Miles and Pa
The pandemic has caused a great divide in America. Some of us have struggled mightily to put food on the table and a roof over their heads while others have been able to sail through relatively unscathed. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be among the latter group. While reflecting on this I tried to figure out a way to balance the scales a bit. What could I do to improve the plight of those who didn’t have my good luck? I decided that one way would be to give away $100 a day for a month. I pondered this for months. I wanted to do it last year when the need was great but couldn’t because I had to wait until I was vaccinated so it could be done safely for everyone. In April it became possible.
I went into this with three goals:
- to help people in need or who deserve our appreciation. I wanted them to feel like some random stranger took the time to help them. That the world was a little better than they had experienced previously.
- to give it to the “givers” for distribution. I wanted to remain anonymous. To do this I figured I would find people who are already helping others and provide them with a little extra resource to enhance what they already do. After all, they are the best judges for determining that this gets in the right hands. Plus, they get a boost by seeing the smile on the recipient’s face.
- to spread the joy of giving to a new generation.
I made it more of a challenge because I created some stipulations:
– I had to do it every day without exception
– I had to deliver it in person (online doesn’t count)
– I wanted it to go to someone who meets at least one the following criteria:
— is in particular need
— provides a service to the community
— is underpaid
— is endangered by the virus
– I tried not to be repetitive. I sought 30 different environments. That made it a lot harder.
I asked my 3 ½ year old grandson (Miles) if he would join me on this tour. We spend a lot of time together on “adventures” biking all over the area so he was up for another one (little did he know what he was signing up for). We decided that together we would be able to gather a bunch of smiles – what we call “Miles smiles”.
In months of planning I came to realize that this was going to be a lot more difficult than one might think. After all, how hard can it be to give away money? Upon reflection there were numerous potential pitfalls:
– some people might be weirded out by a stranger giving them money (Miles’s presence helped enormously with this)
– some can’t take it (firemen, policemen, teachers, etc)
– some environments have many in need. How do you single out a sole beneficiary? How do you avoid jealousy from people wondering “what did that guy get? Why didn’t I get one?” I had to be sure to avoid making someone else feel worse.
Here’s how it all played out:
Weeks in advance
Needing 30 different recipients, I did a lot of research and thinking to come up with ideas. I solicited advice from friends and family. I came up with 15 or so and figured that I’d identify more as I got into it.
Wednesday, March 31
The first step was to get the money. Miles and I rode up to our local bank and we pulled up at the drive-in window on the bike. I gave the teller a check for $1500 (I figured two trips would be needed) and requested 60 $20 bills and 30 $10 bills. It turns out that this is a lot of bills. The teller put it in an envelope that couldn’t quite hold it all. It was a typical windy day in March and when I pulled it from the drive-in drawer it almost burst out and blew all over the parking lot. That would have been a truly random distribution! Fortunately, I was able to keep it intact and stow it safely in the bike panniers.
Arriving home I put the money in gift envelopes with a note “Please Accept This Random Act of Kindness”. On a few I added “If you don’t need this feel free to share it with others”. I had a friend (Thanks Becca) write it in Spanish on a few envelopes as well.
Thursday, April 1
My daughter (Marie, Miles’s mom) is well aware of my idiosyncrasies so she knew the drill. She did some sleuthing and found a perfect first stop for us: a “Kindness Advocate” (Susan) who stocks a Little Free Pantry near Fort Myer. It was a bad weather day so Miles and I went off in the car. After parking we saw the pantry and knew we had made a good choice. We walked around to the front porch and Miles approached with a kindness envelope in hand. We weren’t sure how to proceed but fortunately Susan opened the front door and came outside. Miles said “I have something for you” and tried to give her the envelope. She said “Wait. Please put it through the mailbox.” She then went back inside to retrieve it. (Little did she know how appropriate this was as Miles had been a postal worker for Halloween.) After retrieving it from her mail slot Susan came back out and I explained what we were doing. She was thrilled to be stop # 1 on the Tour. We were as well. We were off to a great start!
Here’s a link to Susan’s blog about what she does. Go, Susan!
