Day 9 – Kindness with a Charlie Card

One of the only reasons that I could afford to move into the city and go car-less was because my work pays for my $200 monthly T-Pass.  It’s definitely an awesome perk that allows me to commute for free.  Otherwise, at that price, I would likely just buy a car.  There’s no way I could afford to live in the city AND have a car.  I would probably be stuck in Boston’s suburbia somewhere paying half the rent I am now but pouring thousands per year into a vehicle, spending less on rent but overall more because of the car.

The commuter program at work is great but it is not available to all employees.  We have what you could call temporary employees who are classified as “temps” but have actually been working with us for years and years.  Due to this classification, they aren’t eligible for the commuter program, even if they have been working here for a decade.  It’s definitely not fair, but making those decisions is about 3x my pay grade so there’s not much I can do about it.  Out of the 10 or so people who commute on the train to-from work, only one of them falls under this category.  He pays the $200 out of his own pocket for a commute that takes 1.5 hours on a good day: walk-bus-train-train-bus-walk and then repeat after work. If he chose to drive it’d still take over an hour so he’s content in taking the longer commute so that he doesn’t have to deal with masshole traffic.  He’s a really nice guy and we try hard not to rub in the fact that our commute is free, but there’s still clear tension between “us” and “him” when it comes to being a commuter working for the same company.

So today I decided to pay for his bus fare from work to the T.  I told him it was a random act of kindness and that he should pass it on.  He accepted graciously and we spent the bus ride talking about different random acts of kindness.  All I had to do was beep my Charlie card twice on my way onto the bus.  It was free for me to do this so it was really no big deal, but it’s not something I would have normally done so it was indeed a random act.  His commute is miserable enough (let alone his job) so I’m glad I was able to make it less miserable, even if for just a few minutes.

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Day 8 – Grocery Shopping for My Roommates

Today was the first Sunday in four weeks that I’ve spent the entire day at my apartment in Boston.  I didn’t quite know what to do with myself having an entire day with nowhere to be and nothing in particular to do except get groceries for the week.  Both my roommates had pretty busy days, one was working at home trying to finish something up for Monday and one was running random but necessary errands all day long.  That’s when it occurred to me that my act of kindness for the day could be to go get their groceries for them.  If I’m going to the grocery store anyway, it wouldn’t take that much effort to pick up their food and save them a trip.  I brought the idea up to both of them and they gave me a shopping list and agreed to just transfer me the $$ online when I got back.

I grabbed my 40L Osprey backpack along with two reusable grocery bags and headed out.  The process was pretty easy considering their lists weren’t too extensive or filled with exotic items I’d have to search real hard to find.  I managed to get everything on their lists except for Ben and Jerry’s Oatmeal Cookie Chunk from one roommate (obsessed with Ben and Jerry’s) and apple cider plus four boxes of cereal from the other roommate (obsessed with cereal).  Carrying the weight back to my apartment was easy, I just didn’t have enough arms to carry the extra stuff.

I ended up with my backpack full plus two reusable shopping bags filled with grub.  I estimated this to be somewhere around 70-80 liters of groceries and after talking with my roommates I found that this would last roughly 1-1.5 weeks.  I’ve never really thought about food before in terms of pure volume/household but 80 liters seems to be a lot of food.  We could definitely consolidate and share some of the items we get that are common among all of us.  For example, we go through a ridiculous amount of hummus, more than three guys in their mid-20’s should anyway.  However, we all get the small individual containers, on this trip I bought six individual containers.

We decided that after this trip and really taking a second to see how much freaking hummus we eat, that we would try to make bulk batches of our own.  The ingredients are simple and cheap (chick peas/garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil, and whatever else we want to experiment with) plus we have a food processor that goes relatively unused.  I bet we could go through  3-4 pints of hummus a week between the three of us so making our own will save us money and reduce the amount of waste we’re producing by buying individual containers at the grocery store.

