The Interesting People You Meet on the Street

Interviews with people we run into on the daily.

Collaborators welcome!
Recent Tweets @iamrphy

Looking to make some performance art / flash mob happen near Powell Station at the beginning of June. Can you sing, dance, pretend? Do you have the balls to do something for the sake of brightening up an onlooking crowd on a busy street?

Make the world a better place, one mob at a time.


Alexis Finch is a UX Researcher & Designer. She gives a simple overview of User Experience (UX) and User Interaction (UI) but dives deeper into the anthropology of understanding user need and context. Brilliant, inciteful and full of clarity.

This interview with Carlos is one of a few from an impromptu trip to 518 Valencia where we “crashed” a birthday fundraiser.

Dottie the AIDS Fundraiser Collage

Dottie the AIDS Fundraiser
Sunday, April 29 2012
Mission Dolores Park 

To wrap up our first day of recording for The Interesting People You Meet on the Street, we strolled into Dolores Park, knowing there would be an array of interesting people to speak with— Raphael spotted Dottie packing up some things on the lawn, so we took a moment to chat with her and we are so glad we did. 

Dottie moved here from Oregon 2 years ago and spent the day in Dolores Park, fundraising for a special AIDS Foundation event that she is participating in this summer.

Here are some clips from the interview.

What are you doing right now?
I had a fundraiser today where a lot of my friends donated clothing and I made cupcakes and other baked goods to raise money for the aids foundation and I’m doing the aids lifecycle ride in June and all the money is going to my fundraising so I can participate in the ride. 
[side comment: The race is 7 days, 545 miles June 3 – June 9 SF to LA!]

Have you done this before?
This is my first time. The longest mileage I’ve ridden is 80 miles.

On Training…
Every Saturday I ride a long ride, anywhere form 60-80 miles. Average is anything from 60-100. The 100 mile day is mostly flat. The 60 mile day is mostly climbing, called quad busters.

What made you decide to do something like this?
I think it’s a great foundation and I really wanted to raise money for it. I also exercise all the time so I thought it was a physical challenge for myself. And also I’ve never raised money before so I wanted to raise money for the foundation. So it’s been a challenge in so many aspects for me and a great accomplishment at the end.

What is another big challenge?
On Saturday mornings I get up at 6am and I have to commit the entire day to riding so I don’t get my weekends with my friends anymore. I go to school and work full time so my time is very limited and so I give a lot of time to fundraising and riding. It’s a lot of my time, it’s total dedication. But it’s been worth the sacrifice. I’ve met incredible friends just people have come together. I have a huge group of friends who have been very supportive. 

You said you’re in school and you’re working. What are you studying?
I’m a special education teacher so I work full time teaching and also I’m studying to be a behavior analyst so right now I’m just taking one class at a time. It’s 1.5 year program but after I get the credential I will be able to supervise behavior programs. I will also be able to consult and help kids with behavioral challenges. It’s my passion, I love working with kids with behavioral challenges. It’s amazing.

How did you get started? When was your first initial realization that you wanted to go into this field?
I was going to be a grade school teacher but as I was doing my practicum experiences I was working with kids who struggled academically and behaviorally and it was making such a huge impact because it was one person just working with one or two kids at a time and you can see the growth. And you can see them growing in the classroom. One of my professors who was working on trying to recruit people into the special ed program said I should give this a consideration and so I did and it was the best decision I ever made. I love working with kids with disabilities. It is so rewarding. I work with kids who are academically challenged and also behaviorally challenged. You see the progress that they make, not only in the kids but in my staff. I go out to my staff and I work with general ed teachers and I advocate for my kids and educate them on what the kids need. So then you see these staff members growing and understanding kids with behavior/academic challenges and they’re working really hard to meet their needs and it’s one of the most rewarding things you could do.

On fundraising at the park
I was the first person here setting up without my friends. All these people were looking at me. But it turned out to be positive. It brought a lot of people together, I mean, people I didn’t know and my friends.