Friday, April 2
Our second day was a no brainer: Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). AFAC provides dignified access to free groceries so that families can devote their limited financial resources to obligations such as housing, utilities, medication, and other basic needs. Our only dilemma was resolving the issue of having to decide who gets the “kindness” among multiple worthy beneficiaries. I decided that the best approach was to split it into two envelopes (2 kindnesses). Miles and I approached one of the volunteers handing out the food bags. Miles gave him the envelopes. After explaining what we were doing I asked him to place one envelope in each of two random food bags. He “got it” and said he would be happy to do so. Hopefully two people got to smile when they got home and opened their bags. (A key to this was the note on the envelope. Without an explanation they might have thought it was a mistake and tried to return it. With it they knew it was meant for them. Bingo.)
Saturday, April 3
I hadn’t lined up anything in advance for this day but figured that we could try the local Goodwill store on Columbia Pike. It’s a short ride down the W&OD bike path from Miles’s house so we gave it a shot. We arrived and explained to the security guy at the door that we wanted to pay for the purchases of some random people in line. He was taken aback and referred us to the manager. When I explained our quest to her she was extremely skeptical at the initial suggestion. “How would that work?” I had to agree. It was our first quandary. I proposed Plan B: maybe we could slip it into some clothes in the baby department. That seemed OK to her. She pointed us in the right direction and went back to her office. We headed downstairs and found the baby department. There were a bunch of clothes on hangers. I figured onesies were the best fit, found two different ones (of varying size), slipped an envelope in each and we left.
Afterwards Miles and I stopped for lunch at Atlacatl (a Salvadoran restaurant across the street) and enjoyed a grand meal together to celebrate our first tricky kindness delivery.
Sunday, April 4
This always was going to be a hard one because it was Easter Sunday. Most places are closed and that severely limited our options. How was I going to pull that off?
As it turned out Marie was having an Easter celebration at her house. She had included her best friend from childhood (Becca) and her family. We all met there on a beautiful spring day. In the course of the day Becca and I were discussing my project and she came up with a wonderful solution: she has befriended a young woman (Wendy) who is a 29 year old, undocumented immigrant with a small child and no family support who is very ill with cancer. She could deliver it in person to Wendy. We went from being completely stumped to having the best possible candidate. Thanks Becca!
Monday, April 5
This was another day with no planned stop. Fortunately it was a usual day for us to get together (Miles and I have our “adventures” every Monday and Friday) so we were going for a bike ride anyway. I initially thought that we could stop by the hospital and see if we could figure out a way to give it to a health care provider. I knew the virus prevented us from going inside but the plan was to slip it under the windshield wiper of an ambulance parked outside the Emergency Room entrance. As we rode up we were in luck: there was a Fire Department ambulance parked outside. Unfortunately, upon further inspection we realized that someone was inside cleaning it up. It would be tricky to surreptitiously walk around to the front and put something on the windshield so that idea had to be abandoned. Fortunately I had Plan B: go to the actual Fire Station.
An aside: in preparation for this I had gone to the Fire Station and asked how I could help them. Several guys were out front and we engaged in an extended conversation about my quest. They told me what they could not accept: money, lunch (due to covid restrictions), etc. We finally determined that they could accept a gift card from the Harris Teeter grocery store. I filed that away.
So now Plan B had to be enacted. We went to the Harris Teeter (en route between the hospital and the fire station) got a gift card for $100 and headed to the station. Upon arrival someone was outside and we explained our project and gave him the kindness envelope with the gift card. With our mission accomplished Miles and I sat down on the bench outside the entrance and had our usual snack (nuts and berries). While we were snacking a fire truck pulled up and backed into the station. Very cool. After a few minutes we had another surprise: Lt Kathryn came out holding a children’s fireman’s hat for Miles. This was a pleasant surprise – especially since she had no idea about the delivery of the kindness. She just saw us and came out. When I explained to her what we were doing and the aborted attempt at the hospital she laughed and pointed to the ambulance in the station and said that was probably the very ambulance.
Tuesday, April 6
This was the easiest day yet. I decided that I would share that particular kindness with a very kind lady who has brightened our house for 34 years (Delmy). We met her when Leigh was nine months pregnant with Marie and she has come to our house every two weeks to minimize our mess ever since. She is a real sweetheart. She is not well (alas – her cancer has come back) and bringing her a smile was very important to us. She probably gave the $100 away to someone in greater need. Get well soon, Delmy!
Wednesday, April 7
Because it was a school day for Miles, this was my first day without my intrepid assistant. I decided it was a good time to try my grocery worker ploy: to give the cash to a random shelf stocker. During covid I have made all grocery runs very early in the morning to avoid crowds. Frequently I encounter the people stocking the shelves. I’m sure that they would prefer people to avoid those times as we get in their way. As a result I try to tiptoe around them. I thought this might be a good opportunity to thank them. Unfortunately it didn’t play out as I had hoped. When I actually tried to execute my plan it just seemed too weird so I had to come up with Plan B.
