Sunday, March 21, 2010

They Paved Paradise

This spot along historic Blount Street troubles me. It's great that Raleigh has put up these historic landmark signs, but when they uncover the fact that an historic landmark was replaced by a vacant parking lot, it just makes me sad. From what I understand, the Capital district on the North side of downtown was once filled with old Victorian homes before the state bought the land and tore down most of these houses in order to build large government buildings. In recent times there has been an effort to preserve some of the history of this area, with the focus on Blount Street. Several old houses have been moved and opened to the residential market, but I do not know of anyone who lives on this section of Blount other than Bev Perdue. I hope the Blount Street revival is a success and if I only had a few million dollars I would surely move into one of these antique homes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Well, it seems like I've given up on blogging. Oh well. I got engaged back in December. Stephanie is an awesome girl and I am so very lucky to have her. We are both very busy with work, school and now planning a wedding that will be in August. We did take a little time off this past weekend to go hiking up in the Pisgah Mountains near her parent's house. It was a nice little getaway. Here are some photographs. I'd like to brag that there were no other people around and that I shot these myself with the 10 second timer. Not bad, eh?

That's Linville Falls in the background.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Real Estate Fail

The Pontiac Silverdome was recently sold for less than an upper middle class home. The dome was purchased by an unidentified Canadian buyer for $583,000 during an auction on Monday. This amounts to less than 1% of the initial cost to build the stadium 35 years ago. Talk about depreciation! Seriously, you'd think 127 acres of urban land would hold some sort of value. For $583,000, I'm almost wondering if the purchaser is simply planning on taking residence there.

Of all the economic crisis stories coming from Detroit, this is one of the worst. Think about it, many of you reading this blog could have found a way to purchase the building yourself. The Silverdome was built to improve the economy of Pontiac. 35 years later, Pontiac is still in economic ruin, and now all the surrounding suburbs are as well.

As a child, I never understood why the "Detroit" Lions and the "Detroit" Pistons played 45 minutes outside of their city. The riots of '67 began the "white flight" out of Detroit. Over the next two decades, nearly a million people left the city in order to live in the safer suburbs. I suppose this was the first brain drain out the city. We're currently experiencing a larger drain of people fleeing from the entire region. It's called a brain drain since most of the people who leave are the educated working class, drastically changing the dynamics of the group of people left behind. When I travel back up to Detroit, I enjoy what Detroit has to offer now, but all my years as a child, I knew it to be a complete hole. Attending a Tigers game at night was considered a calculated risk. I remember clinging to my dad one time on our way back to the car as he got cussed out by a bum for not not giving him money. Since Pontiac was located near Chrysler headquarters and some of the wealthier suburbs, it made sense to put a stadium in a safer location that was closer to the burbs. The stadium was built in 1975 for $55.7 million. I can tell you with certainty that the stadium did not help the local economy. If you look at the new Ford Field, it is surrounded by restaurants, stores, and the Greek Town Casino. When you go to a game, it is quite common to eat at a nearby restaurant or hit up the casino. The Silverdome, on the other hand, sits in the middle of a giant parking lot next to the expressway. With any luck you could exit M-59 and park your car without seeing much of the run down city. I have no memory of the area near the Silverdome, just memories of walking great lengths in a concrete park. If you were to hang out for food and drinks before or after the game, you certainly weren't going to do it in Pontiac.

I grew up in Rochester Hills, the city directly bordering Pontiac to the East. We referred to our neighbor city as Ponti"crack", as it seemed easier to find a drug house than a car factory in that town. Rochester was a very wealthy, residential city. Most of my friends parents worked for one of the big 3, usually a white collar job, and the city didn't allow any riff-raff; no strip clubs, no liquor stores, there was even an ordinance against 7-11. In high school, we all knew that the closest 7-11 was right outside our city limits, just inside "Ponticrack". Part of the intrigue in making a slurpee run was the simple danger you were subjecting yourself to in leaving your safe suburbia and crossing over into the ghetto. Pontiac was almost this mythical place where whites became the minority, the streets were full of jallopies and potholes, and you did NOT want to get lost there. We knew their high school had metal detectors, and we all knew of a legendary liquor store called Trademark. It was well known amongst the teenage crowd that Trademark would sell alcohol to minors. I know first hand of this, as I made a trip there one time when I was 17. I stayed in the car while my friends went inside, trembling in fear; not of getting caught, but of getting mugged. My parents ended up catching my friends and I with our bottle of Dewars the next day. They were very upset to find out that I was drinking, but way more upset that I had gone into Pontiac at night.

The city owned the stadium and leased it out to the Pistons and the Lions. I can tell you that an upper deck seat for a Piston game at the dome is about the wost seat you could possibly have for a live sporting event. I can also tell you that I would get to watch 8 Lions games a year on television and had to listen to the other 8 on the radio as nearly every home game was blacked out locally due to the inability of selling out the 80,000 seat capacity stadium. The two most famous events at the Silverdome would have to be Super Bowl XVI, and Wrestle Mania 3 where Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant. The legend is that Hulk didn't think he could do it and was frantic in the locker room before the match. I remember watching it on Pay Per view with the help of my uncle's scrambler. In attendance at the stadium I did actually get to see some historic events. I was there when Dr. J play his last game in Detroit, when Michael Jordan dropped 70 points in one night (a Silverdome record...I think I cried), when Mike Utley gave the thumbs up as he was carted off the field, and when the Dolphins spanked the Lions so bad that coach Bobby Ross resigned after the game in the middle of the season. I suppose it's not just coincidence that these events don't include Detroit actually ever winning.

