Seeing Eye To Eye: Gallaudet Research Shows How Deaf People Navigate (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

This Week On Metro Connection: On The Move

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and for the next hour we here on the "Metro Connection" team are gonna take you by the hand as we go strolling…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

Running…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

Rolling…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

Stretching…

MR. JACOB FENSTON

Road-tripping…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

Meandering…

FENSTON

Skateboarding…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3

Trekking…

SHEIR

All over the D.C. region with a show we're calling…

GROUP

On The Move.

SHEIR

And on today's On The Move show, we're gonna meet a guy on a road trip to visit late presidents. We'll hear from soldiers learning to move after devastating injuries. We'll go on a world-wind tour of an election campaign where the candidates are anything but scripted. And we'll hang out with local skateboarders and find out how D.C.'s skateboarding scene is really taking off.

SHEIR

But first, when it comes to moving around -- All right. So I'm heading over toward H Street and 8th -- many of us rely on our eyes -- Waiting for the signal to change -- and our ears. Lots of people on the sidewalk. But what happens when we're navigating space and we don't have access to the latter.

MR. ROBERT SIRVAGE

Hearing people can hear what's occurring behind them, so deaf people are taking advantage of other cues to what's happening in their space.

SHEIR

This is Robert Sirvage.

SIRVAGE

And I am a sign language user and I'm utilizing right now a voice interpreter to interpret my remarks.

SHEIR

Robert works at Gallaudet University.

SIRVAGE

And I hold two positions there.

SHEIR

One position in the deaf studies department. And the other …

SIRVAGE

In the office of design and planning, specializing in deafspace and its research.

SHEIR

Deafspace refers to space that's been optimized for use by deaf people who primarily rely on vision and touch to navigate the world, right. So an interior deafspace might feature wider stairs and hallways, plenty of light, and seating areas arranged in circles or semicircles, but what about an exterior deafspace? Well, that's where Robert Sirvage comes in with his latest research, which he conducted, by the way, right here on H Street Northeast.

SIRVAGE

What I did was have two different groups, each of them in dyads of two, navigating the space, one group using sign language and the other using spoken English.

SHEIR

This afternoon Robert's brought along a pair of signers to reenact the experiment. Gallaudet students Jamie Hardman and Zack Ennis (ph). Robert gives each one a little GoPro video camera …

SIRVAGE

Put that on, the head-mounted camera.

SHEIR

… which captures a 170-degree span of vision.

SIRVAGE

As compared to a normal camera, which typically has only about a 35-degree angle.

SHEIR

He then asks the pair to start talking as they walk down H Street.

SIRVAGE

And I'm gonna have you just keep on going until you get the Liberty Tree restaurant. I'll meet you there. You just go ahead and start walking.

SHEIR

And as Jamie and Zack walk and talk, Robert will test how often they experience what he calls …

SIRVAGE

Visual convergence.

SHEIR

In other words, how often Jamie has Zack in her visual field and vice versa. Sign-language users require a ton of visual convergence since they use their hands, faces and bodies to convey meaning.

SHEIR

So I'm assuming then if you were testing hearing people walking in dyads like this, they're probably wouldn't be as much visual convergence.

SHEIR

That's true. And that was exactly the result that the data showed.

SHEIR

Because after all, if your language is verbal and auditory, you don't require as much eye contact. I mean I could be standing behind you or in front of you and you'd still hear me talking, but if you're language is more kinetic and visual, like sign language is, then you do need that visual convergence. Get this though, as Jamie and Zack take off down the street in front of me and Robert …

SIRVAGE

Oh, we'd better speed up a little bit. You can see they're going much faster than us. We'll have to catch up.

SHEIR

We both observe a pretty interesting thing. Even though Zack and Jamie are maintaining a lot of visual convergence, they're not bumping into other pedestrians or lamp posts or anything like that. And once we get to the Liberty Tree restaurant …

SHEIR

We've reached our destination.

SIRVAGE

Yes. Just right over there on the corner.

SHEIR

… Jamie Hardman explains, through an interpreter, how she and Zack were able to do that.

MS. JAMIE HARDMAN

While I was talking, he was looking at me. And if I moved my eyes in any sense of a way that showed that there was a barrier or something, he immediately knew to look ahead and to check his environment.

SHEIR

So because of that visual convergence, deaf people are especially attuned to all sorts of cues from their conversational partner. As Robert Sirvage shares his data with me, all sorts of bar graphs and pie charts representing different conversational pairs, he says you should never underestimate the power of eye contact or, as we so often say, seeing eye to eye.

SIRVAGE

You do see here that these two right here, with these very small areas of visual convergence, they scored very lowly on that. In fact, they later divorced.

SHEIR

That's very telling.

SIRVAGE

You know, we don’t know if it really is predictive, but…

SHEIR

But the main question here, the main point is how can all of these findings be applied to something like urban planning?