I have gotten to know the early hour checkout lady (Debbie). In the past we have discussed how every time I go to the grocery I write a check to AFAC for the same amount of my groceries. I explained my project and asked her if she could figure a way for me to fulfill my goal. While scanning my groceries she came up with the idea that she could take it and share it with other employees who are in need. She even realized who she would give it to: a young women who had just started after moving from Arizona (she told Debbie she had left because “there are a lot of homeless people and a lot of drug usage – she was a recovering addict herself”). Another HR. Thanks Debbie.
Thursday, April 8
This was another day without a plan. I was working all day and couldn’t get out. As it got late, I realized I needed to go with one of my emergency options: a fast food drive in window. So I went to the McDonalds on Lee (soon to be Loving) Hwy. I went to the drive thru, ordered and paid for my chicken sandwich, handed her the kindness envelope, and drove off. I suspect that had never happened to her before. I’ll bet she got a smile out of that.
Friday, April 9
This was the wackiest day of the whole tour. My wife (Leigh), Marie, and Marie’s 6th month old daughter (June) went off on a girls’ weekend. Marie’s hubby (Josh), Miles and I were going camping on Saturday with my buddy Dwight. Josh was scheduled to get his vaccination in Southeast DC on Friday evening so we all drove over for that. We had hoped to go to Martha’s Table to drop off the kindness envelope but we were too late. After Josh’s shot we went to get take out for dinner at Henry’s Soul Café. Unfortunately it took 45 minutes to get our food. Fortunately Miles slept through the whole thing. I kept looking for a place to do the kindness but nothing presented itself.
After a long journey we came home and ate dinner – still needing to fulfill our quest. Being desperate I opted to try the hospital ambulance trick again. Miles was game so off we went via car. We pulled into the Emergency Room lot and parked. There were no ambulances but two medical transport vehicles. That would suffice. However, one immediately drove off and the other had two guys standing around near the vehicle. Were they leaving, too? While waiting to determine their course of action I looked around the parking lot. I realized that I had parked adjacent to three black Suburbans with heavily tinted windows. I knew what they were – somebody important was in the hospital. They had the windows down and I could see two people in each car. All six guys were looking at their phones. None of them appeared to pay any attention to me.
Finally the two operators of the medical transport van pulled out a gurney and started for the hospital entrance. Great. This will work. I got Miles out of his car seat (which takes forever) and started walking across the lot towards the van. With Miles in my arms we approached it on the driver’s side when I noticed another black Suburban with heavily tinted windows parked right next to it – on the driver’s side no less. Yikes! I did a quick pirouette and headed around the van to the passenger side where no one could see us. We deposited the envelope under the wiper and skedaddled within 10 seconds.
When we were halfway back across the lot, I realized that there was another medical transport van that I hadn’t noticed before. In it was a guy who must have been watching us the whole time because he looked at us quizzically and said “Are you OK?” I mumbled “We’re fine” are kept on trucking. After getting Miles back in the car seat (did I mention that this is not easily done?), we got the heck out of there. Before leaving I had a fleeting thought that I should go retrieve the envelope from the initial van and give it to the other guy. (After all he was the only guy who paid any attention to us.) I quickly decided that would have been too much.
Final thoughts: There were four (count ‘em four) security vehicles in that lot and two medical transport vans. Each had two people in them. That’s twelve people – eight of whom are trained to spot suspicious activity. Out of all of those people only one guy appeared to be interested in my curious activities. I’m hard pressed to think of something that would be more suspicious than what I was doing. Boy was this living proof of my experience that an old guy together with a young guy are non-threatening. As we rode home, I mentioned to Miles that I never would have been able to pull that one off if he hadn’t been with me.
(No picture that day. Surely, that would’ve gotten their attention.)
Saturday, April 9
This one worked out nicely. Susan (Becca’s mom) helps out at her church giving away free clothes to people who need them on Saturdays. Since we were going camping that day we had to make this a quick one. Miles and I drove over first thing, delivered two $50 envelopes to Susan (with description in Spanish) and she was able to give them to the last two people in line. This avoided any jealousy from others. Susan reported that they were very thankful and that Miles smiles were achieved.
