Thursday, June 22, 2006

(Part 5 ) Meet Strangers, Learn Something: Day 2

The Big Green Bus

Tuesday morning I set out early to begin my second day of meeting strangers and learning something.
A brief stop at Max Hayes to rummage through my store room turned up the old box I was looking for. It contained a badgemaker that I wanted to lend to Martha and Evelyn so they could make the lead poisoning awareness buttons that we discussed the day before.

Hopping back in my little Toyota, I made my way to Talkies, a coffee shop near the Westside Market. I bought an orange juice and a bagel, then found a comfortable seat next to the front window and began to write. Another fellow was hunched over a newspaper in the corner of the room, but his body language did not invite conversation. So I finished my letter in silence, and decided that if I was going to actually meet anyone, I needed to find a busier location.

As I began packing up, a big green school bus pulled up in front of the building. Besides the greenness of the vehicle, something else about the bus caught my eye.
Bunk beds in the windows. A bunch of college-aged kids were getting out and gathering in front of the Great Lakes Brewery. On the side of the bus were the words "Change The World".
Well, if this wasn't a "meet strangers, learn something" opportunity delivered right to me, I didn't know one.
So I walked up to the group, introduced myself, and asked,
"So what is your mission?"
One of the young women said,
"We are from Dartmouth College, the bus has been converted to run on vegetable oil, and we are traveling around the country to increase awareness of bio-fuels."
They had stopped in Cleveland to check out the Great Lakes Brewery delivery truck which also has been converted to run on vegetable oil.

Click here to read more about the Big Green Bus tour, and here to read about the Great Lakes Brewery's dedication to sustainability.


It was about 10:00 when I got back in the Celica and headed toward North Collinwood. I had wanted to do a little wandering around the neighborhood, since I am considering the East 185th Street area as a possible location to pilot the Legacy Arts Incubator project.
The neighborhood, also known as "Old World Plaza" is home to an eclectic group of businesses, ranging from sausage shops to biker bars, interspersed with thrift stores, bakeries, and ethnic social clubs.
I walked a few blocks up the street and came across a little import shop with a faded hand painted sign above the door that read 'Patrias'. Another sign written in magic marker on copy paper said "Fresh bread today".
I couldn't resist.
Inside several elderly ladies were conversing in Croatian with the woman behind the counter. I amused myself looking at wine, candy, gifts, baked goods, and deli items, until the little group left. A poppyseed kuchen caught my eye, one of the favorite desserts from my childhood, and I took it to the register. The woman behind the counter was friendly, and asked if I was from the neighborhood. I said no, but I was considering starting a non-profit Arts Incubator on the street. She said, "Oh that's just what this neighborhood needs" and being listing al the people I should be talking to.
"You know," she said "there are an awful lot of empty store fronts to choose from."
"There is one building I am interested in," I replied "The old Europa Travel Agency."
"I own it!" she exclaimed.
We made arrangements to look at it together next week.
Now that is what I call serendipity.


I headed back down the block to the Arabica Coffee house, set up my laptop in the back corner and began to work. After about an hour, I decided to take a lunch break and ordered iced tea and a chicken salad sandwich. While I was eating a tall man walked in from the street, smiled and waved at me. He walked up to my table and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. I had met David Lynch when he was running for mayor of Cleveland last summer. He had some ideas about the school system that I had taken issue with, and he took the time to listen. Now he is a Republican and I am a lifelong Democrat, but damn...he listened to me. I was impressed.
Now David Lynch cannot qualify as a stranger, but I wanted to include him in my story, since running into him proved to be one more happy coincidence in a series of coincidences that day.
David is now running for state senate, and was meeting with a hopeful supporter at a table across the room, but he stopped by and sat down with me for a few moments before he had to leave for his next meeting. I told him about my proposal, and his face lit right up.
"There is somebody I want you to meet" he said, and took out his pen and wrote down a woman's name and phone number.
"Call her."

Allyson and Becci

David said goodbye, but not before inviting me to a meeting of campaign supporters Sunday evening.
He certainly is relentless.

I picked the phone number up off the table, and tapped the numbers out on my cellphone. The woman who answered was named Allyson. She and another woman, Becci, were buying the old Fitzgerald building a few blocks north on E. 185th and turning it into an arts incubator.
I explained my project, with a little bit of trepidation. These woman are going to see me as their competition, I thought.
I could not have been more wrong.
She invited me to meet with them that evening at the Arabica (of course).

The two women waved at me when I walked in the door at 7:30.
Both of them were about my age, and we all happened to be the mothers of 14 year old boys. Allyson is a legal secretary, and Becci is a metallurgist.
Allyson and Becci totally understood what I was doing, as well as the Open Source economic development model and the concept of cluster creation to drive business success. They invited me to come out and look at the building and consider using the space for some of the initial CLAI pilot workshops. We made an appointment for Tuesday.

Days like this make me wonder if there are truly any real coincidences.

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