers on a dragon boats, except he doesn’t like to paddle. I don’t know. None of this really made any sense. The lady then asked me if I wanted to participate in this contest to get people to come to their booth. Before I knew what this actually entailed, I was given a bunch of pieces of paper and one of the green t-shirts that had attracted me to the booth in the first place. All I wanted all along was one of the t-shirts. I didn’t care about Cliff or his contests. Then something happened at that very moment, something that changed my mind. It suddenly became as clear that it wmy destiny to win Cliff’s contest. This was like the fifth festival we had been to in Minneapolis. At every one of them, I filled out every ridiculous sweepstakes slip that I saw, in the hopes that before this summer was over I’d win something. Well, after every festival, my phone never rang and all I had to show was disappointment. This just ate away at me. Why wasn’t my name picked? What did I do wrong? Why did some other sap have to win? Why not me? Now, it was my turn. I was presented with this opportunity for a reason. Just like in The Goonies. I wasn’t gonna blow it. I was gonna win this fucking contest and claim my prize, a $50 gift certificate to the Home Depot. Do you know how much PVC pipe $50 buys? I did. A lot, and it was all mine.

All I had to do was write my name on these pieces of paper they gave to me, hand them out and get various people to bring them back to the booth. Simple enough. These people aren’t stupid. They don’t care about Cliff. But they are probably bored and want free t-shirts. So I handed out these papers to random people at the park, each time making up something involving Cliff and free t-shirts. It seemed to be work. I got more papers. I was told I was doing awesome, but I couldn’t emphasize the t-shirts because they were beginning to run out. That wasn’t a problem. I just added some fine-tuning to my newly created shbeel. Approach random person, and “Excuse me do you know who Cliff is? You don’t, wow, well do you wanna find out and posssssssibly (see I added the word possibly, hehe) get a free T-SHIRT! Yes! Well take this slip to the booth over there and when you get there ask them who Cliff is, ok, great!” It worked. I did this for an hour or so before my friends were ready to go home. I didn’t want to leave until the lady from the booth approached me and told me that I had easily gotten the most people to the booth and she was confident that I was gonna win the contest. She said that I was quite the salesman and asked if I was interested at working at American Home Mortgage. I took her card and a couple more papers to hand out on the way back to the car. Last Tuesday, my phone rang. I got the call I was waiting for. I had won. I did it. At last victory was mine.

This was just the first of many pleasant surprises. I also found out that I was going to be participating at the KaBoom build on Thursday. KaBoom is an organization that builds playgrounds for kids in a single day. They raise the money, organize sponsors and get a hundred or so people to volunteer their time. It is amazing to watch and even more amazing to participate in. Our Americorps team was there to help run activities for the kids. They had various arts and crafts and other activities for the kids to do while the playground is being built. Home Depot, which was sponsoring the event, donated a bunch of wood working crafts that we helped the kids build. During the day I even found time to help out with some of the playground construction. I assembled a tunnel and a tic-tac-toe board, which always seem to be present on playgrounds these days. To my utter amazement, these parts were completely assembled using little more then a couple pre packaged bags of screws and washers. Not a single tool. I know it hasn’t been all that long since I was a young lad stomping around on a playground myself, but I am quite certain that playground technology has greatly changed since I was a kid. I remember playgrounds as these massive wooden structures, resembling boats that managed to become beached on an island of gravel. These new play grounds are constructed with brightly colored plastics and metals and look more like lego sets. They don’t seem nearly as massive or fit for adventure. I miss the old playgrounds, like my old elementary school playground that both looked and felt natural.

The build was a lot of fun, although I couldn’t help but think that this is an easy and trivial service to provide, when the residents who watch out their windows, are in need of much more then a playground. A large number of the people living at this site are refugees and immigrants. Similar to the families I meet at my facility; they struggle everyday to find jobs and employers that will accept them. They encounter racism and numerous hardships to provide their families with many things that we would consider necessities, like food, clothing, transportation, and healthcare. While we try to entertain their children with various activities donated by the Home Depot, the mothers are busy stealing the white undershirts we intended to use for tie dying. I think to myself, what I suppose to do, tell them to stop. Playgrounds are good, but the people who are here are going to go home at the end of the day. A playground will be built, but the other needs will remain.

As the build came to an end I got another call. No, I hadn’t won another contest. This news was even better. It was a call from my team leader Jess informing me that I had to call Alyana from Americorps immediately. My latest article “No PRIDE” that I wrote for The Altitude, the Americorps newsletter, had turned some heads and prompted a meeting at campus. It turns out that not only will my article be published in the newsletter, but after reading it, the campus director changed the guidelines relating to ISP approval. This is all I know thus far. What this new change will do, I don’t know for certain. Hopefully, it will make ISP more inclusive of gay and lesbian related events. I promise to inform you of what changes have been made after I find out.

I think I’ll conclude this entry with a little bit of what I did this weekend. Friday night we went to a free concert downtown to listen to Howie Day. This was fun. There were a lot of people, almost to many and it was similar to all the other street fairs we’ve been to, like The Taste of Minnesota event on the July 4th. That event centered around free music (at that event we saw Boyz 2 Men and Smokey Robinson) and crappy carnival food too. You would think that at an event called “A Taste Of Minnesota” the food would either be A: Tasty or B: representative of the cultures and ethnicities of the people living in Minnesota. The food at this thing also sucked big time. Those bastards try using ticket prices instead of dollars to cover up how much it costs to buy some cheese curds. Those fools. I can do the conversion. Whatever. We left and got burritos the size of small babies at low and behold the best place ever, Pancheros.

Today was no small feet of its own. Get this, we went to The World Log Rolling Championships. Log Rolling! It’s great. Two people stand on a log and spin until one falls off. If that’s not enough, they sometimes spit and kick water at each other in an attempt to dislodge their opponent from the log. They even had a pool where we got to try it ourselves. My friend Nate and I went first. We collectively didn’t last more then three seconds, but I was the clear winner. Afterwards, I beat Jeffrey, also from my team, who beat Nate, so I declared myself log-rolling team champion. The event also had a bunch of renaissance fair slash lumberjack slash tradesmen slash reinactors. There was a blacksmith, a violinist, a marksman, a fur trader, a guy that made really cool clay pipes and a flint knapper. Flint knapping is the art of making primitive tools or arrowheads out of stones or things like obsidian. I know it more as a Neanderthal trade then a lumberjack craft. The guy, Blueberry was his name, was really nice and I spent over an hour with him trying to knapp an arrowhead out of a piece of stone. It’s freaking tough, a lot harder then it looks on those anthropology videos in college. I have a newfound respect for Homo Habolis and all subsequent cavemen and women. Good times. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Pizza Poem

This poem was written by a kid how lives at my work site.