I gotta ask you because you have giant smile on your face. I’m guessing it’s there all the time. You are always just happy. So can you give us some advice? What is the secret to being happy?
The biggest thing is you have a choice every single morning. You have a choice to wake up and think about everything that’s not going well or you have a choice to say that you are going to embrace life. I worked with a school psychologist once and he gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard. He said people strive to reach happiness thinking 100% of their life is going to be perfect but that’s never ever possible. Your life is never going to be perfect. But if you can look at your life and think that you’re 85% happy with the way things are going, and you have 15% you are not happy with, you’ve met happiness. That 15% is going to fluctuate—the things that are bothering you are going to end up going into the positive zone and the things that were really positive are going to go into the negative zone. That’s life—it fluctuates. If you can embrace 85% of the things that are going well… :-)

I also believe in a gratitude journal. Every night I think about 3 positive things that have happened every single day and I focus on that. And they’re different. If they’re the same every day, then I’m putting expectations on certain people or situations. But really you need to look at the positives of every day. And sometimes it may not be directly yourself but maybe something great happens to someone you really love and that gives you gratitude because life is going well for that person.

[side comment here: Ah, a Gratitude journal! This is genius!]

Paul the Painter Collage

Paul the Painter (feat. Sylvia from Australia)
16th and Mission Street
Sunday, April 29 2012 

Less than a block down the street from Tony, stands Paul with his gallery of paintings. We also met Sylvia, who was on holiday from Melbourne and had picked up 2 of Paul’s recent paintings. If you listen to this 15 minute conversation, you will hear that Paul is an educated man filled with a great passion and sense of purpose in his works, frequently alluding to themes of meditation and the importance of introspection. Ditching the standard Q&A format, we simply let his words flow and here are some excerpts from this truly enlightening conversation.

On Sylvia and her Presence

P: Doesn’t she have a really amazing presence? This woman? I paint a lot, all day right. Different people ask me about my work. But she has this amazing kind of peace.
S: Maybe it’s cause I’m on holiday. I’m a pretty chilled out person anyway not too much bothers me.
P: It gives me an appreciation, too, for like how America needs this energy that people from other countries bring. That’s what America’s about. The semblance of various movements you bring to the space. 

Shoutout to San Francisco

J: What made you come to SF?
S: When I first got to SF about 15 years ago, I had this connection with it. There are some places around the world where you feel like you could live here. It does remind me of Melbourne. It has that same sort of style and it’s quite arty and creative and the food. The architecture is different but it was built during a similar period during the gold rush so the history is the same.

On Silvia’s New Purchases

R: Can you tell us a little bit about the pieces that she just purchased?
P: They’re very recent paintings.
R: You mentioned a breakthrough.
P: Color and introspection. I wanted the pieces to exude peace but also to bring out the inner realization of chanting… I like when the viewer can look at a work and internalize sound and also maybe what the person was trying to do when they were painting it.

If you have it on your wall, I think it will have an ambience. That’s what I like about it. It’s the ambience that the work can create in space and the way it attracts energy that’s positive and transformative. Hopefully my art will go there.

On Introspection and his Journey

P: There’s reflection that creates expansion of consciousness, then there is reflection that limits our connection with consciousness. And so I hope that the work will emanate the greater expansion which is then a part of our evolution. And so for me it’s a flight. So if I’m out here painting, I’m transcending as well. That’s why somebody will say well how do you like painting on the street? I’m like, am I painting on the street? I’m just painting. I’m painting outside, somewhere in space. I don’t see it like painting on the street. I see it like this journey that is part of that whole movement. And part of the arcadia of creating works that go back from the cave walls to the present.

If we could move forward, all the different brushes go through on some texture and it just continues. So now I was here, this is my brush, now somebody else is brushing somewhere else. And it’s that kind of thing.

Introspection is kind of cool. If these characters can introspect in a spiritual way, it brings out our imagination to spiritualize the meaning of it. Then it’s easy for us to experience, not necessarily what they are experiencing, but what is parallel within our own world. At least that’s what I’m trying to work for. And I might fail like 10 paintings for it to paint itself, by the 11th one.

J: So do you have a lot of paintings that you throw away?
P: Not really. I’ll put them away and I’ll come back to them. Or they will be here and I’ll continuously work on them in layers. But it has to come in a way that’s not contrived. It has to come about by itself.

On Inspiration

J: How do you get your inspiration?
P: I romanticize the lives of artists in the past, to some extent, which may justify some of the choices that I make. They went through this and so I’ll create works that are moved by the feelings that some of them emanated as a journey, as an experience. If I fall in love with that process, I’ll create more of those works. But then I don’t want to be pretentious. Same with writing—with writing, we go through contrivances to not contrive. Get the cliché out of the way. So let it go and come back to it, but you’ve planted the seed for the subconscious to bring you the answer. 