SIRVAGE

When we think about what's required to build healthy community fabrics, we typically consider community places where people stop and stand or sit, but that's not true at all. We actually make varying connections as we navigate space. So it's important for us, then, to consider the fact that we have so many people here in D.C., for example, that commute. And that commute is one point wherein community fabric may be built into that process.

SHEIR

That's why Robert Sirvage advocates for such city elements as wider sidewalks, so deaf people can walk side by side, better lit metro stations, even more reflective surfaces on buildings so deaf people can, with a glance, see what's happening behind them. But no matter whether we're talking about buildings, sidewalks, train stations or the street, it's crucial, he says, that the framework of urban planning considers one specific thing.

SIRVAGE

Human dignity. And what does human dignity mean within that frame? We have to start with that philosophical question, what does the dignity of the human being mean in that context and then move on from there.

SHEIR

To see images and results from Robert Sirvage's peripatetic convergence research project visit our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We'll get a move on now from H Street to the American road, as we meet a guy who's on a very particular kind of road trip. You could say Brady Carlson has a bit of a fixation with U.S. presidents, not the living, breathing ones mind you, but rather the more than three dozen heads of state who are no longer with us. His journey to visit and blog about every presidential grave site began right here in the D.C. region, where four U.S. presidents have been laid to rest. Jacob Fenston tagged along with Carlson to find out what these graves say about the men they memorialize.

FENSTON

I met Brady Carlson at Arlington National Cemetery where two U.S. presidents are buried. President Kennedy's pretty easy to find, just follow the tour busses, but William Howard Taft? His grave is hidden behind the huge memorial to women in service.

FENSTON

I don't see any signs for it. I see Women's Memorial signs.

MR. BRADY CARLSON

By the time you start to see signs for this gravesite, you're kind of already there.

FENSTON

This is one of the first stops on Carlson's journey to visit very president's grave. Each grave, he says, reflects something about the man beneath the marble. For example, the fact that Taft's grave is obscured by a grander monument …

CARLSON

It's almost fitting that his memorial is overshadowed by another, because in life, he was always overshadowed by another president.

FENSTON

Carlson lives in New Hampshire, which boasts one gravesite. This project will take him all over the country, visiting 18 states and all 38 dead presidents.

CARLSON

It does strike me as a little morbid. I think it's that I can't meet them in person, so this is as close as I'm ever going to get.

FENSTON

Carlson isn't alone in this obsession with presidents and their graves. It turns out visiting presidents' graves is a legitimate hobby, and it's one that got presidential historian Richard Norton Smith hooked at a young age.

MR. RICHARD HORTON SMITH

The first gravesite that I actually visited -- in fact, it was exactly 50 years ago. It was in the summer of 1962.

FENSTON

That was a few months before Smith's ninth birthday, the first of many fun-filled family vacations.

SMITH

Well, you know, it was the classic station-wagon-from-hell, you know, vacation. And we'd go off for two weeks, and I would basically plan the itinerary.

FENSTON

And, of course, it always included the gravesite of some obscure president.

SMITH

I think what draws you to a gravesite is not the site itself, I mean, that's part of it, obviously. But, you know, there's nothing more democratic than death. All of us will confront it. And how we confront it may be as revealing of character, and certainly as dramatic, as anything else that occurs in life.

MS. ANNE HARMON

So we're walking downstairs to the crypt level, which the word crypt simply means hidden.

FENSTON

Anne Harmon is the visitor programs manager here at one of the gravesites. But first, a little presidential trivia. Four presidents are buried in the D.C. metro region, but only one is buried in the District of Columbia. Any guesses? Here's a hint.

HARMON

He was president of Princeton University and following that he was the governor of New Jersey.

FENSTON

Okay. One more hint. This president famously said of World War I …

HARMON

We're going to make this the war to end all wars. We're going to make the world safe for democracy.

FENSTON

If you guessed Woodrow Wilson, you're right. The 28th president of the United States is buried at the National Cathedral in Northwest D.C. When Wilson died in 1924, only one small section of the cathedral was completed, so that's where he was buried. In 1956, he was moved upstairs to the main nave. Harmon says these days, President Wilson gets a lot of visitors.

HARMON

Yes, actually we do have quite a few visitors who are going to various places all over the country to see the final resting places our presidents.

FENSTON

Of course, one of the most-visited presidential graves is across the Potomac in Mt. Vernon, Virginia.

MS. ANGIE TOPPINGS

George Washington's remains are within the sarcophagus on the right. Martha Washington's remains are with the sarcophagus on the left.

FENSTON

Tour guide, Angie Toppings, is pointing out the two marble boxes holding the first president and his wife. Each year a million visitors pass through the gates of Washington's Mt. Vernon estate, and many stop here at the tomb to pay their respects, including hordes of school kids, like Taylor Hopper, here on her senior trip from Springstead High School in Florida.