Pizza Is So Sweet
By Sartu

Pizza, pizza I love to eat,
Pizza, pizza you are so sweet!
All the pepperoni and the cheese, Has a pleasure to please!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Blitz Built: Habitat Houses Are Homes

May 8th, marked the official end of the Blitz Build we were getting ready for in Miami. That means that by now the 9 houses we built the exteriors on have been completed and the families have already moved into their new homes.

1 of the 9 houses I helped build for a month and a half in Miami. Done.

I can not begin to describe the feeling I got when I read this on Habitat's website. I'm not even going to try. You can visit the web page to read about the event and see all the pictures: http://www.miamihabitat.org/events/feat_events.html

Monday, July 04, 2005

Choco Tacos Rock Yo

I have a new obsession. The Choco Taco. It’s the best ice cream treat ever developed. I can’t pinpoint when it turned into love but I think it first started with the name. Choco Taco, a chocolate flavored taco. I began blurting it out at opportune times, “choco taco,” “choco tacos and burritos,” or “that deserves a chaco taco.” Then it became more personal. I started calling people “Choco Taco Senior.” But my love of Choco Tacos extends far beyond my infatuation with their name. They are delicious. Truly. A perfect blend of smooth vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge and softly sprinkled nuts, encased in wonderfully crunchy waffle cone taco shell. The serving size is perfect, one taco. I think this thing must be NASA inspired. In my opinion it greatly surpasses astronaut ice cream, tang and the capri sun juice box. To think such a masterful creation is limited to gas station food marts and a handful of Taco Bell restaurants astounds me.

Nate was the lucky recipient of a Choco Taco surprise on our road trip to Minneapolis. Ever since, my teammates have been requesting a Choco Taco of their own. So last week I began my search, hitting gas stations all over the Twin Cities, in hopes of locating a Choco Taco to gas station ratio of at least 2.5 to 1. My first station was a failure. I was forced to purchase a consolation box of bomb pops. The first one I ate was covered in dry ice and nearly tore all the skin from my lip. I wasn’t too distressed. Chaco Tacos are never too far away.

That same week, before seeing Batman Begins we made a pit stop into a gas station to see if my hunch was well founded. I wasn’t disappointed. I was right, this place housed C-Tacos. “I would like to purchase these 10 Choco Tacos,” I told the lady at the cash register in a firm, annunciated voice. Well, that’s not it. Oh no. Just as soon as we get home all excited to treat out friends to the tacos, does Katie Love tap me on the shoulder with a look in eye as if she can’t wait to tell me something big. She didn’t even need to say it. I knew what she had done and I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. She had bought C-Tacos of her own. When the craving hits, it is likely to permeate the team, causing similar responses. No biggy. The more tacos the merrier. They didn’t last long.

Our next Choco Taco excursion was just a few days ago. After coming home from the station, Jeffrey P caught a glimpse of a goldmine, a pile of garbage, littered with wantables like old wooden paneled TVs and cell phone chargers. Considering our primary, well our only TV set was an old wooden one, we thought the 2 sitting in/next to the street would make good additions. I have previous experience with sidewalk TVs. I’ve taken 3 home and I’ve had 3 of them work. I was counting on the same. We also grabbed a decadent painting of 3 horses gallivanting around a pasture. After plundering, I was talked into driving around the block a couple times in hopes of finding similar discarded treasures. After our first pass I realized how ridiculous this was. I felt like the kid who finds a $100 bill on the ground and spends the rest of his life looking for another. Ain’t gonna happen mister, mister. We went home. In the end 1 of the 2 TV sets worked and we agreed the painting belonged over the sofa (it really ties the room over). In celebration we cracked open the Choco Tacos and took it all in.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Pure Laziness? Gooooooooooooooal!

Today we spent the day lounging. We left the apartment only once during the day. Dan and Mike spent the night indoors and Christy, Desi and I went back to Coco Park to watch the Eurocup Finals. The game began at 2.45 AM. I made it through half the game before reaching a catatonic like state via sleep deprivation. Christy performed some make shift Chinese medicine on me, rubbing my upper back in as cross pattern which was suppose to give me more energy and keep me awake. The only thing that was keeping me up we're the Germans hooting and hollering in front of us. Thankfully I had enough reserved energy to make in from the taxi back to Dan's apartment. The end.

Pure Laziness? Gooooooooooooooal!

Today we spent the day lounging. We left the apartment only once during the day. Dan and Mike spent the night indoors and Christy, Desi and I went back to Coco Park to watch the Euro-cup Finals. The game began at 2.45 AM. I made it through half the game before reaching a catatonic like state via sleep deprivation. Christy performed some make shift Chinese medicine on me, rubbing my upper back in as cross pattern which was suppose to give me more energy and keep me awake. The only thing that was keeping me up we're the Germans hooting and hollering in front of us. Thankfully I had enough reserved energy to make in from the taxi back to Dan's apartment. The end.

Friday, July 01, 2005


This is an article written for The Altitude, a published Americorps*NCCC Newsletter.

By: David Edelman

Last week, June 19-26, was gay pride week. In cities around the world, millions of people took to the streets to enjoy events celebrating GLBT awareness. Such a weekend festival took place in Minneapolis, an event that many members of our team, Shuffle Earth 3, thought would be a great ISP opportunity. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case. Campus denied our request for ISP. This is hard to understand when many gay pride events, and especially the festival in question, met all Americorps qualifications for approval. Americorps’ policy states that for an event to be an acceptable it must be with a non-profit organization, fall into one of the five service areas and participants must be involved in activities unrelated to influencing state and national government. As a volunteer and observer of the event, I can say with confidence that the Pride street festival in Minneapolis fulfilled all of these conditions.