Sunday, April 11
This was our laziest kindness. After our camping excursion (which was a blast) we came home tired. Leigh and I ordered a take out delivery from the Lost Dog Café. The driver dropped on our porch and rang the doorbell. Luckily I got to the door just as he was about to get back in his car. I motioned for him to come back. He did and I handed him an envelope. He pocketed it and drove away. I guess he opened it later – and smiled.
Monday, April 12
Another easy one. Monday is our trash day. Being a boy, Miles loves it. We know the trash guys as we wait for them and watch them. We frequently see them as we’re out on the bike. They always acknowledge us. On this day, they were doing their thing and about to drive off when I had to wave for them to stop. Miles went running out and personally delivered an envelope to each. Miles smiles abounded.
Tuesday, April 13
This was another day without a plan. As it got late, I realized I had to go with one of my emergency Plan B options. There is someone who spends a lot of time on a bench under a shelter very near Miles’s house. He’s not always there but his stuff is. I knew that in a pinch I could always give him a kindness. This was his day. I couldn’t get Marie or Josh on the phone so I just headed over to their house unannounced. I found Miles getting ready for bed. Josh immediately knew why I was there and acquiesced to the two of us making our delivery. Miles and I took a short stroll to the fellow’s spot. As we approached we couldn’t tell if he was there or not. I didn’t want to startle him so I said “Hello!” No response. We crept closer. As we got near, we saw his shoes and his cell phone on the concrete in front of the bench. Then we knew he was there. I was prepared for this so I had some tape with me. We taped the envelope to the poll which supported the shelter and departed.
Wednesday, April 14
Another easy one. I was informed by Leigh (the only person whose opinion matters) that I needed a haircut. Since I haven’t had a professional one in over a year, I couldn’t argue. So off to Pete’s Barber Shop I went. It was pretty quiet. Maria cut my hair short (as always). After paying her and giving her a tip I handed her a kindness envelope and explained what I was doing. Smile achieved.
Thursday, April 15
This was a special occasion because I knew Miles wouldn’t want to miss a trip to the Weenie Beenie. As we approached, we saw the usual crowd of day laborers outside who spend hours hoping that someone will pick them up for a job. We ordered our food (one hot dog, fries, two half-smokes) and paid. I asked the owner if “he ever had people come who needed a free meal”. He motioned to the workers and nodded his head. I explained what we were doing, handed him an envelope and said “This will help pay for it”. He was pretty busy so he put it on the shelf without opening it. Did he understand? When we picked up our order he smiled and said “Thanks”. He understood.
Weekend on the road, April 16-19
I knew this would be a challenge. We would be travelling to Durham to see our son (Kevin) and his wife (Hannah). Thus, we were unfamiliar with the local lay of the land. I consider myself able to think outside the box and not easily thwarted but this would be trickier than most. Was I up to the task?
Friday, April 16
This was the day we drove down. My initial plan was to stop for gas at a station in rural Virginia. There I would give the envelope to the cashier and ask them to use it to pay for the gas of the next 4 people who came in to pay with cash. As it turned out, we got stuck in traffic on I-95 near Fredericksburg and decided to stop for lunch. Since both of our kids went to Mary Washington University we knew the place well. We have a favorite Indian restaurant that we have frequented many times. As we expected, the buffet was closed (bummer) so we ordered from the menu and dined in. A few people came in for takeout but we were the only diners. We left the waiter (owner?) a really nice tip and a kindness envelope.
In advance of the trip I had done some research and identified a few worthwhile places (Durham has a lot of people in need) but they were closed on weekends so I had to wing it. Luckily Hannah knew that the farmers market would be open on Saturday morning and they had a desk where people could go and turn in their SNAP stamps to use for food. Voila! We stopped by after breakfast. I immediately found the office (staffed by young & engaging volunteers) and explained my quest. Their eyes lit up immediately. They mentioned that if I gave them the cash then they could use it to double the value of the SNAP stamps. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have another winner! Smiles abounded that day. Good show Hannah!
Sunday, April 18
The next Durham challenge was on Sunday. With many charitable organizations closed I knew I was going to have to wing it again. We stayed in an adorable Air B&B. During our stay we walked back and forth several times each day to Kev and Hannah’s apartment. En route we continued to pass a building called Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA). It turned out to be housing for people who are recovering from substance abuse. Each time we passed we would see the residents out in the yard gardening. playing horseshoes, etc. This was obviously a perfect place for a kindness but I couldn’t figure out how to pull that off. I certainly couldn’t just walk up and hand to a resident.