MISS TAYLOR HOPPER

It's just really inspiring, 'cause you think about all the things, like, he did, you know, like, and he wasn't very old, like, when he died. So, like, he just did so much in such a short span of lifetime. So it just makes you think, like, you can do that too.

FENSTON

Meanwhile, Brady Carlson, who's visiting all the presidents' graves, is back home, blogging about his trip to D.C. Seeing Washington's tomb, he writes, put him in the state of breathless hyper-giddiness of a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.

CARLSON

But as great as the trip to D.C. was, we still got a lot more work to do, a whole lot more presidents to visit. So here …

FENSTON

That's Carlson in a video he recently posted on his blog. Next up, he's heading to the Midwest to Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, and Michigan, the land of Gerald Ford. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

You can see photos of the D.C. region's presidential graves and find a link to Brady Carlson's blog on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break, but when we get back, finding your stride after a life-changing injury on the battle front.

STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER RYAN WALKER

And you can see other people doing stuff instead of being like, well, I can't do that 'cause I don't have arms. It's like, oh, that guy's doing it. I can do it.

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," where this week we are on the move. So let's see, we've already done some late presidential road-tripping, some scientific strolling and in just a few minutes we're gonna do some skateboarding. First though, we're gonna meet some people who are working hard to regain their stride. They're injured soldiers who lost limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan. Emily Kopp stopped by the Amputee Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda to see what it's like to learn how to walk, and even run, after a devastating injury on the battlefield.

MS. EMILY KOPP

It's like your local health club, deep in the bowels of Walter Reed. There are treadmills, a climbing wall, reclining bikes and an indoor track that Staff Sgt. Christopher Ryan Walker says is just a bit different.

WALKER

When you see the hangers hanging over there, where people put on the harness and you can actually walk without the fear of falling and stuff when you first start out, which is a big deal, especially when you don't have hands to catch yourself.

KOPP

Amputees come here to meet their therapists and work up a sweat. They've got goals big and small.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

I really want to get back to X-Box. I love sports, college football, of course, Florida Gators, that's my team.

KOPP

Out of privacy concerns Walter Reed asked that we not reveal this soldier's name.

CAPT. ERIK JOHNSON

Pull, pull, pull, pull, pull. All right. We're gonna push a little bit more.

KOPP

As he arm wrestles his therapist and his fiance listens in, he says there's another reason why the swelling in his reconstructed left hand has to subside.

MAN

I want to be able to wear my wedding ring. So I gotta get that thing down.

KOPP

So he submits to something his therapist, Erik Johnson, calls torture tape. That means taping down every knuckle into a tight fist.

JOHNSON

You're doing good. I know. That's the last one, that's the last one. Just hold what you got, hold what you got. Zero out of ten, what would you say?

MAN

Ten.

JOHNSON

Just remember 10 probably was when you got your legs blown off. So …

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

That's what I tell him.

MAN

9.5.

KOPP

At any given time, about 150 soldiers get this type of tough love at Walter Reed. Before the center opened, military hospitals usually performed the necessary surgeries, then sent the patients home. Major David Rozelle says that didn't work so well.

MAJ. DAVID ROSELLE

And then we're supposed to be taken care of, I guess, by our mothers in this 1950's system that was set up by the Veteran's Administration. I didn't want any part of that. So I went back to my unit, recovered at my unit, and then went back to war. While I was at war things were developing in D.C., the perfect storm with BRAC and everything else, to build this Amputee Center.

KOPP

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill saw injured soldiers weren't dying of these wounds. Researchers create a prosthetic that let amputees do things that had been impossible, like walking backwards. And a soft-spoken sports therapist, who saw amputees as no different than athletes, became the center's director, Chuck Scoville.

DR. CHARLES SCOVILLE

When I first come in we do a lot of the core strengthening, the balance-type drills. We get them into their prosthetic devices, starting them with walking. We do throwing a football around, throwing a Frisbee around, doing kind of rope pulls, things you'd see other professional athletes do in a sports facility.

KOPP

Lose your leg below the knee? Scoville says treat it like an ankle sprain. Above the knee? It's just like an ACL injury, tough, but Scoville says it's all to get the patients where they want to be.

SCOVILLE

Our goal is when they leave they can do everything they want to do. For some of them that's summiting Mt. McKinley or summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. For over 300 it's been returning to active duty, doing what they did before they got injured there. Some of them, it's going out, starting their own businesses. Some have recently competed in the Paralympics.

KOPP

Many amputees, though, want nothing more than their independence. Christopher Ryan Walker lost both arms and a leg in Afghanistan. He considers getting dressed by himself one of his first big achievements.