Pride is “a not for profit organization or group whose purpose shall be to organize Pride events.” In terms of area of service, a Pride event is an education-oriented festival. Pride outlines this in its mission statement clearly. Pride’s mission is “…to validate the existence of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender persons on an international level through education and awareness.” At the event in Minneapolis, educational stations relating to GLBT specific issues were meshed with the majority of booths unrelated to sexual preference/identity. These included information on topics like smoking, cancer, STDs and home ownership. There was even a booth to check your carbon monoxide intake and inform you about the risks of exposure. The Red Cross had a booth. The YMCA had a booth and numerous other organizations that Americorps actively partners with participated in the festival.

In addition to the education offered, the festival services the Americorps*NCCC mission by helping to strengthen communities. Pride draws an incredibly diverse group of people, organizations and businesses from the community together for a similar purpose and experience. GLBT individuals are often misunderstood by people in their community as being different in ways totally unrelated to sexual preference or orientation. One of the purposes of the festival is to highlight the world of things that are the same. Regardless of whether you are gay or straight, we all like to be outside on a nice summer day, eat good food, listen to live music, we are in need of banking, higher education, financial services and free pens offered by the various information stations sprinkled along the park. As volunteers, we helped by conducting a survey of festival-goers. Many of the questions revolved around community issues, including if there is a need for a GLBT community center in the Twin Cities.

In terms of this event being politically charged, the Pride festival is a cultural festival, no different than any other ethnic or cultural celebration. It was no more political then any other festival that has been deemed acceptable. Last May, as part of their ISP requirement, Americorps members volunteered at The Cinco De Mayo festival in Denver, a cultural street fair with food and festivities similar to the Pride festival. The organization that ran the event, NEWSED, specifically lists promoting politics and developing political leadership as part of their central purpose.

It is easy to dismiss a highly visible event as being political and avoid the chance of criticism, but this is only a superficial perception. The Pride festival in Minneapolis is not just a parade of drag queens and half naked men dancing upon floats. The festival is a fun and informative street fair that serves as a reminder that people must be themselves if they are going to thrive as a community. It is disheartening to see such an idealistic organization, which places so much emphasis on diversity itself, disregard not only the right, but also the need for Americorps participation.

After writing this article, Americorps director Barbara Benner published this response.

First, I want to applaud you for conveying your thoughts and feelings regarding this issue in a well-written essay. Your comments are researched, provide documentation for background information and are heartfelt. You have a clear understanding of and commitment to the mission of NCCC and the valuable resource we can provide in communities as well as a logical, questioning spirit.

As any organization that is committed to continuous improvement, I have determined that our policies regarding ISP approval for gay pride activities are too narrow. I have directed the Unit Leaders to consider more carefully the approval of ISPs that relate to gay pride activities. As you know, the Corps Member Handbook states that members are prohibited from engaging in political activities. This means that we need to limit our activities to those that cannot reasonably be construed as advocacy by objective observers. We need to focus on the ISP activity itself to consider the issues involved. Helping to set up or tear down a Pride Festival, provide logistical or security support, conducting surveys of community issues, or staffing booths for other non-profit or government organizations are acceptable ISP opportunities. We should make the decision to approve or disapprove based on the activity and not focus on the cause unless it is blatantly illegal or inappropriate. I would not classify gay pride activities in those categories.

With that said, the issue of gay awareness is a deeply divided one with many people on both sides of the issue who are earnestly committed to their opinions and ideas for correct behavior. In addition, the media can often focus on those who are gay or lesbian as deviant, or exhibiting behavior outside of the norms of society. We would have our heads in the sand if we did not realize this in our present society. Therefore, I will direct the Unit Leaders and yourselves who will be serving at these events in the future to be mindful about how you are being represented. As the Code of Conduct states, your conduct (and those surrounding you) should always be in the best interests of the AmeriCorps*NCCC.

Again, thank you for asking good questions and modeling a character filled with integrity. These are traits that I have grown to know and admire in this Corps.

Barbara Benner

Monday, June 27, 2005

Twin Cities

Hello everyone. Dave here. How is everyone? Good I suppose. And me? I’m doing just swell. I can’t believe I am already on my third project. Right now I am writing this on top of my plush air mattress, in my killer 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom apartment in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got this baby in Denver before I left for 9 bucks at Wal-Mart. It was worth every penny. I know this doesn’t sound quite remarkable, but after sleeping on the floor of a community center in Miami and hitting the hay in camp cabins in Des Moines it is quiet the change to live in a housing complex, a building that was designed for the sole purpose of housing people, most of which who have never even heard of Americorps. My mission this round as I chose to accept it, working with an agency called CommonBond, which is the largest provider of low income housing in the Twin Cities. In addition to providing housing, they offer many services to their residents. During the summer they run recreational programs for the children. We are helping to run and in some cases, like mine, developing and running these programs almost entirely by ourselves.

In addition to summer programs CommonBond offers English classes, citizenship classes and job recruitment services. Many of the residents living in these family sites are recent immigrants and political refugees. Many have moved from East Africa. To give you an example, the site that I am working at is 50% East African, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia, probably 20% are Mhong, many of which left South Vietnam, 15% African American and the rest are Caucasian and Latino. I’ve already learned so much and a couple of the parents are teaching me different languages. It’s difficult since I am often being told phrases in Somali, Ethiopian, Swahili and Italian (Italy was a big imperial power in E. Africa, remember) all at once. It gets overwhelming, but I’m trying to take as much in and looking forward to learning more.

So I know that when I hear the word subsidize housing, especially “project” it congers up an image of dark long corridors, with leaky ceilings and holes in the floor. This is most likely do to the fact that I have never been in a “project” before, but these housing complexes don’t look anything like that. Most of them seem as nice, if not nicer then much of the market rate housing I’ve seen in the area. I’ve been told that Minneapolis does one of the best jobs of providing affordable housing out of any state in the US. I met this one family who first lived in Flushing, New York before moving to Minneapolis and described the services here as far superior to the services in New York. At the same time the harsh reality that many of these families live below the poverty line never goes away. This weekend I’ve heard about some of the complains my teammates either witnessed first hand or overheard between residents and management staff. Rats, cockroaches and the strong smell of urine in the halls are a few.