All in all it was a pretty simple act of kindness.  Although I’m not sure I’d want to carry home 80L of groceries every week.  Offering to pick up a few things here and there for my roommates is probably a more reasonable behavior that I’ll adopt moving forward.

 

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Day 7 – Kindness at the Drive-Thru

Today I was way up in northern Maine just for the day visiting family.  I had been keeping an eye out for random acts of kindness but I didn’t really notice any overt opportunities.  I mean I helped a few of my aunts walk across the ice but I felt weird about counting that toward my Life Experiment because that’s just something that I’d do anyway.  As per the usual for this month, it was getting dark and I still hadn’t done anything yet that I would consider a random act of kindness.  On the drive back down south we stopped by a Tim Horton’s to get coffee (basically a Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts, and yes Tim Horton was a pro hockey player).  I purposefully went through the drive-thru in hopes that someone would follow in behind me so that I could pay for their coffee.  Being in northern Maine it didn’t seem to plausible that the timing would work out for someone to drive in behind me seeing as though the population density is extremely low.

Welcome to Tim Hortons, just a stock picture from the internet, not my hummer in drive-thru.

However, as I drove up to the pickup window I noticed a minivan behind me making their order.  I paid for my drink and then told the cashier to also swipe my card for the van behind me, secretly hoping they didn’t order $25 worth of donuts and coffee.  Fortunate enough for me the bill was only $3 for two coffees.  I then told the cashier to only give them their coffees if they agreed to do a random act of kindness for someone else.  He laughed and said, “You got it bub”.  As we drove forward I went slowly so that I could see their reaction in the rearview mirror.  I saw the cashier explaining the situation to them with fairly aggressive hand motions (he was likely French-Canadian so that makes sense).  Then the driver and passenger seemed to nod in agreement and they received their coffees.  This was the first random act this month where I didn’t interact directly with the people themselves.  I hope they understood what I was doing and that they decide to pass it on and do something totally random and nice for someone else.

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Day 6 – A Rose for My Girlfriend

Today I took off from work to head to Maine for my Grandfather’s funeral, he passed away earlier in the week at the young age of 80.  Also on the same day, Sarah was flying into Boston for one night before heading out for a week-long relief/aid trip to the 3rd-world.  We would only get to hang out for a few hours but the timing worked out.  I grabbed a Zipcar, picked her up from Logan Airport, brought her home, hung out for an hour, returned the Zipcar, and made it to South Station in time for my bus to Maine.

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Honda Insight at $8.75/hour from downtown Boston. A nice little, fuel-efficient car that drove well. It also had its own parking space in a garage downtown, beats the hell out of owning your own car and then trying to find parking in the city. Parking your personal car in the garage for 3 hours would be was almost as expensive as renting the car for 3 hours.

Before heading to Logan, I made a stop at Goodwill in Roxbury to drop off some remaining stuff from my 100-Item Challenge back in November.  I had a shelf, a baseball bat, a pair of old winter gloves, a few t-shirts, and some other assorted items that I put in a corner and planned to get rid of back in November.  I just didn’t count them toward my 100 items and planned to get rid of them as soon as I had the time.  Life got busy and I didn’t make the time for a Goodwill stop until today.  100 item challenge = success.

On the way to the airport to pick up Sarah, I stopped by a flower stand in Back Bay that I had seen on my way to pick up the Zipcar.  My romantic side doesn’t come out often (sorry Sarah) but today I thought it’d be a great random act of kindness to greet her at the airport with a rose.

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It's amazing how much happiness a $5 rose can bring, definitely a success.

Even though she was only going to be in town for part of the day, the act of me getting her a rose was indeed random and kind.  It literally only took me 5 minutes and $5, definitely worth it.  Like I said before, my romantic side doesn’t come out often, but when it does, it definitely gives me mega-brownie points.  However, I’m not exactly sure who this random act of kindness was for.  Was it for her or was it actually for me? Inevitably, giving a girl a rose is a positive experience for the man as well. So was this altruistic or selfish?  I’ll side with a mixture of both.  Either way it made her happy and she was totally caught off guard.