On Connecting with Other Artists

P: I’m not saying I’m connected to them as much as I’m saying I’m inspired by the world that they offer and the substance of that perception. I see Miro in a kind of way. He does this space within space kind of thing which is fascinating. I’m still trying to appreciate Magritte to some extent. But then, Monet paints nature that’s almost like a blurred photographic moment. It’s that kind of sharing that I may think about in that perspective. You would walk on the shoulders of them and they would give you that view.

On Being Humble

P: But I don’t consider myself anybody that’s so much incredible. There are so many painters that are so much better than I am.
S: How do you measure that? You can’t measure that.
P: The Legion of Honor, the painting of all these women that are wearing these clothes from Arabia. But they were able to get to the textures and layers and moments of concerntration each woman had.
S: They studied it as well, you know. A lot of them have studied lifetimes.
P: And there may have been a lot of mediocre paintings that created this painting. And we’ll do that. We’ll tap on this one work and then go onto something else. But you know, [bashful]…
S: A lot of them were commissioned by the church so they had a lot of time and money. I can guarantee you if you had a lot of money pouring at you, you would be painting layers as well.
P: Oh my god, really?
S: Yea, you would. Absolutely. Most of my friends who are artists are very critical of themselves.
J: That’s how you keep creating better work because you’re never satisfied.
S: Perhaps, yes. You’re never seeing yourself like other people.

Tony the Musician Collage

Tony Harris the Musician
17th and Mission St. 
Sunday, April 29 2012  

Our very first interview with a man of very few words. He was definitely our guinea pig but we did what we set out to do. We heard his story. I won’t forget his smile and willingness to participate even before we had any questions ready! After we met him, we booked it to a nearby cafe for a few hours, drafted some questions and came back but ultimately asked questions on the fly rather than what was on paper. It felt more natural that way.

Here is a clip of Tony and his neighbor Dennis from the Chai Cart jamming out with an impromptu collabo per Raphy’s special request.

At the end of the experience, we were reminded that there are some people out there who don’t care about making money— they just want to do what they enjoy doing. Tony is one of those people.

Interview Highlights

J: What do you do?
T: Play music… I use the African thumb piano. It’s called the kalimba.

J: Where is a place you have fond memories of?
T: New York City. Everyday is Friday and Saturday.
J: Different from SF?
T: Yea, days slow down here.

J: Why do you do what you do? How does it inspire you?
T: Make me happy, make other people happy. Beautiful music.

R: What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
T: Wow, I’m still on the planet.

R: Do you believe in God?
T: Yes.

R: What is the biggest breakthrough or realization you’ve had in the past year?
T: [pause] Wow, that’s a good question. Lost or gained?
R: Either one.
T: That I gained the freedom to be able to do this. Being lucky that I don’t have to work right now.

J: Can I ask what you were doing before this?
T: Ah man, I was working in a store. Running, running, running wild. Running wild. It was like a circus. Oh man, it was a circus of clothes.

J: If you had to do anything else or this, what would you do for the rest of your life?
T: Travel and play music. Go to a lot of different places. Have a place to always come back to.

J: Where is your next city?
T: I don’t know.
J: Wherever the wind takes you?
T: It’s not that fast right now. [laughs]

R: Do you have any tattoos?
T: I have one. It’s a spiritual sword that fights away evil.

J: If you had one piece of advice to give me or anyone, what would it be?
T: Live with a lot of love and peace in your heart. And joy. And pass it on to others.  

Note: the audio and text are not the same.

What’s your name? It’s Raphael. I’m named after my grandfather on my mother’s side. He lived in Istanbul, where most of my family is from. It was most likely his grandfather’s name as well, since most names got passed down in that order. It’s also in the Torah (old testament) and is a reference to the Angel of Healing. My name in Hebrew means God has healed. It’s something I connect with on a deep level. 

Where do you come from? Where do most things come from—like ideas and inventions? They start off as a thought and an intention. I’m positive my existence is part of a grander intention. I feel incredibly blessed and thankful for the friends, family and experiences I’ve come across in my life.  Practically speaking though—I was born in Santa Monica, CA near a public library. I love the library by the way…it’s ironic then that I always had library fines. 

