This Week On Metro Connection: Wild Cards (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week on Metro Connection: Wild Cards

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And today we're doing something that happens every few months or so around these parts. We're bringing you one of our wild card shows, that means we're doing away with our usual theme for the hour and bringing you a mélange, a medley, a veritable cornucopia of stories on all kinds of stuff. We'll hit the beach and visit a food bank that's in full swing amidst the chi-chi boutiques and pricey restaurants of the coast.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

We'll head out with an artist who's trying to break the ice with strangers by painting portraits of them, and we'll take a culinary voyage to West Africa as we continue our Eating in the Embassy series. But to kick off today's wild card show...

MR. ANDREW WHITE

Look at this.

SHEIR

We'll bring you some wild music...

WHITE

And here's a list...

SHEIR

Created by a guy...

WHITE

Well, the names that they call me...

SHEIR

Who's been called some pretty wild names...

WHITE

Let's see now, Saxophoniac, Baronet Saxopohonist, Mister Vocalese Buzz, Droobie Drooroo Rambo Sax, Saxophonic Eboniac, Slide Saxophonist, Zorro Sax and Chicken Alto. All among many others.

SHEIR

I'll just call you Andrew.

WHITE

You just call me -- yeah.

SHEIR

But you can also 70-year-old Andrew White an author, transcriber, improviser, composer, producer and ever-enterprising entrepreneur.

WHITE

Hi. My name is Andrew Nathaniel White the third. And I'm the president and founder of Andrew's Musical Enterprises Incorporated, Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

White's self-run, self-produced publishing company boasts more than 2,800 items in its catalogue -- from recordings to transcriptions to essays to novels. You can even buy White's 840-page autobiography, "Everybody Loves The Sugar."

WHITE

It is the largest autobiography in the history of music and we sell it here from Andrew's Music direct. And this is public station, right? You can't -- you don't call prices and stuff, right? Yeah, okay. Well, at least I'm saying it, you know. They can contact me.

SHEIR

Like I said, ever-enterprising entrepreneur.

WHITE

Andrew's music celebrates its 41st birthday on September 23. That's the day legendary saxophonist John Coltrane would have celebrated his 86th. And given yet another name White's been called Keeper of the 'Trane, the matching birthdays aren't exactly a coincidence.

SHEIR

You've transcribed, what was it, all of Coltrane's solos? Most of Coltrane's solos?

WHITE

Well, that's what -- we publish 701 Coltrane solos. Here's one here.

SHEIR

Stretching all the way across the wall. Wow.

WHITE

Um-hum.

SHEIR

Before we go any further, a quick word about where we are right now. We're next door to White's Brookland residence in a cozy house he calls his Music Museum. I am, like, amazed by what I'm seeing on these walls. There are, like, hundreds of framed reviews, articles, photographs...

WHITE

Ah, you can look -- go ahead and look around. I don't know. I can explain anything to you, you might want...

SHEIR

Show me some of your favorites maybe.

WHITE

All of them's my favorites. All of them. Because it's all me.

SHEIR

White obviously takes pride in his career, which started in 1960 when he began studying music theory at Howard University by day, and playing sax with the JFK Quintet on U Street by night.

WHITE

We were at the Bohemian Caverns for, well, two and a half years. And we were famous for being groundbreakers. You know, we were doing a lot of original material. And then we had a stark contrast in our band between the trumpet player, who was a good soul trumpet player, and whatever you want to call me. I consider myself a swaggering iconoclast.

SHEIR

Yet another name we can call Andrew White. See if you can hear why in this selection from the JFK Quintet's album, "New Jazz Frontiers from Washington."

SHEIR

Since his days with the JFK Quintet, White and his alto saxophone have swaggered all over the world. But sax isn't the only instrument White has mastered. He's played bass with The Fifth Dimension, The Weather Report and Stevie Wonder. He even studied oboe in Paris and toured as principal oboist with the American Ballet Theatre of New York.

WHITE

I was with Stevie Wonder and the American Ballet Theatre for three years, concurrently. And I did have close calls where I was doing back-to-back work, and people would look around and didn't believe that they saw the same guy doing the same -- they thought I had a twin.

SHEIR

Which actually reminds me of yet some more names the indefatigable Andrew White has earned.

WHITE

Marathon Man and Hercules and everything.

SHEIR

He got these monikers in 1975, after a rather Herculean event. Can I ask -- I'm seeing these signs for your Marathon '75.

WHITE

Yeah.

SHEIR

What was that?

WHITE

That was a 12-hour concert that I played right here at the Top o'Foolery down on Pennsylvania Avenue, from 6:00 p.m. November 16 to Monday morning 6:00 a.m.

SHEIR

It's true. White and two quartets took over the old House of Jazz for the night with one intermission. And today, Andrew's Music offers the live recording...

WHITE

Here's the Marathons and the five-series, right. Whoo.

SHEIR

As a nine-record set.

