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November 26 2013


Transom » Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers November 4th, 2013 | by Aaron Henkin with Wendel Patrick Previous Sidebar | Next Sidebar Aaron Henkin of WYPR-Baltimore talks about talking to strangers, a multimedia learning resource compiled for the Transom Online Workshop (supported by the Knight Foundation). –Barrett G Recording Strangers: 3300 Greenmount Ave., Baltimore, Maryland We all are raised not to talk to strangers. But what if it wasn’t that way? What if we just naturally wandered around talking to strangers all the time? What if you could just walk up and down the street and it was totally natural to just talk to everybody, and if was equally as natural for all those people to talk to you and tell you something real. A while ago I gave myself an assignment: I was going to meet and interview everybody who lived and worked on one city block in Baltimore. I was going to record all these disparate, simultaneous realities, all these lives and hopes and fears and goals and regrets, all these human existences separated from each other by nothing more than the adjacent walls of this one city block. So we chose the 3300 block of Greenmount Avenue. I spent four months hanging out there pretty much every day, asking complete strangers to tell me their life stories. I can report to you that it is, in fact, not always easy to talk to strangers, namely because strangers are also raised not to talk to strangers. And on the 3300 block Greenmount Avenue, I was the stranger. So I took a leap of faith. But really more importantly what all these other folks did entrusting their stories to me that was an even bigger leap of faith. And this little seed of an idea, this social experiment, totally founded in mutual trust, turned into something important to me, meaningful and kind of beautiful. “Out of the Blocks”: One hour, one city block, everybody’s story. Interviews by Aaron Henkin. Musical score by Wendel Patrick. Premiered 2011 on WYPR-Baltimore (and nationally on Hearing Voices from NPR): Audio player needs Flash9+ (download) and JavaScript. When it aired on WYPR it clocked in at 48 minutes and 30 seconds. It was distilled down from 25 hours of interview tape. A couple quick thoughts about what I learned making this this kind radio: When you can convince people that you really just want to listen to what they have to say, that person will open their heart to you every time. When you listen to people you’re giving them a very rare and special gift. When people tell you a story, it’s like they’re singing you a song. Every voice has its own musicality, its own tone and timbre. And even just a little half-sentence fragment can go in through your ear and tell you something profound about a person’s soul. The public radio airwaves can be an echo chamber for predictable voices saying unsurprising things about familiar topics. But those same airwaves can also be a blank canvas for something different, for something a little more impressionistic, something abstract, that achieves its effect through tone and mood and juxtaposition, and honors listeners’ powers of inference and empathy. Finally, it might make you nervous. It might feel awkward. It might be very counter-intuitive, the last thing you’re inclined to do, but if you talk to strangers, it’s a guaranteed way to improve your day and theirs. My thanks and gratitude go to Baltimore electronic musician Wendel Patrick. He created all the original music for this project (and the photos below). He custom-tailored the music to the audio flow, with elements of the natural environment becoming parts of the soundtrack. He helped elevate this thing to a whole new level of artistic merit. Photographing Strangers: 3300 Greenmount Aveenue Photographs © and courtesy of Wendel Patrick “I make the chicken with a ranch dressing, garlic powder, little black pepper, little vinegar, and some little salt. Then mix a little oil on that. And that flavor taste really good. I’m kind of my own chef, yeah.” –Mamadou Diawara in the kitchen at King’s Fried Chicken, 3300 Greenmount“We Muslims, we have a greeting — as salaam alaikum –and I like it a lot because before you even shake the person’s hand, you invite peace to you and that person. We should all be about peace, you know.” –Zeeshawn Kasmi at King’s Fried Chicken, 3300 GreenmountUncle Sabir at King’s Fried Chicken, 3300 GreenmountZeeshawn Kasmi (with Uncle Sabir at left) at Kings Fried Chicken, 3300 Greenmount“We’ve become a selfish generation. You should see how some of you looking at me. I’m not sure what type of preacher you’re used to, but this is what it sounds like when you’re under the sound of truth.” –Street preacher Elder Grissom, from God’s Kingdom Builders Church of Jesus Christ, at his post on the corner of 33rd & GreenmountChristine Ofoku with Wendel Patrick in front of Christine’s Discount Store, 3304 Greenmount“You can make money if you work hard. Some