Saturday, February 15, 2020

Meet Nate

First, and possibly foremost, this is just a documentation of a discussion I had earlier today. I’m not looking for any karmic credit or recognition.

I have been taking a self-help, wealth-oriented class (currently, this is a Denver area course, but will be expanding online later. I have enjoyed this self-discovery and will make a post on this experience when I’m through the class). If you are interested, click here:

We have all kinds of self-discovery assignments. Some small, some large. Something every day, though, from writing (by hand) a daily list of five things I am grateful for to that Valentine's business you may have seen me share. It’s all related to the concept of adjusting your mindset as well as unlocking your unconscious mind. If you’ve known me for a long time, you’ll understand that this is a bit of a foreign concept to me. This particular course was attractive because it started with the science of neurology and how your brain interprets information.

Anyway, one of the current “challenges” was to buy a meal for a stranger and eat with them. The point of the exercise is to just get you out of your comfort zone and do something a little bit unusual. My plan was to just go hang out at a Starbucks or something similar and catch someone who is clearly by themselves.

Well today, Saturday, my wife Kate was working at a trade show in downtown Denver. It’s been pretty chilly here lately and today was looking like one of those really nice Colorado winter days that we typically get: air temperature in the 40s but bright sun enough to be super comfortable. So I decided to go with her and just wander around downtown Denver for a couple of hours while she was at the show.

Any of you who know that area will know that there’s not a ton of Denver’s greatest walking around there but that’s okay. I only had a couple of hours and I didn’t want to re-park the vehicle. So while wandering around, I ended up on the 16th St. Mall. Again, if you know Denver, you know that this is not the greatest neighborhood in town. It’s very much like Baltimore’s inner Harbor in that a revitalization of restaurants and shops in a walkable area was intended to make the whole downtown vicinity much nicer. Frankly, it’s also really geared towards tourists. The other thing that my fellow Denverites will know is that this area has a pretty significant homeless population.

So while walking around this area I decided to take on my Buy-A-Meal challenge in a little bit different way. I decided to approach a homeless person and offered to buy them a hot meal. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would get myself into but committed to the idea anyway. As I was walking around, I also started to assess the various people who were on the street. I don’t want to be callous, but I kind of decided that my main criteria would be somebody who I thought I could have a conversation with. Unfortunately, a lot of the homeless (obviously not exclusive to Denver) are also mentally ill and it was clear that a lot of these people would not be able to hold a conversation.

So I walked around for a bit and then I saw Nate. I approached him and said something to the effect of, “I don’t have any cash for you but would you let me buy you a hot meal and sit with you for a bit?”

“Sounds great to me!” Nate said and grabbed his bag. I suggested one of the noodle shops a couple of blocks away. Hot bowl of soup on a somewhat cold day. He thought that was a great idea and we started walking. He introduced himself, we shook hands, and just walked down the street like a couple of old friends. “Noodles sound great to me,” Nate said, “do you think that we can find a place with a bathroom?”

A block or two on our journey we passed one of Denver’s well-known pizza places and he asked if pizza would be okay. “It’s your meal my friend, you can have whatever you want,” I replied.

We walked into the Pizza shop and the staff behind the counter definitely looked at us sideways. Nate wasn’t filthy or dragging giant bags of stuff but it was also clear that he resides on the street. I don’t honestly know if he noticed the employees and their approach to him, but I sure did. We ordered up a fresh whole pizza and sat down to wait. He requested a Hawaiian pizza and the place had a special that you could upgrade to a 24 inch size. It is comically big…

We went to the upstairs seating area to wait for the fresh pie to be made, about a 20 minute wait.

By the way, I did not have any of the pizza. Given its cartoony size, we knew we would have leftovers, so I figured it would go further with his friends. Plus, to be honest, Hawaiian...

I spent the next hour and a half or so having a wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics: what his life is like daily, where he came from, family, friends, prison, religion, and he even showed me how to do a magic trick. (I promised him I would practice and come back and see him again)

I’m not sure why I decided to execute on this exercise in this way and I’m not sure how it came to be that Nate was the person whom I chose to interact with, but it was a very profound experience. I could certainly add in a bunch of details and documentation from the discussion. And I think I could also talk about how I made sure to see Nate as just another person and not a homeless person. The truth is, it was just a very enjoyable conversation between two people with very different circumstances.

And I should close with this final thought: what does this have to do with my semi entrepreneur concept? Perhaps nothing; just an interesting story from my life. But perhaps it also parallels a lot of the thoughts and introspection that I’ve been going through. Nate talked a lot about mindset, which is the undercurrent of my self-help class. He talked about choices. He did not play the victim but rather was taking responsibility for his life.

I intend to practice my disappearing ring trick and to seek out another discussion with my new friend.