WHITE

Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four, Volume Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine.

SHEIR

Can we play one? Like, right now?

WHITE

Sure, sure. You ready for them?

SHEIR

I'm ready.

WHITE

All right. Here we go.

SHEIR

The quartets performed in shifts. But White, our Hercules Marathon Man...

WHITE

Yeah. It was hot.

SHEIR

He played the entire 12 hours. So talk about swaggering iconoclasm. The guy's recorded a nine-disc set of a 12-hour concert. He's done double duties with a pop-funk superstar and a classical ballet company. He started his own publishing company. He's been known to hawk his own merchandise at gigs. He's never even hired an agent or a manager.

WHITE

As an artist, I got something I'm doing and so on and so forth. I can't stop that simply because I have a contract with you that says that I owe you this and blah-blah this.

SHEIR

Here's the thing, though. If you ask Andrew White if he'd recommend that other musicians follow his lead -- so would you encourage more people to do what you did and just go your own way?

WHITE

I have never done that. No. You know, from an artistic perspective, it might sound noble. But when you index all of that with the practicality and the economics of it and all that, no.

SHEIR

But if you ask White what he does recommend? So what do you recommend? His answer is simple.

WHITE

I don't. Because I know it's different for everybody artistically or professionally. So you gonna sink or swim. You need to find that out for yourself.

SHEIR

And Andrew White has had his share of sinking and swimming since those early gigs on U Street. And though these days he performs and composes far more rarely, he says he manages to stay afloat all the while remaining true to the music that has made him D.C.'s very own swaggering iconoclastic, saxophoniac Marathon Man.

SHEIR

Another name Andrew White calls himself is Technological Dinosaur, especially when it comes to the internet. But for information on how to reach out to Andrew's music by phone or U.S. mail, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We travel now from northeast D.C. to Gaithersburg, Md. to visit a very special kind of house. It's on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. And here's the thing that makes this particular house so very special -- as Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, its residents are invisible.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

So we're here with Hunter Fanney, who's chief of the Energy and Environment division here at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Now this green suburban house in the middle of your campus of high tech wonders -- what is that that we're looking at?

MR. HUNTER FANNEY

Yeah. What we're looking at is our net zero energy residential test facility. It's a 2,700 square foot home, 1,500 square foot basement. There's three bedrooms, three baths in the home. Yet, it has energy production capabilities on it. If you look at the main roof of the house you see a large solar system. That's to convert sunlight into electricity. And on the porch, you actually see some additional solar collectors. They're solar thermal collectors that convert sunlight into hot water.

MR. HUNTER FANNEY

And this home is designed with two objectives in mind. It's to show that we can meet net zero. That is, have a zero energy bill over the course of a year. The second long term objective is to provide a test bed so we can evaluate energy technologies of the future.

BEN-ACHOUR

But nobody's living there?

FANNEY

Well, there's actually four people living there. There's two working adults, a 14-year-old and an eight-year-old. But they're virtual people. So we can control every movement throughout the day. So we tell them when to get up, we tell them when to turn on each light, we tell them when to take a shower, how long the shower is. Everything is scripted so all of these actions actually take place. The washer and dryer, it all runs as a normal family of four would use it.

BEN-ACHOUR

So it's like there are ghosts living there.

FANNEY

In a way.

BEN-ACHOUR

Great. Well, let's go inside and see how it all works.

FANNEY

Let's do that. So come on in.

BEN-ACHOUR

It does have that new house smell.

FANNEY

So you really want to build this like a thermos jug. You want to minimize all the heat loss, heat gain. And you want to build it as tight as possible. We added four inches of insulation to the exterior. It turns out in the United States about 20 percent of the energy that leaves a heat pump or an air conditioner never gets into the space because of air leakage from the duct work. Here we can deliver it through a normal duct system, but everything's in the conditioned space. So if you lose any energy it's still in the house.

BEN-ACHOUR

So this is the bathroom and this is...

FANNEY

This is just an electronic scale.

BEN-ACHOUR

Looks like just a big -- well, it's huge. It's sort of like a metal table.

FANNEY

Right. And that's hooked up to the computer and that's how the virtual family of four takes a shower. So there's valves in the basement that open at a prescribed time. The water flows into this way tank which is sitting on the scale. And when it hits the target number, the showers cut off and the bucket is emptied. And yes, the 14-year-old has a much longer shower than the working adults.

BEN-ACHOUR

Now how did you figure out, you know, how long an average 14-year-old takes shower?

FANNEY

The Department of Energy, for decades, has done energy use survey data so they can tell us for a typical family of four, how much energy is used in showers, how much energy is used to wash your clothes, dry your clothes.

BEN-ACHOUR

Are you going to have other stuff here like a microwave, a blender...

FANNEY

Yeah, absolutely. We're starting to move that all in. Like, there's a coffee maker. There's a blender. There's a hairdryer. Basically everything you'd find in your home. And the computer will be cutting them on and cutting them off.