On Sunday morning I was walking over to Kev’s place and I saw a jogger run past. He was laboring a bit which caught my attention. A few seconds later another lumbered past. Then another. This was curious. Was this a race? Finally I saw a couple standing at a turn in the “course” who were vigorously applauding the runners. I thought. “OK, it is a race. Good for them.”
As I approached, I said to the couple “Better them than me. I couldn’t do that.” They laughed and said “This is an event we organized for the residents to get them out for some exercise on a Sunday morning.” That stopped me in my tracks. I thought “They organized it. Hmmm.” The wheels began turning. I began my explanation (after 17 days I was getting really good at explaining the tour). They immediately perked up and the man said “I’m Keith Artin. I’m the president of TROSA.” Well, this should definitely work.
As I gave him the kindness envelope, he said “if we apply this to the dental care program we receive a matching grant.” Well, that was a no-brainer. Another Miles smile. Two of them in fact. And someone will have better teeth with which to make it.
Kudos to Keith. What you do every day inspires us all!
Monday, April 19
This was another easy one. We stayed in an adorable air B&B in Durham. We left a kindness envelope for the person who cleaned up after us.
Tuesday, April 20
Another day without a plan (I was running low on them at this point). I had a softball game that night. (We played a much younger team. We were close in game 1 and got creamed in the nightcap.) I had planned to give it to the server at our post game repast but we didn’t go. Uh oh. It was 10:30 at night and I needed a kindness recipient. Fortunately we played at a field adjacent to the Arlington Central Library and there is a Little Free Pantry there.
After the game and in the dark I went over and rummaged around inside looking for a likely place to put the kindness envelope. I wanted to find a product in a box so that it wouldn’t be obvious. The only candidate was a box of Betty Crocker pie crust. Question: Who gets pie crust out of a free pantry? You need an oven. And pie filling. And the energy to cook it. A more important question: Who puts a box of pie crust in a free pantry?
Well, the Betty Crocker was my only choice so I opened it and placed the kindness inside and tried to seal it back up as best I could. This was one of my less promising kindnesses. More on this later …
Wednesday, April 21
In order to get more ideas for recipients I had discussed my quest with some of my softball buddies. It turns out that one player (Jim)’s wife Carolyn assists with a food giveaway program at her church in Fairfax. So I drove out on Wednesday morning to seek her out. When I walked up she was quite surprised to see me. She knew nothing of my tour. There was a line of cars in the church parking lot awaiting the distribution so I explained myself quickly. She accepted her role gladly and said she’d put it in two random bags. Two more smiles. She also mentioned another thing she does with turned into a future random act. Go Carolyn!
Thursday, April 22
Our dear friends Gary and Susan (Becca’s parents for those keeping track) recently lost their beloved dog, Josey. Leigh suggested we make a donation in Josey’s name to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. I invited Gary to join us as Miles and I rode over to deliver it. He loved the idea. Miles delivered it in style.
Side note: Miles is figuring out words and signs and questions everything. He was fascinated by the medical waste disposal box outside the main entrance. What’s that red symbol for? That was not easily explained.
Friday, April 23
We were now entering the home stretch with some of my favorites still to come. This was one of them – Bridges To Independence. We have a long history with them that requires a side note:
Every year on Christmas Eve (since Marie was Miles’s age) our family contacts a random organization who assists families and children and requests a list of kids who are having a rough time. We get the name, age, and gender of the kids and a list of their likes. We then go to the mall or a toy store and buy a bunch of presents, wrap them and deliver them to the organization. We put a post it note on the outside so they know who it’s for and what it is. This way the parents can give it to the kids and have it come from them.
Since we have played Santa Claus at Bridges To Independence many times we know them well and strongly support what they do. This was a no brainer for the Random Act Tour. I contacted Christina and we arranged to meet for the delivery. She introduced me to Cicely and we had a wonderful transfer. Many smiles came that day. Great job, ladies. We are thrilled to be of assistance. See you on December 24th.
Saturday, April 24
Another day without a plan. I came up with the idea of dropping off some children’s books at a Martha’s Table drop box in DC. I figured I could tape the kindness envelope inside the book. After Leigh located a couple of books (we have many) I drove to pick up Miles for the trip downtown – it was too far to bike by the time he got up from his “quiet time”. We had a bit of an adventure negotiating the One Way streets and finding a parking space but we were successful.