Now hopefully she makes it back from the 3rd-world without getting dysentery…

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Day 5 – Donated to a Kickstarter.com Campaign for Kindness

I tried twice today to do a random act of kindness for someone and both times I was shut down.  I was doing my laundry and decided to stop by the convenience store across the street for a snickers bar.  I saw the laundromat attendant behind me in line and I offered to buy his coffee.  We’ve talked many times before so it wasn’t as if he’s a total stranger, just mostly a stranger.  He turned me down even after I explained that it was a random act of kindness and for him to not worry about it.  On the walk back to the laundromat I started talking about this blog I had heard about (mine) where this guy (me) was doing a random act of kindness every day for a month.  He agreed that it sounded interesting and that it was a good idea but he said, “Well, he probably didn’t live in the city did he?”  I laughed and said, umm I think he lives in Boston.

This was kind of an interesting experience because this guy immediately went on the defensive when I tried to do something nice for him.  It was very much like, ‘I don’t need your help/money’ or ‘what do you want from me by doing this’.  He also immediately assumed that the blog I was talking about was someone who didn’t live in the city.  What kind of city-slicker would go around just being nice to people?!?!  They must have an ulterior motive.  We ended the conversation with me saying that I hadn’t read the whole blog yet (b/c it’s not written yet) and him responding, “Yeah well let me know how it turns out for him.” He’s actually a really nice guy with a positive attitude, but he definitely wasn’t interested in my random act of kindness.  Maybe I’ll try again next time I’m at the laundromat.

My next attempt was to try and pay for someone who was washing their clothes ($2.75 in quarters).  Out of everyone in the laundromat there were three girls and two guys.  I decided not to approach the girls because that’s probably a little creepy, “Hey can I pay for your laundry?” Yikes.  And out of the two guys, one had his headphones on and the other one looked drunk and not quite homeless but close.  So I went for the drunk one.  I noticed he had his quarters stacked up in a pill bottle, so perhaps he’s also a drug addict.  None the less I offered to pay for his washer, figuring that of all the people in this laundromat, he’d probably be stoked to get a free load of laundry done.  Turned down again, although more politely than the first time.  It was definitely clear that this guy was inebriated so I’m sure he was probably not too interested to be talking to people at the moment.

Laundry Kindness Fail.

A bit discouraged I went home and started surfing the internet for lack of anything better to do.  It was late and I had no idea what I would do for my random act of kindness (sounds like a recurring pattern so far).  Then I came across the idea of Kickstarter.com.  Kickstarter is an online, crowd-sourced fundraising website for creative projects.  You simply put your project on Kickstarter with a fundraising goal, and anyone from anywhere in the world can donate money electronically to your  project.  If the project doesn’t reach its fundraising goal by the end of the specified time period, then none of the donors get charged i.e. all or nothing funding.  This way donors aren’t giving money to projects that will fail due to lack of funding.  It’s a great medium where if great ideas are communicated well then money can be easily raised from a large, diverse group of people from all over the world.

While surfing the site on my computer I decided that my random act of kindness for the day would be to donate to someone’s project on Kickstarter.  I did some scanning for a cool project and came across dozens of awesome ideas from concept albums to art-mobiles traveling the country to super cool inventions (high tech and low tech)… and the list goes on.  I happened to find four projects related to random acts of kindness.

A screenshot of the kickstarter website.

The one I eventually donated a few $$ to was called The Kindness Project.  The project was started by a girl named Brooke Welty, who coincidentally is from Maine (me too) and who wants to travel the country to record people’s stories on random acts of kindness.  The goal is to put these stories on her website and on CD so that others can be inspired to do simple, everyday random acts of kindness.  She already has a collection of stories on her website www.thekindproject.org and she’s looking for cash to finish her project, namely transportation costs, food, lodging, new recording equipment, and better audio software.  I felt that this was not only a great project but it also tied in very closely with my life experiment for this month (also she’s from Maine so she must be awesome).  I’ve listened to a bunch of the stories on her website and it’s incredible how simple, yet powerful, random acts of kindness really are.