BEN-ACHOUR

This really is going to be like "Beetlejuice" or like "The Exorcist" in here.

FANNEY

It's going to be pretty cool.

BEN-ACHOUR

So on the one hand, you're going to see if this imaginary family can live a life that does not have any net energy consumption and then beyond that, you're going to do experiments. What kind of experiments are you going to do?

FANNEY

Well, then it's a test bed. So for example, we'd like to look at the effectiveness of distributing heat. We want to look at -- do we actually have methods of test and metrics in place that allow us to assess the relative effectiveness of these different geothermal loops that are in the house. It's really to develop the measurement science and the metrics to promote energy efficiency because right now for a lot of energy efficient technologies, those guides are not in place.

BEN-ACHOUR

All right. Well, thank you so much for taking us around.

FANNEY

Absolutely. Thank you for coming out and spending time with us this morning.

SHEIR

That was WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour talking with Hunter Fanney, chief of the Energy and Environment division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. For photos of the net zero house and some tips on making your home more energy efficient, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break. But when we get back, why a region known for its agricultural bounty is also grappling with hunger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

I come here. They usually give you some meats, cereal. I think two bags of food. It lasts a good while, actually.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're tossing aside our usual thematic approach and doing a no-holds-barred, free-wheeling, take this idea and run with it, wild cards edition of the show. Coming up, we'll hear from a former teacher who decided to channel his daily frustrations into a scorcher of a blog. And we'll spend some time with Zion Lopez, a 20-year-old transgender woman who has lived a tough life on the streets and now is trying to help other young people in similar situations.

SHEIR

First, though, we're going to talk about an issue that affects people on the streets and beyond. Hunger. It's the topic of our regular segment, On the Coast, in which coastal reporter, Bryan Russo, brings us the latest from coastal Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland. And Bryan joins us now from Ocean City. Hi there, Bryan.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

Hi, Rebecca. How are you?

SHEIR

Good, good. So Bryan, when it comes to the issue of hunger where you are, out on the coast, just how big a problem are we talking about?

RUSSO

It's definitely bigger than many people realize. A new Gallup poll just came out and it found that Delaware is third in the nation when it comes to the percentage of people struggling to get enough to eat. And I wanted to find out if that statistic applied even to upscale communities like Rehoboth Beach. So last week, I swung by the Cape Henlopen Food Basket. It's a food bank right off of Route One in Rehoboth. And that's where I met a 21-year-old man named Sean. He had taken two buses to come to the food bank to get food for himself and his mother.

SEAN

We were homeless for eight months, and she lost her job at Chrysler and stuff, so it was really hard 'cause she only had to sell her trailer for $5,000. So the states and the food baskets, they all help out a lot.

SHEIR

And Bryan, I'm guessing Sean's story is one that folks at the Cape Henlopen Food Basket have heard fairly often over the past few years?

RUSSO

It seems to be. The recession hit a lot of people quite hard and the food banks have seen a surge in demand as a result. Tom Stearns is the president of the volunteer board that runs the Food Basket. He says demand for food aid peaked in 2009. But his organization still provided food to 10,000 people last year. And the fall and winter are always the toughest months for his clients.

MR. TOM STEARNS

Some of the people affected are those who have worked in lawn services and that begins to die down in the fall. And some of our motels and hotels shut down. And of course, the restaurants some of them close down. So you have -- it's kind of a lessening of places to make some money.

SHEIR

So Bryan, looking ahead, as the cold weather creeps in, will there be enough food at the food banks for all the people who are looking for help?

RUSSO

Well, last week, I went to the Maryland Food Bank's warehouse in Salisbury, Md. It's a 13,000-square-foot facility that provides food to smaller food banks and shelters all over the region. Jennifer Small is the manager there and she says right now, things are going pretty well.

MS. JENNIFER SMALL

We're still having to purchase a lot of food, but the governor's grant is now kicking in. We just got done with our Maryland emergency food grant, which entitled us to food subsidies so that we could put more out to the community. So what you're seeing now is just that influx of donations coming in from outside sources.

RUSSO

Local farms are also donating a lot of produce to food banks right now. So they're able to give out a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables than they might otherwise.

SHEIR

All right, so the good thing I'm hearing is a lot of people may need help, but the food banks are basically able to keep up with that demand. But I wonder, do people expect that to continue? Is there like a breaking point people are anticipating somewhere down the line?

RUSSO

Well, once the holidays are over and the donations dry up, it's always a different story. And then there's the fact that many of the people who work at places like the Cape Henlopen Food Basket are volunteers. Many of whom are retired and getting on in years. Here's Tom Stearns again.

STEARNS

90 to 95 volunteers and all of us are a bit long in the tooth. I am concerned that we will have the same devotion in volunteers coming on.