Sunday, April 25
An easy one. I mentioned we had lunched at a restaurant across from the Goodwill store on a previous kindness delivery. Miles loved the food so we decided to go back for more and to leave the waitress a kindness envelope as a bonus tip. I suspect she was surprised to get it.
Monday, April 26
Another favorite. Earlier I had said that Carolyn had told me of another thing she did in her spare time: volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in Fairfax. The National CASA/GAL Association, together with state and local member programs, supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so every child who has experienced abuse or neglect can be safe, have a permanent home, and the opportunity to thrive. She got me in touch with her supervisor (Dawnee) and we arranged to meet in a park in Arlington right off the W&OD bike path.
They cannot give money directly to their clients but Dawnee found a volunteer who had kept up with a young woman who had aged out of the program. Natasha was starting school at NOVA and needed a little help getting situated. We were thrilled to make her transition a little easier. We know we got a smile from her as she wrote Miles a wonderful thank you note!
What a thrill to meet someone who does such good work. Thank you Dawnee! And thanks to Carolyn for introducing me to her.
Tuesday, April 27
This was going to be another tricky one. My selection for the day was Gary (Becca’s dad and Josey’s pal) who delivers food gathered by his church to people at Gunston Middle School every other Tuesday. The problem was I had a softball game that night at the same time. Luckily the game was postponed so I was able to meet up with Gary at Gunston. Several ladies were lined up patiently awaiting the distribution. Many of them are regulars and Gary knows them along with many of their stories. After they divided up the food in a very orderly process I gave him two kindness envelopes that he slipped to two ladies. He mentioned that they were ones who helped out and who were in particular need. It was a great evening. Good job, Gary.
Wednesday, April 28
A little back story is required: Since the pandemic started, Arlington Public Schools has been giving away school lunches to all Arlington school kids. This is not need based. They want people to get these lunches because it supports the local farmers and food purveyors who usually provide the food. Those people are hurting. As I mentioned earlier, Miles are out and about on Mondays and Fridays on “adventures” and occasionally we stop by to get lunch. Since we ride up on the bike, we are a bit unusual and the lunch ladies think it’s cute. So they know us.
On this day I decided to give them the kindness envelope. I was sorry that Miles couldn’t join me for this one because, ironically, he was in school. I rode up solo and they asked me “How many?” I said “None. Instead I have something for you.” That took them by surprise. I handed them the envelope and rode off. This was one of my favorites because of its true randomness.
PS. I want to report that those school lunches are good. And healthy. Thank you Michelle Obama!
Planning the Grand Finale
As this whole thing was playing out and we were having such great success, I came up with the idea that I wanted to finish it off with a Grand Finale: Miles and I would select our favorite places, retrace our steps and repeat the donations again. For logistical reasons we were limited to places that were in Clarendon and near the W&OD bike path. We went over the list and decided that we could repeat nine stops (carefully selected as ones that we could cover via bike in one day). This was definitely doable but it meant that April 30 was going to be a really big day.
Thursday, April 29
This was the most random act of all. I had run out of ideas and had no clue of what I was going to do. Leigh and I invited Dwight and his wife (Carol) out to lunch. The restaurant we wanted to go to was booked so we decided to go to Fletcher’s Boat House and have a picnic. It was a beautiful day so after eating we decided to go for a walk. Dwight knew of my quest and I mentioned that I had no plans for the day. As we walked on the trail in the woods near Fletcher’s, we saw several tents of people who were “living outdoors”. I had my kindness envelope with me and I pondered going over and leaving it next to one of the tents but I had not written a note on it. I knew that if someone got an envelope under those circumstances it would cause great confusion so I declined to do so.
As we headed back to the car, we decided to go for ice cream at the snack bar. Then Dwight had the brilliant idea of asking the snack bar guy about the best way to fulfill the quest. So we asked him if any of the local folk ever came looking for food. He said “Yes, but we aren’t allowed to give them anything.” When asked if I could leave something for them he immediately agreed to be the purveyor. He even knew who he was going to give it to: a woman who had been around “for years” and was afraid to go to the shelters in DC. Yeah, give her the random act of kindness. Big Miles smile!