WALKER

Shirts weren't too kind at first 'cause you kinda get lost in the shirt, but I've gotten it down now like just as if I had hands. I just put my arms through it and throw it over now. It's a little different taking it off. I've got to like bit it and pull it up and flip it over, but it's pretty easy. Like, pants, it's like a big routine. You gotta sit up, sit down, like lean against the wall to do this. And it's just work-arounds for everything.

KOPP

He's not complaining. He says that's hard to do here.

WALKER

Oh, yeah, because then you can see other people doing stuff. Instead of being like, well, I can't do that because I don't have arms. It's like, oh, that guy's doing it. I can do it.

KOPP

That is something David Rozelle says amputees can't find elsewhere.

ROSELLE

I guess it was two years ago now, I remember walking outside and listening to one Marine in a wheelchair with missing both legs above the knee, talking to another Marine in a wheelchair missing both legs above the knee, telling him to quit complaining and to get serious about his rehab. If he wanted to go back and fight with other Marines, he needed to get his head in the game and get ready for that.

KOPP

About a quarter of the patients here eventually return to active duty. The rest move on. To prepare them for a life in a world of narrow grocery aisles, stairs and public restrooms, therapists lead tours of Trader Joes and other places in Bethesda. You may see them around town. I'm Emily Kopp.

SHEIR

Our next story is about a guy who's moving on out of his job. Dennis Martire is not a household name, but until this week, he had an important job on the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority or MWAA. That's the entity that's overseeing the $6 billion Silver Line project at Dulles Airport. In recent months MWAA's spending and ethical practices have come under intense scrutiny. A scathing Washington Post editorial criticized Martire by name, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell attempted to remove Martire from the MWAA board.

SHEIR

The two sides just settled their legal battle, and several days ago Martire agreed to step down after his final board meeting. Transportation reporter Martin Di Caro recently met up with Martire, who says he defends the Airports Authority, including its controversial plan that would have Dulles toll-road users covering 75 percent of the costs of the Silver Line project's second phase.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

Why did you decide to settle with McDonnell administration and step down?

MR. DENNIS MARTIRE

I decided to step down just because, number one, it was a major distraction of the real thing that's going on out there and that's building the Silver Line. The Silver Line is such a major infrastructure project for the area and my dispute with the governor and him trying to remove me was becoming a major distraction. And I felt that to actually move the board forward and move the agenda forward it was best for me to come to terms with the governor and at the same time, not have a governor just remove me.

CARO

Many of our listeners are not familiar with you or any of the board members for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. However, the federal secretary of transportation, Ray LaHood, himself wrote a letter to MWAA. It did not name you, but it did allude to, "excessive board spending on air travel meals and wine," as well as other, "questionable dealings." The Washington Post did name you in a scathing editorial, in which it criticized some of the travel that you had. You say you've done nothing wrong. Do you still believe that?

MARTIRE

That's correct. I mean, the board has a travel policy that has been in the papers for years now as controversial. We have a policy that allows us to go to airport conferences. It's not like we pull out a globe and spin it and say we're going here today. The Airport Authority provides us a list of conferences that they feel will help us get more educated about the aviation industry. It's the only way board members like us can all get educated on to what the realities of the industry are, where the industry is going and what trends there are out there that could make our airports better each and every day.

CARO

How did you feel personally when the Washington Post wrote that editorial, naming you right at the top of it?

MARTIRE

Yeah, it was clearly political. I mean, I don't really let the politics of the day bother me very much, but it was clearly political. I do work for a labor union. There's no doubt that the governor of Virginia and Congressman Wolf, both Republicans from Virginia, do not like labor.

CARO

The state legislature in Virginia and the McDonnell administration approved $150 million for funding for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which is roughly $3 billion. The federal government has no funding for Phase 2. So the burden to fund and finance that project is falling on the shoulders of toll-road users of the Dulles Toll Road. Is it fair to make toll-road users subsidize a rail project?

MARTIRE

Look, I live in Loudoun County and I'll have to take that toll road just like everybody else every single day. And for our elected officials to punt this to MWAA and to Fairfax County and to Loudoun County to pick up the tab and the toll-road riders is a disgrace. It's not fair.

CARO

I wanna challenge you on that. The lack of federal funding is directly the result of the project not meeting FDA criteria for ridership and you are aware of that, of course. So if such an enormous project cannot receive more federal funding right from the outset, should it even be built in the first place?

MARTIRE

Well, then why did the federal government provide $900 million for the first phase? Did they really only want it to go to Reston? And is that where they wanted it to end? If they wanted it to end there, then they should have just said we're only gonna provide $900 million and let's end it right there. But no this project is going to one of our major airports and beyond. I gotta believe the federal government will have to pony up more money.