RUSSO

Stearns says finding people with that devotion is the key because his organization has morphed into a really important social service agency, one that thousands of people will be relying on in the coming months.

SHEIR

Indeed. Well, Bryan, thank you so much for bringing us this story.

RUSSO

You're very welcome.

SHEIR

Bryan Russo is the coastal reporter for WAMU and the host of "Coastal Connection." And if you're curious about that show, we have a link on our website, metroconnection.org. We also have information about the food banks we've discussed today as well as food banks right here in the Washington region. Again, it's all on metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We'll head back to the District now to bring you the story of 20-year-old Xion Unique Lopez. Xion was born Ronnie Lopez Taylor, but decided as a teenager to transition to becoming a woman. Since then Xion has experienced a lot of hardship on the streets of D.C. And now, she's an activist helping other young people in similar situations. She recently shared her story with Jessika Officer. And we should note this story may not be appropriate for young children.

MS. XION LOPEZ

My name is Xion Lopez. I'm 20 and I'm a freelance activist. I'm from Washington, D.C. I've been on my own since I was 14.

MS. XION LOPEZ

I come from a very wealthy, big, unsupportive family. I felt like I didn't belong. I felt like it was me against the world. I came out first as a gay male, in which my mom was a little more accepting. But then when I came, it was just like, okay, this ain't working for me. I wanna be a woman. Things got really ugly. Me and my mom's relationship just went completely south. There was a huge disconnect with me and my family because I grew up in P.G. County, so it's such a taboo to even be gay, let alone transgender.

MS. XION LOPEZ

I had to go through homelessness and addiction, prostitution. There were so many things. The first thing I went to that I knew of, I met a friend. She introduced me to the stroll, which is known here in D.C. It's like a prostitution zone. I kinda just went to what I knew at the moment. And it was a quick and easy way to make money. I was young. That's where it all began.

MS. XION LOPEZ

I actually had a full-time job at the time working at Potbellies. And I would go from the stroll to school, all the way out in Laurel, Md. from 7:00 to 2:00 and then my job and then back and doing it -- it was just like a seven-day cycle for me. I kinda just set myself on that. You know I always told myself that I was never gonna miss a day of work and I was never gonna miss a day of school. That's what kind of kept me in line and drove me throughout that process.

MS. XION LOPEZ

The moment where I felt like I was at my lowest, I remember I had went out partying the night before. And I used an overly excessive amount of drugs. And I woke up from a date rape in a hotel on New York Avenue, called The Budget, and I said to myself when I woke up -- blood everywhere, still feeling high and the room was spinning -- and I remember waking up in the bathroom -- just had been robbed and everything. I remember waking up and saying, you know, Lord, if you just give me the strength to get up and call somebody, I'm gonna change.

MS. XION LOPEZ

I didn't know that that one phone call was gonna change my life. I actually called my counselor, who's also like my play mother here at the Wanda Alston house. And from there we began to get me the proper treatment and started to move forward as far as working towards housing.

MS. XION LOPEZ

I kinda look at my younger sister, she has a car and just the attention and the love and all that from my mother. I do feel like I missed out on that and I wanted that. I tell people all the time now and I live life with no regrets, you know. Everything I've done I've had to go through -- it was a lesson for a reason.

MS. XION LOPEZ

I hope and pray that soon there's gonna be an end. I just want the outcome and the circumstances that homeless youth are facing right now to not be as drastic, especially for the LGBT community. When you are homeless, you know, you never know where you're gonna lay your head because you're faced with so many different things. A lot of us are unemployed because, you know, discrimination and just hard to do so many things, you know, getting medical records on your own and enrolling in school.

MS. XION LOPEZ

So many things that, you know, you had done while you were under the supervision of either the system or your parents, but when you're out there on your own, you're out there on your own.

SHEIR

That was Xion Unique Lopez speaking with producer Jessika Officer.

SHEIR

Our next story on today's wild cards show is about something that these days most of us could barely imagine living without, the internet. By the end of 2011, surveys showed the internet boasted 181 million blogs around the world. That's up from just 36 million five years earlier in 2006. Anyway, those 181 million blogs include one by a teacher in D.C. named Peter Gwynn. So what sets Gwynn's blog apart from all the others? Well, it's called, "Mr. TeachBad's Blog of Teacher Disgruntlement." And it reveals all of Gwynn's frustrations teaching in the D.C. public schools.

SHEIR

Gwynn says when school officials found out he was virtually airing so much dirty laundry he was eventually fired. Fast forward a year and Gwynn is now a mortgage lender, but he's still running "Mr. TeachBad," which he describes as a space where teachers can talk honestly, laugh and complain. Gwynn spoke with education reporter Kavitha Cardoza this week about why he's continuing his scorcher of a blog.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

You've got some really tongue-in-cheek blog posts. So under the top 10 posts of all time, you have one which reads, "Maybe You're Not Just High School Material." And another is, "Principal Seeks to Replace Student Body and Improve Test Scores." And then there are many others where you come across as really angry. I have to say if I had children, I don't know whether I'd want you teaching them.