In addition to the family sites, there are a handful of senior sites, independent housing for senior citizens and sites designed for people with special needs. Our beautiful apartments are located in a senior site. Although I just said that the family sites are nice, which they are, the senior sites are far nicer. I assume most of the residents in my building pay market value rents. The building is only 3 years old, it has a bunch of study/library areas, a pool table and its right next to a bike path that goes to the Mississippi. There are even a couple parks near by to play basketball at. We wake up early three times a week to play basketball before we go to work in the morning. Every so often when we play ball after work we run into a group of older kids in the park that don’t know what to make of us and seem utterly perplexed by the racial makeup of our group. I don’t think these highly athletic streetballerz are use to seeing a coed asian, black, tall white guy and short red headed jewish kid team.

So Monday through Thursday we run the summer programs, and on Fridays we work at these senior sites. The residents get the opportunity to sign up for two of us to help them with certain cleaning tasks in their apartment that require heavy moving and lifting. We clean behind refrigerators, couches, clean windows. Last week I polished this woman’s wooden cabinets with bottles of liquid gold she supplied. I think many of the residents are just genuinely glad to see us, some young faces to keep them company for a half hour or so. Most of the time the residents are busy talking to us, or the more timid ones just watch us work. The work is relatively easy, most often the people only have one or two small things for us to do, but they are so appreciative of the work we do. I think I will always look forward to these Fridays.

Although I am quite happy here and this project had good potential, there has already been there fair share of frustration and disappointment. If I haven’t explained this already this round is shuffle round and I am with a completely different group of people. This has its positives and negatives. It’s nice to work with fresh faces and get to know some new people, make new friends. At the same time, I miss many things about my regular team. In general this team is a lot more quiet and laid back. This is nice at times, but I miss the energy and enthusiasm of my regular team. Even when we fought, it was energetic and passionate. Sometimes I feel our team lacks the interest or passion for a team quarrel. Also, we are also working at different sites that require a great deal of driving in the mornings. I’ve been spending 4 hours in the van everyday, carpooling people before and after work. This has been a real pain. Second, I was given a challenging site to work at with a disproportionate amount of responsibility. I feel this program will only work, if its well planned, highly scheduled and if we have high standards for the children participating. Otherwise I feel the kids are going to run wild the program will turn into complete chaos. On Monday my summer program officially starts. We’ve spent the last week planning and tomorrow we find out if it pays off. Otherwise, besides these small problems, everything is a-ok. Minneapolis is beautiful in the summer and we have been having a blast during our free time. So far I’ve met the Mayor and the guy from the documentary Super Size Me! I just hope it is a dry summer so I don’t have to stay inside all day with the kids. That wouldn’t work to well. Well, wish me luck.


PS: I want to apologize for not keeping up to date with my writing. I’ve done so much more recently that I hope to share with you guys. I also went on an incredible road trip all around Utah that I’d like to share with you (see my pics online). I noticed that I have trouble writing short, frequent letters. I’d rather express my experiences in detail. And with that being said I would like to announce that I will be starting a BLOG which will include all my e-mails, pictures and stories. I will also post many things I have started writing but have not had the opportunity to e-mail. I will send you an e-mail letting you know when it’s up and running. Till then don’t forget to check out my NEW pics: http://photos.yahoo.com/archie152.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Buzzball: No Holes. Big Goals

This is an article written for The Altitude, a published Americorps*NCCC Newsletter.

Buzzball: No Holes. Big Goals. The Birth Of A Brand Spankin' New Field Sport
By: David Edelman

It was a beautiful sunny day at Easter Seals Camp Sunnyside in Des Moines, Iowa when Nate Kabat and myself, David Edelman members of team Earth 5 first conceived the idea for the sport Buzzball. We weren’t planning on inventing a game that specific day or any day for that matter. I contribute the invention of buzzball to everything that was going on and all that we were feeling at that specific time.

It was a perfect day. Should every Sunday have been as sunny as this one, this game would have been conceived a long time ago. The day prior was the long awaited rummage sale, an event we had been planning for the past month. The sale proved to be a success surpassing prior years and all our team’s expectations. The rain clouds decided to show a little mercy, we were able to get rid of a little over half of the excess items that had been donated to the camp and over $500 was banked for Easter Seals. After working a strenuous 6-day workweek, it was time for a little recreation and leisure time. I think that is what we found in a game like Buzzball, high times, high spirits and a little friendly competition. A gentleman’s game that one could enjoy, especially on a day like today.

After sleeping away most of the morning and a hardy breakfast under my belt, I found myself hitting balls with Nate and a pair of old clubs encased in a decadent, vintage golf bag that were over looked during yesterdays yard sale. One thing led to another and suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of the field, sandbox to the left of us, lake to the right, taking turns wacking a wiffle ball back and forth. Terminology developed, hits became dishmacks, sidewalks became goals and then it was clear, we had invented a golf like game that anyone could enjoy. A game that could be played on any field, large or small, all that is needed is a buzzball (typically an oversized wiffleball) two clubs of your choosing (irons and woods are both acceptable) and at least one high-spirited friend to volunteer their skills in a friendly game of competition.

Buzzball takes its name from the sound the wiffle makes when hit strong and soundly with the club. If you hear the buzz, you are close to a score. Shortly after the games invention, to our surprise, Water 7, which was traveling back to Denver, happened to pay us an unexpected visit. These lucky souls had the opportunity to witness the first inaugural buzzball game. The teams, Red Hatters: Nate Kabat (who had just preformed the daunting task of winning a game in two dismacks) and Rob Bob Wiley vs. Blue Hatters: myself, David Edelman and Matt “Radioshack” Harvie. It was a glorious match, which ended in a 2-1 victory for the Blue Hats. So, to all you readers out there, I hope you will join in on the fun. Buzzball is a game for the people. A game that celebrates all that is right and good. The grand dishmack is yours. Hi yo!