MARTIRE

Secretary LaHood has really put his long arm into the process of procurement. He's put his long-arm process into how MWAA is gonna be run, and I wish he'd put his long arm into his pocket and make sure that we put more money into this project because it's a disgrace that the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia is not funding this project.

CARO

As you step down from this board, which as I mentioned before is in the public spotlight now because it's running this huge project, is there anything else you want to say?

MARTIRE

I regret that -- we, as an agency, we're putting it out the right way and it was going very well. And I regret that they've kind of stumbled that a little bit and made us look bad. But I still think, at the end of the day, this project will be built, Phase 2, with a project labor agreement again. And it'll be voluntary, but it still will be under our project labor agreement. And I think that then we'll build this thing on time and on budget and safe. And by 2017 you're gonna have rail to Dulles and beyond, but the tolls are still my major concern. And if we don't figure out that mix on how we're gonna get those down, this could be a boondoggle if it's built out there with, you know, $10 tolls.

SHEIR

That was Dennis Martire, a union official and former member of the board of MWAA, speaking with WAMU's Martin Di Caro. And we're wondering, how do you feel about the Dulles Toll Road toll hike scheduled for January? You can email us at metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

So, thus far in our on the move show, we've talked about, what, getting around on foot, by car, by train, but our next story focuses on a whole different kind of locomotion, skateboarding. Now, it's not a news flash to say skateboarders have been a fixture on D.C. streets for quite a while now. But long time enthusiasts say, the sport is really taking off, right now. And appealing to a broader base of boarders than ever before. Lauren Landau hit the streets and the skate parks to bring us the story.

MS. LAUREN LANDAU

Skateboarder, Daniel Kim, chuckles as his two youngest students sit on their boards and ride down a skate ramp. Milo and Iyad are 3 and 4 years old, respectively and thrilled by their new skateboards which they mainly use as sleds. Kim grabs their attention and flips over his board exposing it's stickered and scratched belly.

MR. DANIEL KIM

So this is the board, these are the trucks and these are the wheels. Iyad, do you know what this is called here?

MR. IYAD

Trucks.

KIM

The trucks. And what is this called right here?

IYAD

Wheel.

KIM

Yeah.

LANDAU

Kim has been skating in D.C. for about a decade. He says, in recent years, the local skate scene has become younger, more diverse and much larger. And so he recently started Street Smart Skate, a school dedicated to teaching proper skateboarding skills and technique.

KIM

Everywhere I go, I see a lot of new younger kids. And a lot of them really are just sitting on their skateboards, you know, on their knees and just pushing with their hands. They like skateboarding but they just don't know what to do on the skateboard.

KIM

Today he's at Shaw Skate Park teaching kids how to turn on their skateboards.

KIM

Put your weight on the back of the board, on the very edge and then when you turn, you have to turn with your hips and your shoulder, ok? Like this. Can you try that?

LANDAU

One of his young protégés is 9-year-old, Cordell Green who hopes to one day become a professional skateboarder. He's only been skating for two years but Cordell is landing tricks that guys twice his age struggle to perform.

MR. CORDELL GREEN

My brother's really good and all these other people are teaching me how to do like bigger ollie's and all these different tricks. Daniel Kim and Darren Harper and Bobby Worst (sp?) , they all help me when I a difficult tricks.

LANDAU

Cordell comes to Shaw Skate Park every day, usually with his Dad. Kevin Green says skateboarding has a positive effect on his kids.

MR. KEVIN GREEN

I've watched how this whole relationship with skateboarding have brought them into focus in a way that, as a parent, I probably would not of been able to see, so early. Skateboarding has allowed them to take on something that gives them a desire to try something, fail at it, but continue to work until they get it.

LANDAU

New skate parks, along with events like National Go Skateboarding Day, have increased local interest in this sport. But Kim says, pop culture is also a factor.

KIM

I feel like the influence of that was through rap, hip hop, you know, a lot of prominent rappers these days like Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, Odd Future, they all kind of started wearing skateboarding clothes, putting some shine on skateboarding. They even rap about skateboarding, so I guess once kids started hearing about that they're like, OK, they felt like it was cool.

LANDAU

Just a few years ago, most D.C. skaters were white men in their teens and 20s but Kim says, that's no longer the case.

KIM

Nowadays, you'll see a bunch of young black kids around 9 to 17-year-olds. It's completely different. Like, I would say about, like, 75 percent of the skateboarders in D.C. are black males.

LANDAU

Pro-skater Darren Harper is known as the "Obama of skateboarding." I met up with him at Freedom Plaza, where we talked about D.C.'s evolving skate scene. He says he encourages kids to defy stereotypes and embrace skateboarding.

MR. DARREN HARPER

The kid who lives in the hood, he's going to have to face his peers, as far as like maybe looking at them, like, Yo, we don't do that here. Like, we in the hood, nobody ride no skateboard. You know what I'm saying, so you got to face that. My thing is, I try to dedicate my skill, my swag, to just showing them, like, you can do it. I'm -- I'm as real in the hood as they come. You know, it don't get no real-er than me.