MR. PETE GWYNN

That's a fair comment and I've heard that before. And I think what that expresses is, you know, partly my personality and my sense of humor. I think every teacher at some time, at some points, feels these senses of frustration and anger and hopelessness and I've just chosen to express it. And I think that I'm definitely, definitely not alone. Many people write into me all the time and they say, you know, thank you for saying this. I feel the same way. The blog gives them that sense of underground community.

CARDOZA

Teachers and teaching have been discussed and debated so much in the past few years. Tell me from the point of view of a teacher who's pretty disillusioned and has left the profession, what's missing from the conversation?

GWYNN

I think in a place like DCPS you have lots and lots and lots of kids who come in and they're far behind where they should be academically. And they are either, you know, incapable or largely disinterested in helping you as a teacher to correct this. They don't work. We're putting all of the onus on teachers to fix these problems. And if children aren't learning it has to be the fault of teachers. It can't be that this kid isn't doing any work. It's my fault, right, that he's not doing any work. And if I say he's failing because he's not doing any work, then it's my fault for not doing more to make him work. And that trap is kind of frustrating.

CARDOZA

You also spend a lot of space on your blog for things like data.

GWYNN

Data, collecting data, data-driven decision making, data-driven teaching has become kind of an obsession in education, I would say. So there are literally tens of thousands of data points that a teacher might be required to collect. And having come from a research background before I started teaching, the way we collect data, the way we construct questions and what is expected of teachers in terms of their proficiency in being able to analyze it and to make instructional decisions based on it is beyond what most teachers are really qualified and capable and should be expected to do.

GWYNN

So I think we spend a lot of time running around collecting, you know, the data point of the week which changes pretty frequently. And then teachers don't really know what to do with it.

CARDOZA

I've read several of your blog posts and in between, you know, your kind of rants about administrative idiocies and "Good News, My Most Obnoxious Student Is Moving," I sometimes see glimpses of why you became a teacher.

GWYNN

It's a cliche, but it's a really, really important job. I have really, really fond memories of many, many individual students. I'll remember them forever. Some of the students that I think about a lot also are students in the middle, students at the top. And I feel like they are often done a disservice because we don't have time to give them the enrichment that they deserve because we have to spent all of our time trying to bring up the bottom 10 or 25 percent or whatever it is.

GWYNN

To me it doesn't make any sense to have an English class, for instance, where you have 30 kids in there and you might have eight different reading levels and then pretend that we're really teaching a rigorous course to all these kids at the same time. That really doesn't happen. I think what happens is everybody kinda gets messed up in a system like that.

SHEIR

That was Peter Gywnn talking with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza. We have a link to "Mr. TeachBad," and all its full-on disgruntlement on our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And now, our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door to Door," we visit Fairlington, Va., and Glenn Dale, Md.

MR. JIM TITUS

I'm Jim Titus from Glenn Dale, Md. And I've lived in Glenn Dale since 1981. Glenn Dale is the seven-square mile area. It's bounded on the east by the city of Bowie, to the west by Lanham and Seabrook, to the north by Goddard Space Flight Center and to the south by Maryland 450. This area was basically farmland until after the Civil War. Along the old stage route Gabriel Duvall had his house. The descendants of Duvall decided to start a small settlement along the railroad line and they named it Glenn Dale.

MR. JIM TITUS

This area has a good tree canopy. Quite often Glenn Dale is three or four degrees cooler than the surrounding communities. This is not really a walkable community, but strangely enough Glenn Dale is very bikeable and perhaps that's because we have a low population density, but we're surrounded by state highways. I bike with my daughter to her school sometimes. I bike whenever I wanna have lunch or about half the time when I'm grocery shopping on a nice day I'll ride my bike.

MS. LIBBY GARVEY

I'm Libby Garvey and I've lived in Fairlington since 1977. We're located in South Arlington, right off of 395 South and the intersection of Quaker Lane and King Street. We have sort of a joke here. If you're looking for my house it's the brick house with the white trim. Because basically every unit here is brick house with white trim. It's a Georgian style. It was built just before and during the second World War. And so there were officers' quarters and then were more enlisted quarters.

MS. LIBBY GARVEY

And then what happened was in the '50s or '60s, it was sold as excess housing and it had really become sort of low-income rental. And actually at one point, Fairlington, I think, had the highest crime rate in Arlington. So there was a whole rehab that went on, updating the kitchens and then adding the backyards and putting in the pools and the tennis courts. Because of how it's set up with courtyards, it just naturally builds community. And then as you get to connect with people, life happens and different people go through different hard times.

