Archive for June, 2009

Carpe Diem

June 30th, 2009

Every so often, I must prove to myself that I am still living life and that life isn’t living me.  The occasional tough pinch in the skin doesn’t always work.  On Sunday, I went cliff jumping at Red Rocks Park, a hidden gem of Burlington, VT.  It is accessible a quarter mile off the main trail through dense forests.

Standing on the ledge of the cliffs, I could see the jagged rocks underneath the clear water; I was immediately filled with consternation.  My heart started pumping.  What happened if I hit the bottom and became paralyzed?  The possibility of severely injuring myself caused trepidation.  But after assurance that the water was deep enough followed by a hortatory countdown from five others I had met, I made the jump and plunged 40 feet into the frigid waters. I had conquered the cliffs, and every fiber in my being had confirmed that I was once again, was alive.

Please take a moment and honestly answer the poll.

When was the last time you felt alive?

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If you answered one month or one year, go out and do whatever makes you feel alive.  Help the elderly.  Ride a motorcycle and feel the wind ripping through your hair.  Watch the sunset from a hill.  Dance the night away.  Don’t let responsibilities and dogma get in the way of living life.

Beating the system, NYC style

June 26th, 2009
Location I used for pictures.

Location I used for pictures.

Conventional wisdom states that not having a college education is the end of one’s earning potential. To test the validity of this paradigm, I used a digital camera, a portable printer, a portable battery, and a power inverter to take pictures of people and print photos on location. I was a walking print shop, charging $5 per photo. The results were beyond my expectations.

Days before, I scoped out a spot I thought was perfect: The Raging Bull in New York’s Bowling Green Park. It turned out to be a terrible location. I only sold one print. After 45 minutes of trying, I gave up, packed my bags, and went to Times Square.

When I arrived, something miraculous happened. My sales skyrocketed 950%. Within 40 minutes, I managed to sell 10 prints worth $50 before my battery died. How much is that in terms of one year’s salary, assuming 40 hour work weeks? $150,000. According to, this is on par with the average salary that a doctor of internal medicine makes.

It is hard to extrapolate how much I can make in an average days work, as different hours of the day and different days of the week can affect business. It would be better if I averaged the earnings over several weeks. Some things to note:

  • I had a slow printer that took over a minute to print a picture.
  • The printer broke down once, costing me five minutes to fix. By the time it was fixed, a potential customer had left.
  • This was my first time. A seasoned professional on the streets would identify potential customers much faster.
  • I only had a hat with paper taped on that stated my intentions. A bigger advertisement would be more effective.
  • Times Square may not be the best location to shoot
  • I was not dressed too professionally

Although there is not sufficient evidence to warrant a firm conclusion, I imagine that with faster equipment, more experience, and a better location that I can be making much more. This simple test suggests that some aphorisms may not be true; it is definitely possible to beat the norm. Innovation and timing – two things that aren’t taught in school – are more important to financial success than going through an educational system that may even be hazardous to the mental health. We need to reform our paradigms and ken of education.


The mecca of graffiti – 5 Pointz, New York City

June 22nd, 2009

roadtrip-1305 Pointz in Queens, NY is the mecca of graffiti. Coruscating murals decorate nearly every square inch of the building.  Forget what the travel books say – this is definitely one of the top ten places to visit in NYC.

This independently owned building houses around 90 studios independent artists, several clothing factories, and a plethora of food carts.  Artists from all over the world converge in this location to legally write on the outer fascade, which is run by graffiti writer and curator, Meres One.  On Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak with him about his pet project.

roadtrip-143Tell us a little bit about the background of the 5 Pointz.

This is our 7th year. We cater to people from all over the world. It is the only legal outlet in New York for people to paint. We’re open Saturdays and Sundays 12-7pm and weekdays by appointment. We get about 1,000 pieces a year and stay open from May or June to October and then we stay open to only foreign traffic, people that come from other countries. The wall usually rotates from a day to a year, depending on the level of artwork and on the level of traffic coming to the building. We can get anywhere from 0 to 60 artists on any given day. It’s free to paint.

It’s interesting that you say it is open to the public. It seems like you are turning this into a museum.

It’s a lot of work. The landlord doesn’t share the vision, the potential of the art. But there are a lot of positive things. I firmly believe that it will be a museum one day. I just know it… I have that feeling. Right now it is closed because of the staircase collapse.

The building is under a lot of construction right now. A lot of rumors have been spread around that there was a woman who fell down the stairs.

Yes, she fell down because the stair collapsed.

There are a lot of investigations right now. Are those allegations true?

She’s an artist and a friend of mine. She fell about 40 feet and is very lucky to be alive and recovering. Whether she sues or not, will be seen in the future.

Right now, graffiti seems to be in the pits. You’re trying to rescue it by turning it into a museum.

It’s an artform. 5 Pointz’s existence allows people who really don’t have any familiarity to the artform to be able to see it. Unless you live by a wall that gets done, you really won’t have any exposure to it. I’m not saying we’re the cure for a graffiti plague, but imagine there was one in every borough. It would keep people busy. Instead of a kid suddenly going “ahh”, he could be going to one of the legal outlets to paint.

roadtrip-249You think there should be more encouragement of this type of work, especially in places where there are higher crime?