LANDAU

In the late 80s, Harper was living in a rough neighborhood in Southeast when he found a discarded skateboard. He now says skateboarding saved his life. And is a healthy way for kids to stay out of trouble.

HARPER

For the most part, this skating keeps them active and I know, when I came up, you know, when there was negative things going on, half of the time skateboarding kept me away from that because I was down here, I was able to leave the neighborhood and the block and get away from the violence and everything that was going on.

LANDAU

Ironically, skateboarders are often regarded as rebels and rule breakers. And to be fair, some of them are, but Kim says skateboarders are often misjudged.

KIM

Most people kind of misinterpret skateboarding. Like, if we're skateboarding in the downtown area, in the buildings, security guards or just random pedestrians would freak out. They just look at it, like, we're doing something horrible when really it's just us, just purely, just trying to have a good time and just trying to skateboard and we don't have any bad intentions.

LANDAU

Kim predicts that schools will eventually promote skateboarding as a serious sport like football or baseball. But for now, skate school is held wherever Kim and his students role take. I'm Lauren Landau.

SHEIR

After the break, it's Book-end, our monthly conversation with D.C. writers. This time we'll hear from Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward P. Jones.

MR. EDWARD P. JONES

You find, of course, that so many people that wake up in the morning have an idea for a story and they go with it before they even know what the conclusion will be. I don't particularly like asking myself, what should come next.

SHEIR

It'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 going up, down and all around with a show we are calling, On The Move. Earlier in the hour, we learned the ins and outs of navigating the city as a deaf person and we met wounded soldiers who are re-learning how to move and get on with life. We've also heard from a guy on a road trip to visit the final resting places of our nations Presidents. And speaking of our nations Presidents...

#1

My fellow Americans, you know who I am. I am the current president of the United States of America. America, when you've elected me as the first openly gay Asia/Hispanic American as president of this fine nation of ours, we were in a deep hole.

SHEIR

Okay, obviously, in the real world, this guy isn't actually our nations President, but in a black box theater in Northwest D.C., he's every bit the commander and chief.

MR. MARK CHALFANT

We're sort of creating a parallel universal for each performance. So it's not exactly our world, but it kind of rhymes with our world, if you will.

SHEIR

That's Mark Chalfant, the artistic and executive director of Washington Improv Theater or WIT. He's also the director of POTUS Among Us, WIT's once every four years send up of the American Presidential election cycle. I recently sat down with Chalfant at Source, WIT's home, near 14th and U to chat about the show, which began two election cycles ago in 2004.

CHALFANT

And it was this great experience for all the artists involved and we were sad, at the time, that, you know, it's really the kind of show that's only enjoyable when we're really in the thick of the campaign. Once this is over, I think, we're all going to be grateful to go back to our regular lives. But it's a great way to participate in the process by making art about it.

SHEIR

So are you trying to make comments and commentary about what happens in America during the election, is it just for fun?

CHALFANT

It's a mix of both. I mean, on the one hand, it's just a completely comedic, artistic experience that gives people, you know, an hour, hour and a half away from the real world and the grind of watching polls bounce up and down and wondering what it all means. But on the other hand, it really is an exploration of if an audience in a theater is treated like the public of America, what are the choices that they'll make and what are the ways they will guide a show forward when asked? So, for example, last night, at the top of the show, five candidates presented stump speeches, we had a governor in the mix...

#1

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, you all know me. I'm Prudence Meriwether Scold, governor of Georgia.

CHALFANT

We had a senator in the mix...

#2

As many of you know, I'm Thomas Church. I've been serving the people of Iowa in the U.S. Congress.

CHALFANT

And neither of those two who had actual governing experience advanced into the show. The audience was much more interested in a frat boy...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3

My name is Chad Renner. You probably don't know me. I'm at the University of Texas. I won the Sobe, so you think you can be president contest.

CHALFANT

And a Golden Corral waitress who does cos-play as a Star Trek commander...

#2

Live long and prosper. These are words that you've all heard before, but they mean a lot to me.

SHEIR

So how do you decide which five candidates are going to be stumping every night? Because it rotates, right?

CHALFANT

Yes, it rotates. The full cast of the show is 19 performers. And on any given night, 13 people are in. And the casting for the candidates is mostly about just creating an interesting diversity of players. So each -- each performer in improv has different go-to's, a certain style on whether you're very cerebral or very physical, verbal, emotional, are you more of an actor or are you more of a thinker, all of those things. So, just -- as the director, I'm just trying to create a fun mix.

SHEIR

And then in terms of the show itself, obviously, it's improv so things are being made up on the spot. But there is kind of an arc to the show. How much is scripted versus off the cuff?