MS. LIBBY GARVEY

You know, I lost husband and, frankly, this neighborhood came in and just sort of carried us. I mean, they did meals. They sat with us. I would get up in the morning sometimes and come down and somebody was there just to be there, to make sure we were okay. It was amazing. It becomes an incredibly supportive family, helping us all get through difficult times in life and I think the reason a lot of us just stay. It's tight living, but you've got everything you'd want with a community. It's a beautiful place to be. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

SHEIR

We heard from Libby Garvey in Fairlington and Jim Titus in Glenn Dale. If you think your neighborhood should be a part of "Door to Door," send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And you can see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

After the break, "Bookend," our monthly segment where we cozy up with D.C. writers.

MS. ALLISON LEOTTA

You wanna say something that's never been said before. And you just need to use a different part of your brain.

SHEIR

That's coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're getting a little bit wild and going theme free as we bring you one of our this and that, hither and nether, come what may wild cards shows. In just a bit, we're going to hear a brand-new addition of our monthly series "Bookend," where we chat with local authors about all things literary.

SHEIR

And then we're going to meet an artist who's been painting portraits of random, unassuming strangers with hopes reuniting her paintings and her subjects. But before we get to all of that let's have a little snack break. But not just any snack break. This one's a little bit more, how shall we say, exotic.

CHEF NESTOR LAMAH

Okay. This is cassava leaves and this is (unintelligible) and this is Konkoé sauce here.

AMBASSADOR BLAISE CHERIF

With fish.

LAMAH

Yes, smoked fish. And we have...

CHERIF

Peanut butter.

LAMAH

...peanut butter with okra sauce here you can eat with rice.

SHEIR

For this month's installment of "Eating in the Embassy," our partnership with the blog "Eater D.C.," we take you to the residence of Blaise Cherif, the ambassador of the Republic of Guinea, where he and his chef, Nestor Lamah, our presenting a table loaded with traditional Guinean dishes.

CHERIF

Yes, this is our food and welcome.

SHEIR

Thank you.

SHEIR

"Eating in the Embassy" is all about exploring cuisines of nations around the world. And as Ambassador Chérif points out as we sit around the family table, his country's cuisine actually varies by region, mid-Guinea, upper-Guinea, the coast and the forest.

CHERIF

I belong to the forest of Guinea, which food is a bit different from the one from the coast, the Conakry area, the capital area. So, I mean, the basis of the food in Guinea is rice, whatever region you are in. But now the sauce differs from region to another region.

CHERIF

And when you are in the rural area, like in my village, we don't have individual plates. We put food in a big plate and everybody eats with their hands. We don't use forks, we don't use a spoon, in the traditional manner.

SHEIR

So I'm noticing forks and knives on the table. We don't have to use them.

CHERIF

But you don't know how to eat with your fingers is the problem. We are used to it.

SHEIR

That's a good point.

CHERIF

I could add that traditionally when we eat, people are sitting outside and whoever is passing we will call to him and invite him to come and eat. If you are passing, we don't know your name, we don't know where you are from. We are eating. We just invite you to come and sit and eat with us. This is the traditional way of life in Guinea.

SHEIR

So very, very welcoming, very open?

CHERIF

Yes, very, very. This is -- I mean, we live collectively. Not only the family, but in the village, the region. And whoever is passing our tradition is to invite that person to come and eat with us.

SHEIR

Are there any restaurants anywhere in the Washington region where you can find anything close to what you ate back in Guinea?

CHERIF

There are some in New York, but I didn't see any Guinean restaurants in Washington D.C. Maybe it's a good idea to think about it. Once I leave my job as ambassador, maybe I could get involved in business.

SHEIR

So I have to ask, is this your daughter?

CHERIF

My granddaughter, yes. She just came back from Paris so she doesn't really -- she's learning English now. She just speaks French.

SHEIR

Are there other certain foods she enjoys?

CHERIF

Yes, she likes what we call To. To is a kind of pastry with okra sauce. So she likes, we call it Fou Fou also. It's Fou Fou, F-O-U F-O-U.

SHEIR

So it's a pastry, but it's not a dessert pastry?

CHERIF

No, no, no, it's not a -- no, no.

SHEIR

I was going to say, okra.

CHERIF

A main dish. For instance, this afternoon, it's what I ate when I came from the office.

SHEIR

Are there certain sweets or desserts that are traditional from Guinea? Another traditional food in Guinea, and one of the Ambassador's favorites, is To, or Fou Fou. It's a kind of savory pastry with okra sauce.

CHERIF

Traditionally, there is no dessert in Africa. We have the main dish, rice or cassava. We eat it.

SHEIR

What about beverages? Are there certain juices or, you know, are there certain things you like to drink?

CHERIF

In Guinea, that also depends on the region because in my region, we are not Muslim. So we are allowed to drink wine, to drink alcohol. So in my region, we mainly drink palm wine.

SHEIR

Wine made from palm?

CHERIF

From the palm tree. Yes, this is what we have in our region, palm wine. Maybe I will find some for you one of these days.

SHEIR

That sounds delicious and different.