A screenshot of The Kindness Project.

When you donate to any Kickstarter campaign, you generally get some type of gift in return depending on how much you donate.  In Brooke’s example, $1-10 = get put on her “thank you ” section of her website, $10-25 = all of the above plus a handwritten thank you post-card from her trip, $25-50 = all of the above plus the complete CD of the kindness stories, $50-100 = all of the above plus a kindness project t-shirt (designed by her good friend artist), $100-750 = all of the above plus a second CD to share with a friend, $750-1000 = all of the above plus a second T-shirt to share and a scrap book of photos and transcribed stories from my trip, and $1000+ = all of the above plus she’ll come visit and record your very own story of kindness.

The funding structure for most Kickstarter campaigns look something like this. As a donor you get different gifts, increasing in coolness with increasing donation levels.

As much as I want Brooke to come hang out in Boston and record various stories, I really can’t afford to give her project $1000+.  However I did donate a little bit of money because I feel like it’s a great project.  However, if she doesn’t reach her fundraising goal by the 31st of January then none of her funders get debited and she does not get her project funded (she’s currently 28% of the way to $4,000).

Check our her project on Kickstarter.com and send her a few bucks as your own random act of kindness for the day.  If you don’t want to send her some $$, at least “Like” it, share it, and talk about it on Facebook and Twitter because the more social media presence she can gain, the more likely it is that her project will get funded.

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Day 4 – Laughter on the Bus

My 30-Day Life Experiment back in September of One Conversation per Day on Public Transit helped me to meet most of the people I commute with.  One of them I didn’t write about on my blog because I didn’t feel right disclosing our conversation was this guy named Steve (not is real name).  No one really talks to Steve because he is a bit eccentric.   He wears multiple winter jackets, always carries around his Walkman (yes with a cassette tape), carries around a backpack and a rolling backpack both stuffed with newspapers and other assorted items, and he’s usually sitting on the ground talking to himself.  If you didn’t know better, it would sound a lot like a description of the homeless people you see in Boston.

However, I happen to know from our previous conversations that he is indeed brilliant.  His mind simply works faster and dives more into depth about pretty much everything than the rest of us.  He memorizes phone numbers, addresses, sports statistics, and generally anything that you could put in a spreadsheet.  Despite his enhanced brain power, he can be difficult to talk to and a bit intimidating to approach due to the eccentric behaviors he has.  Frequently I’ve heard people who talk about him and how weird he is as if he’s a homeless person and as if he can’t hear them.  It definitely makes me really uneasy but I’ve never said anything defending him.  What these people don’t know is that he actually has a decent-paying job which requires him to use his unique brain power on a daily basis.  This is unlike the many people who I’ve seen talking about him on the commute, two of whom I know work at kiosks in the mall, not exactly a job that requires higher level brain power nor does it pay well.  So on both fronts Steve wins despite his awkwardness socially.

So today, we all got on the bus and Steve went straight to the back and sat on the ground despite having open seats on the bus.  I followed him back there and decided to strike up a conversation with him.  I’ve done this before except this time I wanted to get more personal but more importantly I wanted him to laugh or smile (which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen from him).  I asked him how his New Years was, something I’m sure no one has asked him yet.  Then I asked him four or five more questions trying to get him to talk about himself.  He seemed to warm up a bit, volunteering more conversation than is typical with him.