I don't know what will come of the dome and the 127 acre lot that it sits on, but I do know that it will most likely make me sad. Just another landmark of failure in Detroit next to all the other large abandoned warehouse buildings along the sides of the expressways. An investment that dried up way too soon, leaving nothing but memories and an eyesore. Even the good landmarks of Detroit seem to conjure painful memories: the Chrysler building is now the DaimlerChrysler building and the Renaissance Center was a symbol of the dwindling Ford motor company when it was sold to GM in the 90's, only to become an even larger symbol of failure this past year when GM was bailed out. Still, I get excited when I see the glow from the dome off of M-59, but now it will only serve as another painful reminder of what has become of Southeast Michigan. Henry Ford helped build a great city here a century ago, our generation has only seen it fall apart these last 4 decades.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Charity Marketing

If you're anything like me, you routinely receive emails from various charity organizations soliciting you for their latest and greatest fundraiser. One of my more frequent organizations is Invisible Children. Their latest campaign is called the Legacy Fund. It's really just the same old same old with a new simplistic idea on why you need to give them money. If I take the time to click the link and watch the video, I find myself annoyed with their solicitation. Am I just the outlier in their campaign focus, or are their others out there like me?

For example, here's a video explaining their Tri Campaign.

I actually am curious to know if I'm the oddball; am I the only one annoyed by campaigns like this? The video gives you no real explanation of what is done with your money, other than that it is really needed.

My opinion might be skewed by the fact that I got to see Invisible Children's programs on the ground in Uganda in 2006 and 2007. At the time, I was disappointed. The general consensus from the locals was that it was a young NGO that was still trying to figure itself out. My opinion was that they put young, inexperienced people in positions of power and were thus very ineffective considering the amount of money in their organization.

But as it turns out, my opinion of IC has changed considerably. When I investigated IC's latest capaign, the Legacy Fund, I came across a series of videos from their mission director, Adam Fink. Here's one of them where he explains the Schools 4 Schools program:

Schools for Schools from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.

This video is one of four where Adam explains how IC is using their money effectively. As far as my interest is concerned, these 4 videos are by far and away the best videos ever produced by IC; they clearly and tangibly explain what IC is doing in Northern Uganda. I'm not surprised that IC has become a very effective NGO over these past 2 years, but I am surprised that I had to surf around for these videos. I get an email from IC just about every week, trying to motivate me to "make a difference", but never have they sent me an email showing me in much detail how they would make a difference. Why is that?

I've had it up to here with organizations telling me why I need to donate, and there is a definite lack of marketing focus on how an organization actually uses the money you donate.

A perfect example of this is the organization, One Day's Wage.

The Movement of One Day's Wages from One Day's Wages on Vimeo.

I get it, their's a lot of sick, starving children out there. But I can't figure out what this organization is doing about it. There are a lot of organization out there like this one. I personally don't understand it. In this case, I especially don't understand the "100%" promise. Eugene makes it sound like 100% of your money will be used on the ground. I think this 100% promise was innovated by Charity: Water and has since been used by many non profits. But the promise here is simply to get 100% of your donation into another charity, kinda of like a free middle man of sorts. Why not just use the website to promote other organizations, rather than just promote the idea of giving?

What I've concluded is that the majority of donors must not be motivated by how their money is used, they simply need a push to give some of it away. This realization makes me feel sorry for my friends who have to solicit donations in order to run their organizations. I think my friend Hugh refers to this as "pimping the Gospel". My discussions with Hugh have more than motivated me to keep my paid profession.

My biggest distaste with charity marketing is this notion that you are somehow saving the world by giving a monthly donation. In a sense, these charities are selling this idea to their donors. Shame on them. If you really want to make a difference in the world, I think you need to put away your wallet, and simply find some tangible ways to love your neighbor. I'm not sold on the power of money to transform the world; especially the amount of money I have in my wallet. Unless you're a millionaire, your potential to "make a difference" goes far beyond what you can do with your money. Once your heart is in the right place, your wallet will follow; I don't think it works the other way around.

I don't mean to belittle the need of money for non profit organizations to function, so I will suggest two organizations that I feel are very worthy and doing things the right way (and really need your money). Lemonade International is by far the best foreign aid group I know, and Love Wins a worthy local ministry. Despite my cynicism, I do like the way some groups are getting it done.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Acholi Crossroads

With Grad school and a girlfriend, I haven't kept up with some areas of my life as well as I'd like to. One such area is my friendships in Uganda. This week I had to sneak in a tuition payment for Francis, and I finally got a chance to skype with him and my friend Denis. Denis was interviewed on Monday in regards to a student protest in Gulu and he asked me to look up the article. In my search, I decided to just google, "Ocitti Denis Omoya". To my surprise I came across this teaser that my friend Michael (@Michaelfriberg) had put together. If you've ever heard me talk about Denis, please give this a watch and check out

Acholi Crossroads Promo from Nick Anderson on Vimeo.