CHERIF

Yes, it's really, really delicious.

SHEIR

I'm getting really hungry. We're sitting around this table just watching the food, talking about the food. I'd love to taste some food.

LAMAH

Bon appétit.

SHEIR

Thank you.

SHEIR

That was Blaise Cherif, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of Guinea to the United States of America, whom we thank for such a kind and generous invitation to his lovely home. For more on the cuisine of Guinea and to read "Eater D.C's" write up of our culinary adventure, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

If you'd like to sample some Guinean cuisine yourself, the Republic of Guinea is celebrating its 54th anniversary next month with a gala, a barbeque and a whole bunch of other events. You can find more information on metroconnection.org too and finally, if there's an embassy you think we should visit or an international cuisine you'd like to learn more about, we're all ears. Our email address is metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

We turn now from the camaraderie of the dinner table to the relative anonymity of the street. I mean, think about it. When strangers pass on the street what usually happens? Nothing, right. Either we just ignore one another or we're engrossed in our digital lives, sending emails, yakking on the phone, surfing for a place to have dinner or any of the million of things we're able to do while on the move. In the face of this new social norm, as Emily Friedman tells us, one D.C. based artist has decided to go full steam ahead in the other direction.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

Keith Cook was at work when he received his painting. He's the maintenance guy at the Arch, a community center in Southeast D.C. He walked outside to tend to the landscaping and there before him was a five foot by four foot canvas.

MR. KEITH COOK

A big, pretty picture of me with my big smile.

FRIEDMAN

It's a life-size portrait of Cook in his Redskins hat, his work shirt and badge, weeding in the garden. It's what he was doing the day he first met Nicole Bourgea.

MS. NICOLE BOURGEA

Hi, my name is Nicole Bourgea and I'm from D.C. and I am a portrait artist.

FRIEDMAN

We're in her studio in Chevy Chase, D.C. and she pulls me over to a window right next to her easel. She points down the block toward the loading dock of a grocery store. Down there she says, is where this project began.

BOURGEA

I was outside of my studio when I noticed this man.

FRIEDMAN

He was a construction worker, leaning against the building as he enjoyed a flaky croissant.

BOURGEA

And I thought, you know, why am I hurrying past this person? Why is it so difficult for me to just stop and notice this person?

FRIEDMAN

So she introduced herself and asked if she could take his picture.

BOURGEA

He said, sure, I'd love to. He just went about doing what he was doing and he on was his lunch break so you can see he's in mid bite there.

FRIEDMAN

That was the first painting. Bourgea's studio is lined with the others.

BOURGEA

So this is one of the cooks at Ben's Chili Bowl. I was down on U Street one morning and I ran into him out taking a smoke break.

FRIEDMAN

There's a woman from her local coffee shop and a clerk from her art supply store.

BOURGEA

This woman I passed in Georgetown and she was dressed all in white and she had this dramatic black hairdo.

FRIEDMAN

Bourgea stands in front of the easel in a denim sundress. She doesn't paint directly from the photographs but looks over them every so often just to check details.

BOURGEA

So this portrait is my ninth and I'm about a third of the way through. This is Margo, she's another artist and she does not know that I'm doing this painting.

FRIEDMAN

She typically charges about $4,200 for paintings this size but these portraits will be given away for free. On October 1st, Nicole will place the portraits back where she met each subject.

BOURGEA

I'm going to be writing little signs that I post next to each one of the paintings. And the sign reads, "If this is you, this painting is yours to take."

FRIEDMAN

Keith Cook, the maintenance man in Southeast got his early. Bourgea was so excited to see his reaction she just couldn't keep it any longer.

BOURGEA

He is just somebody who really gives back to his community and I want to be able to make sure that he gets his painting sooner rather later just because I want him to have it and I don't want anything to happen in between now and then.

FRIEDMAN

And though Keith Cook got his portrait without a glitch, this is not what you'd call a foolproof plan. There are a lot of worse case scenarios. While most people go for a simple head nod, there are a lot of ways to acknowledge a passing stranger on the street. Nicole Bourgea has a technique all her own. What if the painting's stolen? What if the subject doesn't happen to walk by that day? What if it starts to rain and the painting is ruined?

FRIEDMAN

Those things could definitely happen Bourgea says. But all she can do is hope the experiment works and the right person will eventually get the portrait.

BOURGEA

It might be a little shocking, you know, to walk down the street and see this big painting of yourself on the wall and you didn't realize it was going to be done. I hope that it will be something that brightens their day. You know, I hope that it'll be something that makes them feel like they matter and that they deserve to be seen.