I wouldn’t even say higher crime. That whole broken window theory where once one window is broken, the whole neighborhood goes down… 5 Pointz is graffiti top to bottom. The neighborhood has a lot less graffiti than other neighborhoods. I would like a lot of my neighbors to have a graffiti-clean environment. I let people know that if you want to paint the walls that’s fine, but you can’t go writing in the neighborhoods around it. For the most part, everyone obeys the rules. Respect. All kids should have access to be able to paint these walls. It allows you to persevere your artistic abilities. Before I came to this place, when it was Fun Factory and not 5 Pointz, I was able to do my name and that was it. Now, with a building like this, it pushed my craft. I can do a whole background with a scene. It’s good exposure. It can help artists get work.

Sure. So how does someone actually get to paint on the wall?

They just come down, show an example of their work, and then they paint. If they come from out of town, they usually email me first, at which time, I tell them what they have to do. If they come on weekdays, they have to make an appointment. Whether you never painted at all or you are a professional, you still get a wall space.

You seem to be rescuing graffiti from the ground up. But some people say that assigning graffiti defeats the entire purpose of it.

5 Pointz is aerosol art, the use of a spraycan to produce artwork. It’s related to street tagging, but it’s not the same. You could do a piece illegally, and it would be considered vandalism, or you could do a piece legally, and it would be considered aerosol art. The only thing is, doing it legally, you’re not getting the adrenaline rush of doing it illegally. The idea is a different type of adrenaline rush for pushing yourself, and taking it to another level. I’m not saying it’s for everybody. If people like to do vandalism, then go do vandalism. If people like to have a place where they dont’ have to look their shoulder to create a mural and enjoy themselves, then come to 5 Pointz.

Now it’s interesting you say that. Earlier you were mentioning that you wanted a cleaner neighborhood that didn’t support vandalism.

No, out of respect for our neighbors that don’t want it, I try to keep the surrounding businesses clean. I do ask writers not to write in the neighborhood out of respect.

Mmm hmm.

We have our walls, we have our buildings. Don’t crap what you eat. Don’t destroy the surrounding area when you have a place to write. And the businesses… I try to keep clean… like 2,3,4 blocks away, I ask them not to do it.

So now that people have attached a face to your tag, Meres One, do people regard you differently when they actually see you and know that you’re a curator, you know, Oooh, there’s Meres One, careful!

The bottom line is this: regardless of who I am or what I am, I’m just a regular person, just another artist. I try to show everyone equal respect that I want them to show me, and that’s it. I mean, some people look up to me as a role model. Some people don’t appreciate what I do. I don’t expect everyone to love me, but respect me for what I do and I’ll respect you for what you do.

Awesome. When do you expect the museum to be up and running?

It’s going to take a couple of years. The good thing is that I have a PR rep. She’s a hard worker. I just linked up with a grant writing company that presented us with a contract and a package deal. I have to have that looked over by a lawyer, and hopefully, we can move forward from there. I don’t want to be too commercialized but yet, it has to be somewhat in a sense commercialized. I want it to maintain its authenticity. I know a lot of people that see dollar signs… I’m definitely not in it for the dollars. It’s an art form, and it’s recognized a lot more all over the world than in New York, which is a shame, considering that it was kind of raised in New York.

Sure. Let’s end on that.

Actually now, we got our website up. We’re going to have a documentary and a book, as well as quick moving DVD. Those are just some of the projects in the works. The high stuff on the buildings is going to have to all be redone because the repairs are pretty much destroying a lot of the murals. There’s a lot of work ahead of us.

Thank you for your time.



Higher quality pictures can be found here

Higher quality pictures can be found here


June 9th, 2009

It’s 3:23 a.m. and I’m sitting at a Chinese restaurant across from Chad Stevens, the most intelligent man I have come across on my journey.  From behind my teacup, I can clearly see his curly hair, soft brown eyes, tall sturdy nose, and million dollar smile showcasing his two day stubble underneath the fluorescent lights.  I met this stranger only seven hours ago, but already, he feels like an old friend. Chad is an affable and soft spoken man, and has a way of putting others at ease – the type of friend that you would want to introduce to your parents.  The restaurant is getting louder, but instead of speaking up, he politely maintains his voice and leans inward.

Chad is the modern day Renaissance man – he is intelligent and handsome, well-spoken and generous to others, a sagacious scholar of current events, and educated in a plethora of different subjects.  With his level of intelligence, you’d imagine Chad as a college professor or as a D.C. lawyer.  Instead, Chad is unemployed and homeless.  When I met him in Bethesda, MD, he was trying to sell me a couple of paintings and a collection of National Geographic magazines.

About a year ago, Chad loaned money to a friend who never returned it.  Several months later, he could no longer afford to make rent payments, and was ejected from his apartment.  Since then, he has been living off of a meager income as a freelance artist by creating billboards, signs, and murals.  Despite his precarious situation, Chad retains a sense of equanimity.  “I’m just down on my luck right now,” he says.  “I’m going to work to get my P.A. soon and partner with different groups.”