On a side note, I also came across my own name in my search. It was nice to read Michael's recollection of our time together in 2007. I might have to drive up to Brooklyn one these days and pay him a visit, although I'd much rather cross paths with him again in Africa.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Matters to Me

In recent months I’ve taken up grad school and stepped away from the blog. My life is still interesting, I swear, but I just haven’t had much time to reflect. I got in my first real car accident on Saturday, and it made me slow down for a second and just relax for a moment. I went back and read through some of my posts over the last year and was impressed with the online journal of my life that I had created. This reflection has once again motivated me to continue my efforts in maintaining this blog.

So what is there to talk about? My life does revolve around a weekly cycle of routines. Monday through Wednesday I focus on grad school. I’m supposed to be committing about 20 hours a week to this endeavor, and it’s limited to these three days. In the past this time was used volunteering with Community Hope and attending some sort of church group. I hate having to spend all this time on school, but what are you going to do? Friday is either high school football night, or watch a movie and go to bed at 9 o’clock night; “date night” as Stephanie knows it. Saturday is my Sabbath and is dedicated to watching Michigan football with my old roommate from college. This typically involves the nervous consumption of beer, as our team has become very exhilarating to watch. Sunday’s typically involve a walk to Morning Times where I call my various family members along the way, followed by a few hours surfing the web when I should be studying, and then a trip to the grocery store to buy food for the week. And there’s my week. Oh, except for Thursday…raise your hand if you noticed that I left out Thursday.

A night that used to be dedicated to NBC’s spectacular comedy lineup is now known to me as dinner night. Stephanie and I decided a while back that Monday’s in Moore Square handing out sandwiches and hanging out, just didn’t have a place in our busy lives. We wanted to focus on maintaining the relationships of the friends we already had, rather than shooting the shit with whoever happened to be in the park. After I got back from my summer hiatus, some of the guys down at the homeless shelter wanted to catch up, so Stephanie and I hosted them for dinner at my place. We had such a good time that Stephanie suggested that this become our new weekly ritual….and it did.

So every Thursday around 6:30, either Stephanie or I drive down to the South Wilmington homeless shelter and sign out Michael, Clint, and T. I write down “Visio Dei Church Community” as my organization for whatever that’s worth. Whoever is not picking up the boys is usually preparing a wild dinner. When I say wild, I mean wild…at least by my standards. It started with Stephanie preparing some pretty incredible meals, and then I felt the need to participate. It’s turned into an exciting experimental experience every Thursday as we’ve created some of the most fantastic and fun meals I've ever eaten. We’ve done “Whities” (a sloppy Joe version of a White Castle), make your own Calzone, Fondue night, inside-out burgers, Boston Coolers (a Michigan favorite), roasted smoares, and these are just the meals I’ve played a hand in helping with (Stephanie has done some much better cooking than I). My roommate Joanna usually eats with us and is in charge of experimenting with another wild creation this week. Stephanie’s brother is the only other regular, but some of my other friends like @thesamed and @billkcummings make guest appearances.

The meals have been fabulous, but the highlight of Thursday night is the post dinner Corn Hole competition. Usually around the time the rest of my friends are watching The Office, I am dominating the Corn Hole sidewalk in front of my house with my partner, T. There have been some epic battles the last few weeks that I won’t bore you with, but I will let you know that it has been legendary…and T and I always win.

In the details here, I’ve forgotten to mention my friend Ricky. We do not need to pick him up at the shelter as he has just recently moved off of the streets and into a rental house. Last week he called me to let me know that he couldn’t come to dinner as he was in the middle of painting the inside of his house. I said, “That’s a shame man, we’re having inside out burgers this week.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a hamburger with cheese and bacon on the inside, topped with cheese…and bacon-“

“-when can you pick me up?”

At the end of the night, I drive the boys back to the homeless shelter. They typically complain about having to stay there and how they spend all week looking forward to Thursday. I never tell them this, but the truth is, so do I.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


On Sunday, I returned from another awesome trip down to Guatemala. I was just there back in April for Painting Lemonade, but when I was leaving I looked out the window of the airplane and saw an incredible view of green mountains and towering volcanoes. I told myself that I had to come back and explore this country. So just a few months later I was back with my friend, Chris to ride around the country on rented motorcycles. Probably not the most sage decision on our part, but we managed to both make it back in good health. Although, there was one run in with a chicken bus that left Chris off the bike for a few days, but he recovered and we had a great time. As usual, here's a video, but you can also check out all of my pictures here.

If you ever get the chance, Guatemala is a fantastic place to travel. The volcanoes are incredible, the food is terrific, the people are friendly, and it's all very affordable. You can usually fly there for under $400 from the states, and stay there for between $5-$20 a night depending on your standards. From Antigua you can take a bus to just about anywhere in the country for less than $25. With many more volcanoes and Mayan ruins left for me explore, it's a safe bet that I will be back.