CHALFANT

So, yeah, the overall structure is scripted in terms of beginning the show at, sort of, a primary night selection process and ending the show with an actual election process and a victory speech by whoever the winning candidate is. In between those things there will usually be a debate of some sort but it could be the Presidential candidates, it could be Vice Presidents, it could be first ladies, we had a first lady debate at one of our rehearsals and it was hilarious. So it's pretty flexible. We know that we're dealing a lot with media matters in the show. So there's a lot of in the street reporting and there might be, like, a panel show of pundits but none of that is hardwired in.

CHALFANT

I think the helpful way for us to think of it is, there's a really long ala-cart menu of things we might order each night but it's going to change with each performance. And then the other factor is, the audience, we're trying to really engage the audience at different moments in the show and things that they say might steer us in different directions. So, like, last night, an audience member suggested that some problems in America could be solved by giving everyone free beer.

CHALFANT

And that sort of immediately found its way into one of the candidates strategies and there were keggers going on, you know, in communities across the country.

SHEIR

Some of the things that happened in the performance I saw, there was a scandal...

#3

Breaking news, cheating allegations, the Daily Texas has broken it wide open. Did Chad Renner cheat in his Sobe submission?

UNDENTIFIED MAN #4

The American people have never looked kindly upon cheaters.

#3

No.

#4

Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater.

SHEIR

There was some mudslinging in commercials. Are these specific things that you thought we could do on certain nights, part of that ala-cart menu?

CHALFANT

Sure, scandals and attacks ads are definitely things that we have talked about as a cast and thrown around in rehearsal. But the details of, like, how to execute them and who can, you know, initiate them, that's not scripted. It's all of us ordering from that menu at once and trying to play with each other and make the show happen. And so, how's the audience dealing that and who are they choosing that they think can actually lead them forward? Like, at last night's show, it was somebody who is a fictitious commander of a Star Trek space ship, like, she won, yikes, I guess. Yeah...

SHEIR

To be fair, her Vice President was a governor.

CHALFANT

Okay. Yes. Yes, she was. It was a female-female ticket. So it's also clearly a progressive politics show.

SHEIR

Well, Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

CHALFANT

Thank you very much, it was a pleasure.

SHEIR

Mark Chalfant runs Washington Improv Theater where he's directing POTUS Among Us, running it's source through November 5th. For more on the show, visit our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

For the past few weeks, we've brought you interviews recorded at the Storycorp mobile booth in Arlington, Va. Storycorp is the oral history project that gives Americans the chance to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. This time around, we'll hear from Percy White III and his friend Terry Wright who talk about growing up African-American in very different family situations.

MR. PERCY WHITE III

I am named after my father, Percy Ell White, Jr., who was named after his father, Percy Ell White, Sr. So I do love saying my name because I get to remember all of my other -- my other family. But my mother's father, Arthur Wright, is something you and I would joke about because his last name is the same as yours.

MS. TERRY WRIGHT

Right.

III

Wright.

WRIGHT

So my last name of Wright is a man my mother knew that was married to at some point but I do not know who my father is. So, as you have like a very rich family history and knowledge of it, I don't, unfortunately. But I think that's why we have been very interested in each other, you're trying to help me find mine and I probably know more about your family history than you even do.

III

But I would love to know more about yours.

WRIGHT

Well, so my mother's Caucasian, my siblings are Caucasian and I was born one week after Martin Luther King was assassinated. So that was April 4, 1968 and I was born April 11, 1968. So I can't imagine that time, a white woman's giving birth and here comes a black child out of her, you know. And what all that meant. It just is mind boggling.

III

In hindsight, do you have any feelings attached to that?

WRIGHT

I do. I grew up in a suburb of Buffalo, it's called Grand Island. And it was predominately all white. And I actually grew up at a foster home because my mother struggled with alcohol and then later died from that. And...

III

Were you the only African-American in school, in your class?

WRIGHT

There was, like, a couple I could probably count on my hand, one hand. But they had the support of their black family. So I was the only one in that situation of Who am I? But I don't know if I actually shared something with you, as I was growing up. I had come outside to play and there in the yard was a burnt cross. And so I am thinking it's against God, you know, I was brought up Catholic. And my foster Mom knew about it, everybody knew about it.

WRIGHT

And it was, like, a big secret. And then I happened to see a Ku-Klux-Klan movie. But it all hit me at once. I saw these huge crosses, I'm like, Oh, my gosh. I was furious, but also disappointed, sad. I was upset by my foster parents, like, you put me in danger. I needed to have this information. And I think they were trying to protect me. But I felt like, I need information in order to protect myself. So I think that's why I will always treasure our relationship because as you force me to look at who I am, you know, it -- it just helps.