At this point a significant random event happened:
While we were eating our ice cream, Dwight’s neighbor (Nelson) walked up. Nelson is a 17 time Emmy award winning photojournalist for WTTG (Channel 5). It turns out that Nelson was there filming a story about Fletcher’s Cove filling up with silt and the need to dredge it. Somehow during our chat Dwight mentioned my Random Act of Kindness tour and Nelson was intrigued and said he’d like to cover it. The only problem was that he was busy for Friday’s Grand Finale. He casually said “Well, Dwight, you could film it.” Dwight readily agreed. Game on.
Pause in story: I had great apprehension about putting this on TV. I weighed the plusses and minuses. On the plus side: 1) it was a good story; 2) it would give some good press to the organizations involved; and 3) it might inspire others. On the minus side: 1) It could come off as being about me. I really didn’t want that. 2) Would there be some weird social media storm about it? Yikes. I allayed the latter concern because I have zero social media presence. Of course, Miles doesn’t either. Also, I figured I could ask Nelson to refrain from giving my last name. That would make it really hard to find us. So I decided to go through with it.
Friday, April 30 – The Grand Finale
We awoke to a weather advisory stating that very high winds were expected that day so we had no time to lose. Dwight arrived at our house at 9:30. Miles and I were ready to roll and off we went at 9:36.
Grand Finale – Stop 1 – Central Library 10:02 – 10:15
As we pulled up, there was a lady putting stuff into the Little Free Pantry. This caused a little confusion but it was fine. As I was looking for a box for my envelope, I saw the pie filling box! It was still there. Was the envelope still in it? Yes. My fears were justified. Argh. We moved it to a box of macaroni and cheese. We put the new kindness envelopes it two other packages. When we left there were three packages with a total of $200 between them.
Grand Finale – Stop 2 – Bridges To Independence 10:25 – 10:31
We met Christina at the entrance and Miles delivered the kindness. We were on a tight schedule as we had to be back for his “quiet time”. No time to dawdle. Christina – see you on Christmas Eve.
Grand Finale – Stop 3 – Susan the Kindness Advocate 10:43 – 11:00
Here we paused for a few minutes as Susan made a special effort to welcome Miles. She showed him her “Countdown Box” which had special surprises behind numbered doors. Miles got several things. His favorite was a Tootsie Pop. Yum. That came in handy as the Grand finale progressed.
Grand Finale – Stop 4 – Arlington Free Clinic 11:12 – 11:19
This was the original stop for Day 30. Since Alicia was so great on the phone we gave her two kindnesses. They were slipped in with the medications for four patients at random. Perfect! She was thrilled to inform us that they had just given out 70 covid vaccinations that morning. Way to go Alicia! Through your efforts we’ll beat this virus yet.
Grand Finale – Stop 5- Weenie Beenie 11:53 – 12:05
Our path took us right past the place and it was lunch time. Besides this was one of Miles’s top places (Susan was right up there, too – even before the Tootsie Pop won her extra points.) We got the usual (a hot dog, fries and two half-smokes) and confirmed with John that we wanted to repeat the process from earlier. He was happy to oblige.
Grand Finale – Stop 6 – AFAC 12:10 – 12:15
We met the warehouse manager (Ray). When I described our quest he said that he had heard about us from our stop on April 2. Apparently we had made an impression. (I guess we achieved our goal.) He immediately understood our purpose and promised to carry it out.
Grand Finale – Pit Stop for lunch 12:25 – 1:05
Amazingly we were on schedule and had plenty of time to have a relaxing lunch in Barcroft Park. Miles enjoyed his fries and hot dog. Dwight and I wolfed down our half-smokes. As we prepared to depart, Dwight opened up the Tootsie Pop for Miles.
Grand Finale – W&OD
Those weather people know their stuff. They weren’t kidding about the wind. We almost got blown off the trail several times in the home stretch.
Grand Finale – Stop 7 – Outdoor Living Fellow 1:15 – 1:17
We had the same experience as we had on our previous stop here. Was he there? How do we make the delivery without startling him and causing an awkward situation? We deemed that he was there but he was fast sleep. We approached cautiously and put the envelope in his shoe. I hope the wind didn’t blow it away. Note Miles’s satisfaction with the Tootsie Pop.
Grand Finale – Stop 8 – CASA at Benjamin Banneker Park 1:31 – 1:40
We met Dawnee in the park and Miles made the transfer. The clock was ticking on “quiet time” so we had to move fast. The Tootsie Pop was not down to the chocolate center yet.