The bus sat there for about 10 minutes (God knows why) and everyone was kind of grumbling about it.  That morning the temperature was pretty brutal, with the windchill it was about 7F.  So I was glad to be on the bus and not standing outside, life could be worse.  So I said this too him and he laughed and said that I was indeed right about that, standing outside would definitely be worse.  Then we talked about various things here and there but I noticed he was in a much better mood and smiling more.  My goal with Steve was accomplished, hopefully it made his day a little bit better to have someone to talk to and laugh with even for only a brief period of time on the early morning bus commute.

As for conversing with random people on public transit, I’ve found that people are very approachable, especially when there’s something happening where you’re all stuck in the same boat: delayed train, someone’s being rowdy, conductor is being an a-hole, etc.  It’s moments like these that you can really connect with your fellow commuters instead of just zoning out on your ipod or kindle, it makes the experience a little more pleasant.

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Day 3 – Brownies at Broomball

I wasn’t quite sure what I would do today for my random act of kindness and again, it had become dark and was getting nervous at the prospect of not fulfilling my goal of one act per day.  Tuesday nights I play Broomball with Social Boston Sports out in Cleveland Circle so I was trying to think of something that would align with my activities for the evening.

This is what we can only aspire to look like.

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This is what we actually look like. My SBS Broomball Team "J2: The Mighty Jorts" sporting ugly (or epic) Christmas sweaters. We were League Champions last year under the team name "Social Boston Jorts". Can we bring home the gold two years in a row?

My team had plans of getting together before our game to watch the movie Slapshot.  However, because I’ve been traveling so much, constantly on the go, I decided to show up just before the game in favor of making dinner and taking a few hours to chill out at my apartment (a rare occurrence).  So after I got back from work I went to the grocery store for some grub.  While walking up and down the isles (super hungry) I made an impulse buy of brownie mix.  As I was walking home it came to me that I could bake the brownies tonight and bring them to my broomball team as my random act of kindness.

So I made dinner (angel hair pasta with tomato sauce and Romano cheese) while simultaneously making coffee for the morning, lunch for the next day (rice, veggie burgers, and sugar snap peas) and baking the brownies.  It wasn’t exactly the restful period of time I was expecting at home but it wasn’t a big deal because I like being productive.  Also, I was sure that my team would be stoked about getting some brownies as broomball fuel so it was worth it.

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Everything in this picture is awesome: Brownie Mix, Boston Common Coffee, a Jar of Homemade Jam, and a Pint of Maine Maple Syrup. Awesome.

When I got on the T it was absolutely packed with rush hour commuters.  I was shoulder to shoulder with my fellow commuters; one hand was holding onto a railing and the other was holding the plate of freshly made brownies.  It became evident to everyone that someone (me) had brought fresh brownies onto the train because they smelled delicious.  At that point I looked down at the brownies and realized that I was holding them right in the face a 5’2” girl.  We made eye contact, I said sorry for shoving a plate of brownies in her face.  She replied that they did indeed smell amazing.  Not surprisingly she turned down my offer for her to take one.  It’s generally not a good idea to take food from strangers, especially on the T so I don’t blame her.  All in all, I’m not surprised that giving out brownies on the T isn’t a valid tactic for random acts of kindness, no one is interested and rightly so.

When I got to the Broomball game my team gladly shoveled down most of the brownies which ultimately led to our 2-1 victory, propelling us into the championship game next week.  Is athletic performance correlated to the number of brownies eaten?  Definitely, although it could have also been the beer.  The plate of brownies still wasn’t finished after the game so I walked around to the other teams offering freshly made, though not really warm anymore, brownies.  Some people respectfully declined and a few others took a piece commenting on what things I probably put inside of them: marijuana, roofies, arsenic, razor blades, etc.  The people who took brownies were definitely stoked at the random and delicious treat, some more skeptical than others, but a positive impact none the less.  Even the referee took one, hopefully that’ll help us for our championship game next week.

I think that I need to stop trying to plan ahead so much and start living in the moment, making random acts of kindness actually random.  I’ll definitely have to start trying harder to recognize those opportunities and be more assertive about putting myself out there throughout the day.

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