How to play Buzzball:

Buzzball is played on a field between two teams of either 1 or 2 players per team. Goals must be determined before the beginning of play. Often pre-existing obstacles, such as sidewalk lengths are used as goals. If conditions don’t exist, any sort of length markers (soccer goals, frisbees, nalgenes, etc.) could be used to establish goal territories. A wiffleball is placed in the middle of the field. First hit is decided with the toss. One player throws their club in the air and is caught by a player of the opposing team. Then typical little league hand over hand motion ensues until one player grabs the head of the club determining who will chose between field direction or first hit. The first hit of the game is referred to as the Grand Dishmack. Before the Grand Dishmack the player must yell Hi Yo. This announces the beginning of the game. Teams take turns, one at a time, hitting the ball toward their respective goals. If a player hits the wiffle into their opponents’ goal, they score. Best of 3 scores wins a buzzball game.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Work, Animals & Ice Cream Trucks

I know that its been a long time since I had a chance to write, but don't worry I'm still alive and kicking. It wasn't my intention to write about Miami, when I am about to embark on my second project, but it seems that's what has happened. Yes, I survived round 1 of Americorps and I am now on my way to Des Moines, Iowa where we will be spending the next 6 weeks at Camp Sunnyside, a camp for people with various disabilities, which is sponsored by Easter Seals. Like everything, I don't 100% know what we will be doing, but from what I do know it seems like the camp is getting ready for summer and we are going to help their staff renovate some of their buildings, paint murals, build a hiking trail, construct a small ropes course and do office work. Although the summer camp doesn't begin until after we have left, there will be weekend events where we will be able to work with the various campers. I'm very excited. Our team got to vote on our projects this round, this was my 12th choice out of 45 or so projects, and considering we got the 26th pick, thats not so bad. If this project is at least half as fun and exciting as Miami was I will be fine. So let me try to recap and tell you all about working for Habitat For Humanity in Miami. I think when I left off last, our road trip was almost complete.

What can I say, working for Habitat For Humanity in Miami was a blast. I've never worked so hard in my life, but I still cannot get over how much I learned. I have a new found appreciation for construction and I now plan to add building a small house for my family to my list of things I want to do in my lifetime. In Miami we stayed in a community center that is owned by Habitat in Jordan Commons, Princeton, Miami Florida. When I say south Miami, I mean south, we were probably closer to the Everglades then South Beach. This wouldn't have been much of a problem if we weren't working so far away. If was somewhat funny that we were living in Jordan Commons which was a Habitat community itself, all the houses within a 5 block radius around the community center where constructed by Habitat, but we had to wake up at 5:00 in the morning everyday to avoid the crazy Miami traffic to get to work in Liberty City before 7:00. Also, let me remind you of our sleeping arrangements. My team, all ten of us were sleeping 6 inches from one another on the floor of a small classroom in the community center. I'll never forget the first night in the community center. I've never been so uncomfortable in my whole life and after a good 20 minutes of tossing and turning in my 12 inches of space I screamed out "what the fuck did I sign up for." I'm sure everyone was thinking the same exact thing, because everyone lost it and began laughing their heads off. The living situation got alot easier, but the laughing and joking continued. It was very much like camp and everynight we'd laugh ourselves to sleep, until one would proclaim that we had to wake up at 5:00 AM and that we have to shut up and get some sleep. This would usually follow with 3 minutes of silence and then someone would say something stupid or fart and everyone would begin to laugh again. This cycle would continue for at least 3 or 4 times until we finally passed out.

Construction is tough work. For those of you that have never built a house, houses are made of big heavy objects, like wood and cinderblocks that must often be carried and lifted. This requires work and energy, one thing I did not want to do and other thing I did not have at 7:00 AM. And since wwere getting ready for the almighty Blitz Build where the 9 houses that we were working on where going to be finished in 9 days, there were lots of those big heavy supplies. For basically the first week we were there we unloaded truck after truck of cinderblocks, rebar and long, I mean long, pieces of wood. We would have to put all this stuff into these huge construction storage containers and everything had to be placed and stacked exactly according to plan, otherwise we would have to take it all out and do over again. The good thing about the Blitz Build was every week there would be a different college on Alternative Spring Break working with us and second, we got to partake in a large chunk of the construction process. By the time we left we met our goal and had nearly completed the exteriors on all 9 houses. In addition to working with college volunteers, we got to work with various other groups, like a bunch of people from MENSA. The people from MENSA were exactly what I had envisioned, a bunch of old, single men and women, half of whom were Jews from Brooklyn and quite satirical. One of them played in a klesmer band, ha.

A have a disease and the only thing that will cure it is more tie-beam!

To all of you still reading this you may ask yourself, so how do you build a house exactly? Let me tell you. First the land is leveled off and gravel is compressed to make a base for the foundation. Then a wooden mold is constructed for the concrete to be poured into. Before its poured, rebar is placed throughout the structure. This is also when you lay the intial plumbing pipes. All the plumbing and electrical work is outsourced to private contractors. Then the foundation is poured. After the foundation dries masons would come and lay the inital cinderblocks. Since the houses we were building have concrete exteriors (this is because hurricanes are so prevolent, Habitat's standards are actually more stringent then the states, in areas of large devastation, Habitat neighborhoods are easy to spot because in the most extreme cases they are the only ones still standing, sorry for the sidenote) you cover up the cinderblocks with plywood essentailly making a mold so that concrete can be poured from up top creating a solid exterior. This was definitely the hardest part. First off, we had to nail thick plywood boards into concrete. We were given these things called cut nails, primitive like looking nails, that look more like chisels then the traditional spikey head and flat top nail we all know and love to nail the boards in. Getting these things to pierce the wood and then the concrete was the biggest pain in the ass. You would have to hit these things so hard that they would usually spark and burn you before you got it into the wall. So before the mold was done we run more rebar through all the cinderblocks and construct a tie-beam, this is a large rebar contraption that runs the entire length of the house and laid floating on top of the cinderblocks. Then a cement truck comes and pours the house. I'll never forget the first time we poured cement. First it was poring rain. Half of us would be standing up on a scaffold and it was my job to stick these straps into the wet cement that would be used to connect the trusses for the roof. One of the girls below was complaining about the rain and all of a sudden one of the boards gave way and cement came pouring out and all over her. After the house was poured you begin on the roof. At least 10 of us were needed to move these big wooden trusses into the houses. Then using these long tools that looked liked whales tails we would flip these things right side up so they would sit on top of the house. Then we had to nail all these other pieces to the roof, yada yada yada, then you pretty much have the exterior of a house. Building one of these houses is like building a model except the pieces are alot bigger and you have to use cinderblocks and plywood instead of balsa wood and elmer's glue.