Grand Finale – Stop 9 – Arlington/Falls Church Fire Station 1:48 – 1:58
Unfortunately, Lt. Kathryn was off that day but Miles presented our envelope to Maya with instructions to give it to the lieutenant. (Side note: we didn’t have time to get a gift card. I left a message asking her to exchange the cash for a gift card.) We headed for home.
Grand Finale – Last stop – home 2:23
The Grand Tour took a total of 4.75 hours (9:36 – 2:23). We traveled 21.5 miles in 2:44 of riding time. I’m happy to report that we made it home in time for “quiet time” and that the Tootsie Pop was polished off as we pulled into the driveway. What a fitting way to end the tour!
Route for Grand Finale
Wednesday, May 5 – Interview with Nelson Jones for WTTG
Nelson graciously agreed to meet with us at Miles’s house at 5:00 PM (to accommodate “quiet time” schedule). Nelson has lots of experience so he knew how to break the ice: by showing Miles his very cool camera equipment and microphones. That went over well. He then set up the camera and we proceeded to have a friendly chat about the Random Act of Kindness Tour. That’s his style – he prompts the person being videoed and just lets the person tell the story in their own words. Then he edits it into the final product. We just chatted like friends over a beer. It worked really well. I guess that’s how you win seventeen Emmys.
After about 30 minutes of talking Nelson shifted gears to get some footage of us riding the bike. That’s what Miles was waiting very patiently to do. He attached his Go-Pro camera to the handlebars for some shots and then he drove in his car alongside us as we rode around the streets near their house. It was fun. I’m sure the neighbors wondered what all the fuss was all about.
Nelson then headed for the editing room.
Thursday, May 6
Nelson alerted us that the piece was scheduled to run on the 4:00 and 6:00 news shows. It did and was really well done. He captured the intent of the Tour perfectly: it was about the act of giving and the ability to enable others to be the actual givers. Fantastic job, Nelson. I hope this wins you another Emmy.
The anchors in the studio that introduced the story also “got it”. The intro and snippet at the end were both great. It also ran at the end of the 11:00 PM broadcast in abbreviated form and at the 5:00 AM broadcast the next day. In the latter video the anchor choked up. Maybe we got some early morning smiles. Nice. Late Thursday Nelson informed us that the story had been picked up nationally and would be running on the Tampa station that night. Apparently this thing had legs. Fabulous.
Here’s a link to the video on YouTube:
Friday, May 7
As things wound down, Nelson asked me “How did Miles like the piece?” I didn’t know because he saw it with his parents. I wasn’t there. When I asked Marie she said that he was only mildly interested (kids see videos of themselves constantly these days). He was much more interested in watching “The Point” (the Ringo Starr narrated tale by Harry Nillson). Who can blame him? That makes the point.
Monday, May 31
Channel 5 ran the story on Memorial Day at 10 am as part of a “good news” special they put together of their favorite stories of the year. It was the lead story of the broadcast.
I am thrilled to be able to report that the Random Act of Kindness Tour was a resounding success. We achieved my three goals:
- Together we put a little spring in the steps of a significant number of people who are struggling. We can all hope that, when they laid their heads on their pillows that night, they had a sense that someone cares about and actually helped them. It was personal.
- Equally important to me is that Miles and I were able to bring innumerous “Miles smiles” to some fabulous people who are out there every day making the world better. I was honored to meet each and every one of them and to see up close and personal what they do on a regular basis. Our humble effort pales in comparison. Kudos to them all. They are the true stars of this saga (along with Miles).
- It is an “adventure” that I hope Miles will remember. I certainly will never forget it.
I want to apologize for creating extra work for the ”givers”. I hope it wasn’t too much of an imposition and that it falls into the category of “a nice problem to have”.
Dwight got some amazing videos of the Grand Finale. Kudos to him. He is a talented videographer – no less than I expected. Here’s the link to the Google photo page (which has Dwight’s videos and the WTTG piece).
A Final Note:
From the above it should be apparent that things went awry numerous times during our excursions. On several occasions we had to resort to “Plan B”. It’s good that my youthful partner in this endeavor is amenable to pretty much anything. He loved doing this (he did tell me that the explanations got a little boring after a while). A month after the completion of the Tour he came to our house for a sleepover. After reading him a bedtime story I was leaving his room and I asked him to think about what we should do for our adventure tomorrow. After a brief moment he said “We could do the hunnerd buck thing!” Perfect.
So my biggest Thanks goes to Miles. Without you at my side I never would have been able to pull this off. We simply must do this again sometime. With June