FRIEDMAN

Bourgea admits it's not realistic to paint life-size oil paintings of every person she passes on the street, but already she says, she feels herself slowing down and really noticing people throughout her day. And though each painting is a gift to the subject, that, she says, has been a gift to herself. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

If you want a sneak peek of Nicole Bourgea's paintings before you run into one on the street next week, of course, you can find a link to her blog on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We end today's show with "Bookend," our monthly conversation with D.C. writers. This time around Jonathan Wilson sat down with Allison Leotta, author of the legal mystery books "Law of Attraction" and "Discretion." Leotta is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and she talked with Jonathan about making the switch from writing legal briefs to crafting racy page-turning thrillers.

LEOTTA

So with legal writing, especially as a prosecutor you have to stick very narrowly to the facts. And not just facts you know but facts you know you can prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt and under the rules of evidence. And in legal writing precedents are key, it only matters if someone else has said it before.

LEOTTA

But with creative writing, it's exactly the opposite. You don’t want to say anything that somebody else has said before because if you do, you’re not doing your job right. You want to say something that's never been said before and you just need to use a different part of your brain. So it was really this liberating experience for me as a prosecutor to go from one to the other.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

So I know there are a lot of people across the country, across the world who have, you know, really boring jobs and they think, man I could just write a book. That'd be so great. But they never take the plunge because it's too risky or they just don't have the courage to kind of drop what they're doing and write a novel. Now, you had what sounds like a pretty exciting job and yet you decided, you know what, I want to do something different. What gives you the right to do that? Who do you think you are, Allison Leotta to quit such an exciting job to become a novelist?

LEOTTA

Well, I think it was actually because the job was so exciting, it's so interesting. And I, you know, I was a sex crimes prosecutor and everyone that I met wanted to hear about it, but in kind of a sideways way. Like, nobody wanted to say they wanted to hear about it.

LEOTTA

But there are really interesting stories and I found that I had so much great material to work with and it was this great way to kind of process it in the morning. And so that's what I started doing and it wasn't courageous, the thing it took was discipline. It was a matter of just every morning you must get up at 5:00, write for two hours and then go.

WILSON

So the character, you have the same main character in your first two books. She is a prosecutor, assistant U.S. Attorney, just like you were. How autobiographical is Anna Curtis?

LEOTTA

Well, she has the same job that I held and she has a lot of the same reactions I had to seeing some of the cases and the victims, the tragedies but she's different. She's more, she's way more interesting than I am, right. She's younger, you know, she has this really interesting love life, this complicated love life. I’m a mom, I've got toys all over the place, I’ve got Cheerios under my table. And an exciting night for me usually involves picking up Matchbox cars. So it's kind of fun to live vicariously through Anna, who has this more interesting life than I do.

WILSON

So there's a lot of D.C. in your books. You talk about Washington Post reporters, you talk about, you know, actual places obviously in D.C. How important is that to you to kind of be able to write, you know, this creation in my mind, but also use places that you know? And how realistic is what Anna does every day and the crimes that she comes across?

LEOTTA

Well, I tried to keep the crimes realistic. There is so much stuff to work with that I could use some of the real things and I tried to just take the real details of what I saw in court and incorporate them into one linear story that would be really interesting and take all of those details together. In terms of D.C., I think it's just a fascinating city to live in with, it's a city of contrasts, a city of people from all over and people who've lived here their whole lives, all kind of living together. And the thing that's interesting about the U.S. Attorney's office is D.C. is it’s where it all intersects, where it all comes together.

WILSON

You write, you know, what most people would call thrillers or legal thrillers. I've heard, read some reviews that, you know, will say this is, you know, fast-paced, it's a beach read. Do you embrace that or do you kind of say, hey I spent some time on these characters. It's not just a beach read. I don't know.

LEOTTA

No, I think it is a beach read. I think it's a -- and the thing that I find interesting is I used to think that a book that was very easy to read would be easy to write. So you read, like, a John Grisham novel and the pages fly by and you think that must be super easy, it's reading candy. But now that I'm doing it myself, I see how much time it takes, how much polishing and condensing and getting down to that core idea that it takes to make each page fly by like that. So when people say that it flew by or is a great beach read, it was so fun and easy to read, I like that. It means I’m doing my job right, it means, you know, I'm hitting my stride in the genre.

SHEIR

That was Allison Leotta talking with Jonathan Wilson for this month's "Bookend." You can hear Allison Leotta reading from her latest book, "Discretion" and talking about some of her favorite reads on our website, that's metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Jonathan Wilson, Sabri Ben-Achour, Bryan Russo, Emily Friedman along with producer, Jessika Officer. Our acting news director is Meymo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Bennin. Jonna McKone, Lauren Landau and Raphaella Bennin produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl," are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking the "this week on "Metro Connection"" link. To hear our most recent episodes click the podcast link or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we'll celebrate the start of fall with a show all about falling.

SHEIR

We'll find out why D.C. house sales have been on the decline and consider the fall of a court program for people with drug offenses. Plus, stories of falling in love.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

Should I have put sincerely, you know, or love, you know? And it was like the biggest dilemma and it doesn't seem like a really big deal right now but it was such a huge deal.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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