III

And thank you, I do like learning about history and sharing it with you when you and I get to talking about it and meeting different people. So I feel very blessed.

SHEIR

That was Percy White III and Terry Wright at the Storycorp mobile booth in Arlington, Va. The mobile booth departs this weekend, but thanks so much to everyone who came by over the past month to share their tales.

SHEIR

We end today's show with "Bookend," our monthly look at D.C.'s literary scene. Today we bring you a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward P. Jones, author of, "The Known World," "All Aunt Hagar's Children," and "Lost in the City." The book that first put Jones on the literary map. This month marks the 20th anniversary re-release of "Lost in the City." Jones talked with Jonathan Wilson about what the book means to him now.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

In terms of looking back at how you wrote back then, do you notice things that you wouldn't do now if you wrote the same stories?

JONES

I think, the stories in "Lost in the City," are generally the length of typically stories. And I don't think I could ever go back to doing those. I find that I'm more interested in stories that read like novels, but still are maybe just a few pages longer than the stories in "Lost in the City," which is why you get the stories in "All Aunt Hagar's Children," are a tad longer and they are more complex and there are many more characters. So I can't see myself doing anything generally like I did in "Lost in the City." I was there and I did my best and now my brain is in a different place.

WILSON

I've read some of the things you've said in previous interviews about your writing process. And I know you famously said that you spent 10 years on the known world, just in your own head before really writing too much down. You've also said that, as far as your next book, if nothing comes, nothing comes, then you will go on. Do you in some ways see your work as out of your control, as something that just comes to you and you can't really work on it or, I don't know, how do you characterize it?

JONES

You find, of course, that so many people that wake up in the morning have an idea for a story and they go with it before they even know what the conclusion will be. I don't particularly like asking myself what should come next. That conclusion is like a star in the sky and from the first word, I'm always traveling toward that star in the sky. It sort of keeps you -- as I've said, it keeps you honest. Because if you don't know where you're going to end up, then you find yourself all over the place. But if the star is there and you're moving toward that, it sort of keeps you on a better path.

WILSON

So you never start with just simply a character that you like? You really have an idea of where the end of your story is going to be?

JONES

Yeah, I -- you know, you might be sitting on the Metro, you might be walking up and down the aisles of Safeway and all of a sudden in your head, for no reason, no reason whatsoever, a woman is walking out of a cornfield with a gun in her hand and behind her -- behind her in the cornfield is a house on fire. When she gets out of the cornfield, you can see blood on her dress and she goes up to a house, that the reader should know is not her house, she doesn't knock, she simply opens the door. Now, you have that and you can live with that for weeks or month or something, the whole thing is to try to find out the why of it.

JONES

And to come to some sort of logical and real conclusion. But, you know, I'm not in it to cure cancer so if I never come to a reason why the woman has blood on her dress and has a gun in her hand and all the rest of it, then the world will survive. But it's a challenge and in days when you do come up with a conclusion, it's fun.

WILSON

Getting back to this first book that you've got published, and the fact that it's the 20 year anniversary, when you think about what ties those stories together and what it means to you now, I mean, what would you say to somebody who's arriving at that work, freshly, hasn't read any of your other work? What would you say to kind of give them a primer?

JONES

Well, yeah, the first book of stories, there are 14 and I didn't think that I would ever, you know, have a reason to revisit any of those people in those stories. And three or four years after the book came out, I started envisioning major and minor characters in "Lost in the City," having their own stories as well.

JONES

So I would, of course, want people to read both books but if you start with "Lost in the City," which you should do, read the first story and -- and then the first story in "All Aunt Hagar's Children," they're related in that way. And then the second story in "Lost in the City," and then the second story in "All Aunt Hagar's Children," all the way to the 14.

WILSON

All right, Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Known World" and "All Aunt Hagar's Children," and of course, "Lost in the City" which is now available with a new introduction written by the author himself to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its publication. Thank you so much for joining us on WAMU.

JONES

Thank you for inviting me.

SHEIR

The anniversary edition of "Lost in the City" is now available from Amistad Press in paperback. And if you're an Edward P. Jones fan, you can catch him, Saturday at 6:00 p.m. at Politics and Pros.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jonathan Wilson, Jacob Fenston, Martin Di Caro and Lauren Landau, along with reporter Emily Kopp. Our acting news director is Memo Lyons, our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Benin. 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. 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.

SHEIR

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 bring you our annual Haunted D.C. show. We'll talk with a man who spent his childhood convinced he was haunted by the ghost of a young girl. We'll check out some of the spookier spots in historic Annapolis and we'll bring a spiritual medium to Fauquier County, Va., to visit a house whose previous and current owners both say they hear things going bump in the night.

WOMAN

And it wasn't until we'd lived here a few months that we started hearing things in the night and just wondering what else was in the house with us.

SHEIR

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