Such stories are not too uncommon.  Rewind the clock two days.  It’s 9:19 p.m., and I’m walking down 7th street in Washington D.C. after finishing research at the National Archives.  To my left, lays a beggar, asking for change.  “Nickel, dime, or penny,” he says, while rattling a change cup.  I pass right by, and then after a few steps, decide to turn around.

I sit down next to him, and start up a conversation.  His name is Glen Lewis, a homeless and unemployed 56-year-old.  His weathered skin, graying hair, and missing teeth are evidence of a life of hardship.  Surprisingly, he is well-traveled, primarily from living a nomadic lifestyle for extended periods of time, at one point, living out of his car for four years.

Although Glen never graduated college because of a lack of funds, he is better educated than most other homeless I have met during my journey, and speaks out on many subjects from government to culture and society.  But he speaks out about his current predicament above all else.  Because of his age and his circumstances, he cannot land a job.  “Every time I try to get a job, I can’t get one.  You need a reference to get a job.  I don’t have insurance, and don’t have a permanent address,” he says.

Glen is extremely dejected.  He has succumbed to the fact that his situation is not going to get better and will possibly never improve.  It has now been half an hour into the conversation and I start to get a small taste of how Glen feels.  People walking by are ignoring all hails from Glen and pretending to not hear anything when I greet them from the seated position.  Simply by associating with a beggar, I have been shunned and immediately relegated as a pariah of society.  Glen looks up at the people who ignore us and then angrily says, “They got so much to choose from, they are so greedy… they would throw it away and waste it instead of giving to those in need.”

Glen’s right.  The sad truth is that no one gives a damn.  The lost have absolutely no cause worth fighting for, simply because there is no reciprocation.  A homeless man can never pay back what is given to him.  Glen chuckles for a moment and then recomposes himself when I tell him that I want to share his story with the world.  “You are wasting your time.  A 40-year-old isn’t going to change the way he ties his shoes.  He’s tied it the same way his entire life.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2005, nearly one out of every five people D.C. residents – or 104,000 – lived at or below the poverty line.  Glen and Chad aren’t alone in their struggle.  A study done by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 2006 shows that their story is reminiscent of the plight shared by nearly 2,000 of the chronic homeless in the nation’s capitol.  In the stronghold of the most powerful and influential country in the world, one has to ponder how the government can turn a blind eye to such a vast amount of people.

Perhaps the greatest paradox that exists in America today is the one where beggars are just a walk away from a supermarket with an overabundance of food – a chilling testament to the most socioeconomically divided country in the world.  This paradox highlights the very root of the problem that the current system has failed to solve: hopelessness.  Instead, it has focused on the short-term solution of building shelters to feed and clothe the homeless, a solution that sees the homeless person thrown back into the lion’s den after a night of rest to be devoured by the streets.  For Glen, the solution is simple: “I would have a special shelter, where there would be a special network to help men out … hook up with companies to get guys on their feet.”

Hope for systematic change – change that was promised from the advent of the Obama administration, seems to be fading in the background.  Until people are willing to actively talk and discuss the issue and venerate the lost as human beings and not animals, it will forever plague our generation and those to come.  For now, Chad and Glen must do their best to get by another day.



June 5th, 2009

Hip-hop consists of four elements: MCing (often called rapping), DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing.  And with these elements comes culture and fashion.  Many often equate hip-hop to noise because radio only broadcasts top 40 booty banging tracks, and perhaps that is why hip-hop remains one of the least understood genres of music.  True hip-hop is more than just rapping to a beat; it’s a way of life that one must experience to truly understand.

Graffiti by Adam Stab

Graffiti by Adam Stab

One of the elements of hip-hop that is often forgotten is graffiti.  To understand more, I hit the streets with DèAngelo, a graffiti artist I met at a record shop in Baltimore, MD.  We meandered through the back alleys of the city and charged through dense brush alongside railroad tracks in the middle of the night amid torrential rainfall to search for a pot of gold.  And we were successful – we discovered multiple graffiti jackpots that contained some of the most beautiful murals I have seen my entire life.

DèAngelo took out a spraycan and via a live demonstration, showed me the intricacies of can control, and how lines can be manipulated without the use of cardboard cutouts to create smooth lines.  I was soaked, dirty, smelly, and bitten multiple times by mosquitoes – but I was having the time of my life, because this was hip-hop at its core, grassroots style.

I managed to meet many of the biggest graffiti artists of Baltimore today, including Adam Stab.  Two decades down the line, they are still writing from the heart.  I hope that in a decade I will keep my youthful nature and keep on doing what is important to me, just as these artists have done.

Graffiti is beautiful and should be embraced.  There should be certain areas in the inner city designated as tag zones and graffiti programs implemented in those zones to keep youth away from crime and drugs.  And in these places, there could be hip-hop concerts where local DJs and MCs meet up.  It’s an inexpensive way to help curtail a massive problem.

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Hello, El Camino!

June 2nd, 2009

roadtrip-090After a long and exhaustive search, I found another vehicle.  And yes, it’s another Honda Element.

The adventure rocks on, starting in Baltimore, MD.