Ok, here are a couple of the highlights of our trip. The guy in charge of our house was named Angelo. He was a real interesting guy. Angelo was from Equador and drove an ice cream truck he bought one day when he was driving to the beach and decided it would make a good work van. We would hang out in the van during lunch and he would drive us to Church's Chicken every Tuesday for the Tuesday Special. This was always quite the experience. First the van didn't have any seats, just assorted objects and tools he either found or thought it would be helpful to have on hand. This consisted of a baby crib bed he would sleep on, a lawn chair you could sit on and side back and forth in when he drove, a collection of poted plants, a chicken costume, his pet, a flying squirrel named Angelina and a very special piece of wood, holy wood, palo salto, a wood that is used to make incense in Equcador. Angelo had told us that last time he was in Equador he wanted some incenses from his home country and decided that instead of just buying some it would make more sense to buy a whole freaking piece of the tree the incense was derived from. I remember that he told me that no one wanted to sell it to him, so he had to either trade for it or aquire it illegally. I don't remeber. We would light this piece of wood with his blow tourch essentially baking out his ice cream truck and drive to Church's Chicken playing the traditional ice cream truck jingles on his car and try to sell random things out of his car when people stopped us wanting to buy ice cream. One day Angelo dropped us off at Church's Chicken only to come back three minutes later screaming over the ice cream truck music, come on, get in, get in. He made us jump into the truck while it was still moving. All the traffic behind us honked their horns in frustration. In Equador the buses don't stop for you, he said as we sped away. I still don't know what the rush was.

I also learned that you can use the number of stray animals to quantify the degree of poverty in an area. In Overtown, the worst area we visited during our first day on the job, I counted 14 stray dogs and cats with the occasional roosters. In Miami, people seem to keep roosters as pets. I should also mention that we weren't in Overtown for more then 3 minutes when undercover cops stopped us and asked us what we were doing there. They must have assumed we were buying drugs or more likely a dumb group of kids in the same t-shirt decided to wander into one of the worst crime ridden neighborhoods in the country. Our own worksite of Liberty City was not as bad. We would get the occasional drunk or crackhead that would walk by stumbling and ask us if he could have the house we were building. We also grew very fond of our stray animals. Our favorite was a dog we lovingly named Teets. Teets must have recently become a mother, because she had utters so large that they would smack her in the face then she walked. Everyday, she would be there, either laying in the sand or eating grass outside one of the houses. One day we found another dog, although we don't know if this dog was a stray since it conveniently came with its own leash. This dog didn't like grass, but preferred to eat rocks, hence we named this one Rocks. We ended up taking Rocks to a shelter hoping that he had an owner that was looking for him. We don't know what happened to lovable Rocks. But the best find of all was a baby raccoon we found near the big septic tanks waiting to be installed in the middle of the street. This thing couldn't have been more then 3 days old and was very close to dying. Sarah, one of the girls on my team, decided we needed to nurse it back to health. She just picked it up and I bought it milk, which we fed with an eye dropper Angelio convieniently had in his ice cream truck. He decided to take care of it since we couldn't bring pets back to the community center, so he rapped it up in a little paint tray and put it in his ice cream truck. It seems to be getting healthier, until one day he told us that a lady he knew was taking care of it and fed it peanut butter and then it died. We were all sad but I am skeptical if the peanut butter killed it, I assume since Raccoons eat garbage religiously, they can handle a little peanut butter. Oh well, RIP Ringo the Racoon.
Angelo with Ringo and the chicken nugget

I know that so far I have only been talking about work and animals and ice cream trucks and you maybe asking yourself what did you guys do in your feel time. Good question. The truthful answer is well, not much. We don't have much free time. We worked Tuesday through Saturday and usually sleep, do laundry and try to go to the library on the weekend, but we still did had some fun. We went to South Beach a few times, that was awesome. Many of the girls voluntarily walk acround topless, you don't even have to ask or pay them or anything! We also went to the Everglades. One of our teamleaders had a Aunt who lives near an animal refuge and they took us to this cool animal refuge for exotic animals. We got to play with snakes and allegators and we also went on a fan boat ride. Afterwards we walked around the Everglades National Park and saw some of the coolest looking birds I've ever seen. A few of them had necks like the lockness monster. On the way back we got attacked by swarms of mositioes and we had to run into the van and kill all of them on the way home leaving little blood spots all over the ceiling of our van.

Thanks for reading this. Hopefully I will have more stories to come. Till then see ya.


Monday, March 28, 2005

4 lb. Burger Slayer

This is an article written for The Altitude, a published Americorps*NCCC Newsletter.

Nate Kabat of E5 Knighted 4 lb. Burger Slayer
By: David Edelman

During Earth 5's trip to Miami, Nate Kabat of Earth 5 successfully ate a four-pound hamburger in under an hour at Grandma Max's Truck Stop in Salina, Kansas. The massive hamburger weighs in at a whopping four pounds of cow after being cooked. A waitress on staff revealed that less than 30% of the patrons that attempt the challenge end up finishing the burger. Nate polished off 3/4th of the burger in less than half an hour. With cheers of encouragement, he trudged on and managed to finish the burger with a little help from his no so full teammates.

After the meal Nate received the coveted Hamburger t-shirt and his picture was placed on the wall next to fellow Americorps NCCC member Robert Olsen, of Earth 4 who also finished the burger last year.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Bienvenidos A Miami

* Warning: This is long. I wrote it in the car. Feel free to skip around.

I am writing this message in tight quarters. I am currently sitting in a 12-passenger van on its way to Miami, the site of my first community service project. We are currently in Georgia, on I-75 S, the only reason why I know this is because I was just driving; otherwise I'd be asleep. We switched a couple of minutes ago after we ate lunch at Waffle House. I love that place. I had never seen one before I drove out to LA, but I never forgot how common they are in the south and how incredibly tasty they are. There are so many of them. I learned from their menu today that they serve over 1 billion eggs a year and they also purchase 2% of the eggs in the food service industry.

