CARES Act money changes lives for those fallen out of the system

Shorty hasn’t paid taxes in years, isn’t receiving any government assistance and doesn’t even have an ID. She’s not in the system; the government doesn’t even know she exists. Still, FINALLY, we managed to get her CARES Act check, and the result was life-changing.

Shorty has evacuated her sidewalk tent and is now living in her Nissan Pathfinder.

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Operation Get Shorty A Vehicle complete! 🥳😍🚘⁣ ⁣ By something close to a miracle, we were able to get Shorty her CARES Act check, despite the fact that she has fallen completely out of the system.⁣ ⁣ The result was life-changing. After Chase Bank helped us cash the check without Shorty having an ID, she was able to purchase a Nissan Pathfinder — her new home — from the tow lot. ⁣ ⁣ For Shorty, that solves a bunch of problems, first and foremost, her safety. It gets her off the sidewalk and under a roof. It gives her a mode of transportation. ⁣ ⁣ Now, we know that achieving that money for someone out of the system is POSSIBLE. What I want to know is: why is it so hard? Why aren’t there any institutions actively working to achieve this money for people in Shorty’s shoes? Why does the government feel it’s done it’s duty to simply make it available but put no resources in place to make sure it’s actually distributed. This is life-changing, and we need to do better! #skidrow #caresact

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Star Tribune op-ed: the picture of poverty in LA and El Salvador is not so different

We tend to think of a place like El Salvador as very different from the U.S. and its famously lauded cities. But my latest op-ed column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune examines the stark similarities in treatment of the very poor from one border to the next.

In many ways, the poverty evident in Skid Row, Los Angeles, is some of the world’s most egregious.

Read my column here.

A community without walls: Skid Row’s tightly-knit nature sows conflict but reaps beauty

Live Inspired, in partnership with John Reamer and Associates •

Under the shade of the bulbous ficus trees that root this quiet neighborhood block, Pastor Blue glides from the white cargo van to the gas burner with rhythmic ease,  crooning to the Luke Combs’ tunes that stand in place of hymns this evening.

“It’s a match made up in heaven, like good ‘ol boys and beer,” Blue sings as he prepares Saturday supper.

“And me, as long as you’re right here.”

On this stretch of Crocker Street in downtown Los Angeles — where a pop-up draped with international flags and filled with seating forms the “Sanctuary” — just about every evening feels like a backyard barbecue.

Blue cooks — hot dogs, sausages, oxtail with rice. Neighbors drop by and linger over beers and a passed blunt. Stories fill the warm, California air as the sun falls low over the city scape, its shards of golden light bouncing off the asphalt, the brick buildings, the lush, stately branches of Indian laurels that frame the sidewalks.

“Like God himself did the afro,” Blue pronounced one evening, sweeping his arm over the view. “Those trees …the skyline …the weather.

“You’ll see the beauty of California, if you can open your eyes past the tents and the cardboard and the trash.”

How to fly: a very serious guide to surviving the organized torture of the skies

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

I’ve spent a lot of time on planes and in airports in the last 15 years or so — from working in newspaper jobs covering first sports and then travel, to my own enthusiastic journeys, to this nomad lifestyle I’ve adopted now.

It occurs to me often that the Sky World, which commences once one enters a building designed to usher people into that universe, is totally different from Land World, and that in many cases, airport culture is almost entirely estranged from the culture of the city that built it. Accents suddenly disappear. Time slows to a halt. Shoe shining is back in vogue. It’s more unusual to *not* get a beer or bloody at 9 a.m. on a weekday than it is to drink three.

Necessarily, then, the rules and customs that govern these Sky World places are unique, too, even if most of them aren’t written or even widely spoken of in the streets (concourses). These rules aren’t arbitrary; they’re here to keep life vaguely decent and vaguely efficient in an experience that has become akin to organized torture.

Playlist: U.S.A. summer feels

There might be no stronger keeper of memories than music — even more than photos and stories, songs have a way of sending me back, viscerally, to specific moments in time, to an almost palpable state of mind.

SO: one of the things I want to do more of moving forward is creating playlists based on place and my time moving through them. I’m starting with my nearly four-month cruise through the States (plus a week in Canada!).

It was a hell of a journey being in my native country — even my former adopted home, Minneapolis — as a nomad, this time. It was both familiar and strange; comforting and challenging; indulgent and driving.

Live Inspired: an emotional return to Minneapolis

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Last Wednesday, I landed in Minneapolis for the first time in a year.

And the first emotion I could identify upon my return to my adopted home of eight years was “weird.”

Obviously, I was more than excited to see friends and former colleagues, for a three-week summer stint on the precipice of returning to Central America.

But as the plane from Montréal, my previous stop, descended into the Twin Cities, I could only think of the last time I was in that air space. 

It was June 28, 2018, and I was leaving everything I knew, bound for everything I didn’t. I was ready for this move, I thought. Weeks earlier, I had sold all my belongings — the things acquired over 32 years of life — left my job at the Star Tribune, said a tearful goodbye to the house that claimed so many memories, bid farewells to friends of a lifetime. I did so with so many dreams, with so much motivation. I’ve never felt regret. 

But in that moment, in a left-side window seat in the back of the plane, I was struggling to breathe. 

How to visit New York City on a budget

Ten tips for spending time in the Empire City without breaking the bank

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

New York is a vixen. I keep traveling, but it still remains the most alluring place I’ve ever been, a city bubbling with palpable energy and spirit. It will entrance you with its buzz, awe you with its anonymity, lull you into private moments in the midst of a crowd, and community on a near empty street.

Aaaannnd the sticker shock can break your spirit faster than a 2.5-hour wait at brunch. Yeah, most of New York ain’t cheap — from the Did-I-Just-Buy-A-Designer-Handbag hotel prices to the $18 cocktails.

But the best part of the empire city is that is does both high brow AND low brow incredibly well; public parks and other free-admission areas are, for the most, as manicured as the top museums; many street carts are manned with professionalism and skill of a lauded restaurant.

You can spend a week or more here and stay on budget and live really well.

Live Inspired: Indulging the senses in Annapolis

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Spending a weekend in Annapolis requires one, primarily, to use their senses.

Of sight — the heritage colonial architecture, the parade of American flags hung from businesses and residences, the sultry, boat-filled waterfront erupting with blazing sunsets, the pristine turquoise domes and lighted posts at the naval academy, all coalescing into a watercolor landscape from a painting you once saw.

Of smell — the scent of saltwater and magnolia flowers hanging in the air, the salinity of fresh oysters as they’re pried open, the richness of the tide’s other bounty as it’s simmered in olive oil and white wine and butter.