What do you like about people? I like that people have their own unique quirks and character traits. It also broadens my mind and humbles me when I speak to someone different than me because they’ll often bring something to mind that I had never taken into consideration.  

People in SF. Well, I’ve been here for about three weeks now. I’ve met something interesting characters so far. I can tell you about one in particular that I met my first day taking the Muni from my house to work. His name is Roy Jenkins and he’s going to change the world… 

He works for a non profit doing community work for people that have been down and out. He himself has had a real struggle to get to where he is. He’s had to overcome many obstacles. He’s reached a point though where has so much to give back that he’s bursting at the seems with positive, radiant energy. My conversations with him, whenever I see him at the Muni stop, have been pretty inspiring and instill a lot of hope that it only takes one conversation to change a life. 

How did you get here? I was just coming off of my producing job for One Day on Earth (check out this dope music vid by Cut Chemist here) and wanted to check out some opportunies in the Bay. I came up in November for a Venture Beat conference and was preparing to come in January. A week before New Year’s Day, however, with some gentle nudging I decided to make a trip to Israel for six weeks. 3 months later I had to make a decision though…satisfy my curiosity about San Francisco or stay and live in Israel…well, I’m here now. 

If you could do anything for the rest of your life, what would it be? I’d like to play music, strike up conversations with people, write books, make movies and have people over for dinners I’d inspire people to be happy and grateful in their lives.

Warmest greetings, visitor from Cyber Land!

Whether you randomly found your way here (if so, tell us how!) or you were the unfortunate victim of our San Francisco wanderings, Raphael and I are glad to meet you.

Since this blog is largely devoted to the interview format, Raphael has given me a handful of questions to answer as a brief introduction. Thanks, Raph. It’s your turn next!

What’s your name?
Full name is Jennifer, but my friends call me Jennie— a name I chose in 3rd grade while experimenting with sidewalk chalk because I liked Jennie Garth from 90210 I thought Jennifer was too common (a bit o’ trivia: Jennifer was the most popular female name given to babies born in 1984).

What do you do during the week?
During the work days/week I am an account manager for a fabulous company that specializes in advertising on the interwebz. My nights are filled with live music with friends (SF has a great music scene), eating and trying different foods (this is high on the list) and my dog Napoleon.

What are you passionate about?
I have been told that I am a pretty passionate person in general, but if I were to choose it would be these things: people (hence, this project), photography (hence, my 2011 project*), music and food.

Who are you looking to meet?
In life, I am looking to meet and connect with good people who want to build a strong network of goodwill and generosity. With this project, I want to meet representatives of every type of person in SF (reaching for the sky) to hear their story— artists, musicians, service workers, hippies, drifters, Silicon Valley gazillionares, entrepreneurs and people of other ‘categories’ that I have yet to discover.

How has doing this project changed your life?
I was tempted to answer with ‘It’s too early to tell’ but after yesterday’s INCREDIBLE first round of interviews, I already feel something moving inside.. and it feels great. I’ve met a huge personal milestone by doing this and it’s given me the inspiration/courage to consider other ideas that have been sloshing around in my brain. 

What do you want people to get out of this?
Whenever this project ends— be it next month or years from now, I hope it will inspire others to look up from their iPhones and look out at all the crazy, awesome and crazy awesome people around them. Perhaps you could strike up a conversation with a stranger about the weather and find you have something in common after all. I think it behooves us to actively spend time taking part in the world we live in and less time in the world of our mobile devices and earbuds. Simply put, be here now.

Can other people collaborate?
Please, please, please! Really, this is a personal project and I have very low expectations in terms of visitors who actually read/listen to the interviews but if you have an idea for interviewee, feedback or want to participate in the interview itself, LET US KNOW! We would love for you to tag along with us when we go out into the streets.. it would help keep us accountable and productive.

Everyone has a story and given the right setting, people are inclined to share that story— especially significant life events and memorable experiences.. maybe with tidbits of advice sprinkled along the way. This blog is simply a space for that story. So if you’re interested, stick around and sample the selections we’ve chosen to share! We’d love to have you. :)

*shameless plug: my 2011 project was photo-a-day from Jan 1, 2011 - Dec. 31, 2011.