When I was driving through Atlanta I counted 12 of them off the side of the road. I've been doing a lot of counting when I drive. The first day I counted the number of people that passed me on the highway, 32 in 2 hours (I counted a pass as any vehicle that passed me in the left lane and then cut back into the right lane in front of me). I don't blame them; we are not allowed to drive over 65 MPA regardless of the speed limit. I think I've already described some of the painful driving rules we have to abide by in Americorps. A couple are worth mentioning again, like the fact that we cannot eat or drink anything when driving or that we cannot change any of the console controls, we need to ask the ATD (assistant to the driver, who is also not allowed to eat, sleep or anything that would impede their view of the road) to change the radio station or air conditioning. So back to the counting, first day I counted how many times I was passed, second day; road kill, I decided on this after I saw a peace of road kill that I could have sworn was ostrich. I counted 7 pieces in that 2-hour cycle of driving. Today was Waffle House day, 12 Waffle Houses in the vicinity of Atlanta.

So overall I would describe our trip as quit pleasant, although their seems to be many aggressive drivers, the roads appear quite clean and their are many great Waffle Houses to stop at. Unfortunately, we only drove through Atlanta and didn't get the opportunity to stop. The drive was slightly painful since there was alot of traffic and I was so tempted to pull off at every tourist attraction. Lucky many of the cool things I want to see are often right off the highways. I got a picture of the 1996 Olympic village site, a pic of Georgia Tech, the Coca-Cola factory and a sign for the MLK Jr. National Monument. I even got a picture of a Jack Daniels delivery truck (the Jack Daniel's distillery is not far away, somewhere in northeast Tennessee).

Ok, now that you are aware of my present location and road conditions, let me backtrack a little, I am getting ahead of myself. My last week in Denver was awesome. We were off on President's Day, which was really nice. That weekend I had to make up CPR
Training which sucked because I was planning on going to the hot springs in Glen Wood, 3 hours west of Denver with a bunch of my friends. But instead, I had to wake up at 6 A.M. and go to the Denver Red Cross with 3 other people. The class was actually somewhat fun and informative. I am certified in adult CPR for the next year and am certified in basic first aid for the next 3 years. I know all about snakebites and I learned how to make a bandage or sling with just about anything. Sunday we went back to Boulder to walk around and at night we went to the Mercury Cafe, my favorite hangout for free swing dancing lessons. It was really nice to swing dance again, since I took swing dancing in college. I wowed all the girls with my dancing skills and they all wanted to be my partner, hehe.

Monday was the best day. We went to the Coors factory in Golden, Colorado and The Redstone Meadery, yes I found a place that brews mead (aka the first alcoholic beverage made by man, the sweet sweet nectar of the gods, honey wine) in Bolder. Mead, its great, if it’s good enough for Zeus, its good enough for you! That line was on their coasters. We got free samples of the 20 different meads they make and we also conned our way into a free tour. Not as impressive as the Coors factory of course, but so much tastier. Well the Coors beer wasn't all that bad. Original Coors is tastier then most Budweiser products and Coors also owns Killians (yum) and Blue Moon (double yum), they also own Zima, haha remember Zima, well it seems that people are drinking it, laugh, but Zima was the first one into the malted beverage liquor market, before Mike's Hard Lemonade and Bacardi Silver were born. Then we went for sushi in downtown Denver, I had been going through sushi withdrawal. I hadn't had any raw fish in over a month.

A bunch of weird things happened to us while we were in Denver. First, we found a cell phone on the street, we called a bunch on numbers, figured out who's it was and gave it back to him. We were talking about how no one could find a bar with Guinness on tap, strange but true, none of the bar local bars have anything that good, and most of the good bars are either microbreweries that brew and sell their own or bars that sell mostly Denver microbrew. So right after our good deed for the day (we never cease the act of community service) we spot a bar across the street with a huge neon sign which reads: Guinness On Tap. We followed this beautiful beacon of light into a bar that also had Hacker-Pschor on tap. Good glory, what had we done to deserve this reward. Well we do, do community service for a living and make $12 a day (after taxes, this is the new, standard number we use in conversation) well it’s enough for more beer. It was a very beer involved day as you can see.

Now I am tying to remember what I did the rest of the week before we left. We had alot of administrative stuff, we picked our team positions, I am a Capper that means I help recruit new members and educate people about the program. I set up meeting and lectures at local high schools and colleges in the area we work. I am also my groups service learn coordinator. This means I am suppose to research the non profit that we are working with, study the neighborhood in which we are working and write a few small reports summarizing this info. I also get the opportunity to plan a few trips, like if we wanted we could probably go Salsa dancing or to a local museum. This past week, we also had to present our project to our unit leader Kevin. We had to fill out this Spike
Prep Packet, which includes a description of our project, goals and travel itinerary.

Are you asleep yet? No? Well good, here is a fun story. On Thursday our local bar Carroll’s through us a party before we left. They made us our own shot, the blue, red and white Americorps shot and there was also a wet t-shirt contest. I've seen many of these girls naked anyway, but it was a good time. These pictures are not up on the web (sorry), that doesn't mean I didn't take any. Friday was our commencement ceremony. This was actually really nice and quite moving. There were a bunch of speeches, the CEO of the Red Cross in Denver spoke in addition to the national director of Americorps*NCCC. The cafeteria made us steak and salmon for dinner. It was glorious.

This road trip has been amazing. In Kansas at the end of our first day of driving, one of my teammates Nate attempted to eat a 4 lb. hamburger (after being cooked) in an hour at this truck stop. This thing was massive, the width of a frisbee. He ate 3/4th of it in
20 minutes and was able to eat everything minus a bunch of small pieces. Although he was near vomiting, we cheered or more or less yelled at him to finish it. We couldn't bear to see him lose after eating so much so we split the last few pieces and Nate got the win, along with his picture on the wall (right next to the other Americorps kid that did it the prior year) and a sweet t-shirt.

We stopped the next day in St. Louis and we walked to the Gateway Arch at night. I never had any idea of how beautiful this was. I got some amazing pictures. Third day we drove through Tennessee, stopped in Nashville for lunch, which is really beautiful and spent the night in Manchester, Tenn. I fell asleep while getting a haircut that night. It came out really good though. Forth day was Georgia into Florida, that’s when I first started writing this crazy long message. We slept last night in Jennings, Florida. It was freaking cold and it was snowing a little in Tennessee, what’s up with that! Now it’s gorgeous, I was driving a little while earlier, we just stopped for lunch and we are driving to Princeton, Florida tonight. We will be spending the night in the community center, which we will call home for the next month. Tomorrow we start work with Habitat For Humanity in Liberty City, Miami. What a long strange trip it’s been.

E5 being eluminated by the lights at the Arch of St. Louis

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Chemical Painters & The Dog That Does Community Service

Wow, I have so much to share with all of you. First things first, I know my permanent unit/team and I know my first project. I am in Earth Unit - Team 5 and am 1 of 9 members including our team leader Jess. I am very happy with my group, it seems to be a great, fun, diverse group of people and I think we will work well together. And for our project, get this; we will be working with Habitat For Humanity in Miami, Florida building houses in a large build off project. If you are unfamiliar with Habitat For Humanity, they build houses for lower income people who could not otherwise afford a house of their own. Houses are built for individual families and many times families help in the build and you get to know them well. Jimmy Carter founded the organization and it’s known as being one of the best run non profit organizations in the country. So I along with my team will be building houses for 6 weeks with other volunteers from across the country.

It is very special and infrequent that we would be selected for a project in Miami. Since our campus is in Denver, we usually cover the Midwest and the only work we do outside our project area is for disaster relief. But this is a special case, the build in Miami has been selected as the yearly build off, the largest build of the year, and it includes a contest in which teams compete in building as many houses as they can in a week. I think the record last year was 6 finished houses in a week, quite amazing. So we will be working alongside other volunteers and college students in this large event. That is pretty much all I know so far. I will be leaving in 2 weeks, it will take us 4-5 days to drive to Miami and we will be there for approximately 6 weeks.

Many people are quite jealous that we got such a great project, there has been talk the past couple weeks about a project in Miami and everyone wanted to go one this one. Only 2 out of the 35 teams got selected, and our team leader was lucky enough to draw the first choice pick. I am really excited! I think I will actually miss the Denver weather; it’s been so comfortable here, 55 in the day, 40 at night and 300 days of sun. I think I am the rarity, since everyone is going out to buy bathing suits and can’t wait to get into the heat.

In other news this week we had our first day project. Our whole unit was sent to a state park to cut down Russian Olive trees which have become over abundant and prevent other vegetation from growing in the area. The process basically consisted of us running around the forest tagging trees, then we would cut off the small branches and such with bow saws and clippers, then we would try to flag down team leaders with chain saws to cut them down. After all of this, we paint the stump with chemicals and pick up every small branch and twig off the ground and send them off to be burnt, so these damn trees die and don’t regenerate and multiply like starfish. Sometimes we took it upon ourselves to cut the whole things down with the small bow saws. Its quite fun to see a tree that you have been hacking at for like half an hour to finally come crashing down with a lot of cutting and few pushes and kicks. We had so much fun at the state park that me and a bunch of other people are going back tomorrow to do garbage cleanup and other work as part of our ISP hours (we are required to do 80 additional hours of independent community service on top of the work we do this our groups).

One armed Chris & Syesha chemical painting

And on a light note, last weekend I visited the Celestial Seasonings tea factory in Boulder. This was awesome, they had a real cool factory tour and you are able to sample over 100 different types of tea. I was also in Boulder today with my team, we went hiking at Chattanooga State Park, which was beautiful, it was nice to do some real mountain hiking with some beautiful views. While hiking I met this dog Krusty that does community service. He found 3 people still alive and trapped underneath World Trade Center wreckage. Afterwards we walked around the downtown area, which is fantastic, an awesome collection of eclectic shops and coffee shops. There are tons of street performers and the area is gorgeous. It reminded me a little of the East Village and Ann Arbor, but less congested and more beautiful. Now everyone wants to move to Boulder after the program is over, I don’t blame them, it’s a great place.

My hero Krusty

That covers it for now. I started to befriend some of the Japanese students on campus despite the fact that they don’t speak any English. Yesterday I sang a Zebrahead song with one of their bands.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

In Uniform

I am now official property of the US government. 100% Americorps NCCC employee, banking a little over $15 a day and loving every minute of it! I know this is my first letter, so much has already happened and I am not completely sure where to start. Ok, so I get
off the plane and I’m in Denver. I meet a bunch of people and we drive in these 15 car passenger vans to campus. Our campus is beautiful, a small college for Japanese students among other small groups, including a team of ninjas, that’s right ninjas, high school students and traveling sports teams. The college is a historical landmark in Denver, the highest location in the city. You can see the bell tower from downtown Denver, which makes it a really convenient landmark when you don’t know where you are going. The college was originally an old monastery so the campus is littered with religious statues of all sorts. There is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary outside the cafeteria. We have a beautiful view of the mountains, rolling hills, which turn into picturesque snow covered peaks.

So what have I been doing? I haven’t had all that much free time so far. Are days are pretty packed from 8-7. I get up at 7, get dressed, eat breakfast and we start our training day at 8. We have done a day of orientation, safety training, CPR, driving, I got certified to drive 15 seat passenger vans, which we drive across country. There are so many silly rules, like if we need to backup the vans we are required to have two people get out, put on orange vests and hand guide us out of a parking spot. It is really silly and we often get laughed at. Today, we had tool orientation. This was fun. We were introduced to using the weirdest array of prehistoric hand tools I’ve ever seen, spiky metal rakes with sharp flat backs. Log rollers, which are basically big fat baseball bats with a spiky top and a weird gripping mouth. Many projects are on reservations, or historical landmarks that require us to use hand tools in the place of power tools. We even have old long saws to cut trees and logs in half. This is not easy.

So let me tell you a little about Denver. Denver is not NYC, that’s for sure. We spent a day in Denver doing a scavenger hunt with our group to get to know the area. The city is pretty dead during the day, a little like Boston with less people. The city really picks up at night. Lots of bars, clubs and tons of people hanging out on the street, remember the weather is still pretty comfortable, 55 to 30 and sunny today. This past Sunday we went to this amazing coffee shop bar for an open mic and poetry reading. This place was on par with the coolest places in NYC. Really bohemian.

So Denver is fun, the campus is great, the people are incredibly interesting, although most people are from the eat coast, I’ve met people from Puerto Rico, Panama and Hawaii. I think the strangest thing so far is waking up everyday and putting on the same uniform, that and the altitude. The attitude has been a real killer. I guess that’s what you get for taking a Long Island boy and placing him a mile above sea level. So I think that will cover it for now. Peace.

Me with my the team Earth 5