eleven year olds don’t like to work. They just like to stay home and sleep and eat.” –Christine Ofoku’s son, Dike, at Christine’s Discount Store, 3304 Greenmount“You have to have patience with people – be nice with them because everybody the same. I’m from Nigeria. Life turn upside down. I love my country, but I come to America to push my dream, yeah.” –Christine Ofoku in front of Christine’s Discount Store, 3304 GreenmountThe west side of Greenmount Avenue, near 33rd Street. The old Boulevard Theater is now occupied by beauty supply stores.James Carter, Jada Watson, and Mr. Dorsey, in front of Dreams Boutique, 3308 Greenmount“Nothing feels better than having someone feel beautiful about herself, and you been a part of that.” –Stylist Jada Watson at Kat’s Cuts in the back room of Dreams Boutique, 3308 Greenmount“Life will throw curve-balls at you, and if you ain’t ready for them you can find yourself in some real low places. I found myself in a few of those places. I don’t blame nobody for my faults.” –James Carter, giving a client a shape-up at Kat’s Cuts, in the back room of Dreams Boutique, 3308 Greenmount“I think if God was to walk into this room right now, I would say thank you for not letting me go.” –James Carter stands behind his client at Kat’s Cuts in the back room of Dreams Boutique, 3308 Greenmount“I feel as though a lot of things turned out different because at first I didn’t have God in my life. I was living on the streets. But God put us on this earth to be kind, understanding, and respectful. He never put no one here to hurt no one.” –Mr. Dorsey, looking south to 33rd Street in front of Dreams Boutique, 3308 GreenmountCurry dishes at Thai Restaurant, 3316 Greenmount“So how’s everything? You enjoy? Oh! You sweat a little bit! Good sign, you know that! Very good!” –Mr. Billy, proprietor of Thai Restaurant, 3316 Greenmount“You pick your battles. Sometimes you can almost see where if I arrest you I’m probably going to screw up your record, so it’s a lot of give and take.” –Baltimore City Police Officer Charles Faulkner of Northern District, Sector 2, patrols the 3300 block of Greenmount.Baltimore City Police Officer Charles Faulkner of Northern District, Sector 2, patrols the 3300 block of Greenmount.“I don’t like doing business. It’s my family, my parent’s restaurant. I need to take care of it. I don’t have choice. Keep my parent happy — that’s all. It’s very tired, working hard. I don’t want my family working hard. That’s why I take care of restaurant here.” –Susan Zheng at Mayflower Restaurant, 3326 GreenmountAaron Henkin (left) and Wendel Patrick (right) in front of No Limit Communications, 3330 GreenmountJamisha Richardson (left) and Teresa Marable (left) at No Limit Communications, 3330 Greenmount“In America, if you work hard you can be anything. But you have to work hard, study hard. A lot of people tell us, “Go home! What you doing here?” But I’m working hard and doing what you have to do, the right thing. That’s all.” –Risham at Moma Grocery, 3332 Greenmount“Everybody calls me ‘Momma.’ Nobody knows my name, but I’m OK with that.” –Momma at Moma Grocery, 3332 GreenmountTommy at Moma Grocery, 3332 GreenmountRisham at Moma Grocery, 3332 GreenmountRisham’s two daughters at Moma Grocery, 3332 Greenmount“We met from her brother. My son is her nephew. We’re like sisters.” –LaShawn Glasgow and Tiffany Thomas at Shear Intensity Hair Salon, 3338 GreenmountAaron Henkin interviews LaShawn Gasgow at Shear Intensity Hair Salon, 3338 Greenmount“I love what I’m doing, being my own boss, setting my own times. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. Most people don’t get a chance to live their dream.” –Tiffany Thomas styles a client at Shear Intensity Hair Salon, 3338 GreenmountDmitri in front of Stereo & Jewelry Exchange, 3349 Greenmount“We do wear guns here, as you see. Plus, we have a buzzer door. You have to get buzzed out before you leave. So that way people can’t just run out on you unless I click the button.” –Dmitri (with Ruger in shoulder holster) at Stereo & Jewelry Exchange, 3349 Greenmount“How to tell you? I didn’t imagine working here in this area. This is how it is. Whether I want it or not, I’m already here.” Dmitri (at left) with his fellow Ukrainian business partners at Stereo & Jewelry Exchange, 3349 GreenmountFrom left to right: Mr. Dorsey, James Carter, Aaron Henkin, anonymous, and Wendel Patrick Interview with the Interviewer Excerpts from a Third Coast International Audio Festival interview: Third Coast International Audio Festival:: Why did you focus on the 3300 block of Greenmount? Why not the 3200 block? 3400? Aaron Henkin: Once I picked a block, I knew the rest would be pretty much out of my control. So I was very methodical about which block I chose. I walked for many miles around Baltimore, block by block, taking notes. I wanted a block that was a commercial block, but with independent, homegrown businesses, not franchises. I wanted a block that was one of those invisible, utilitarian, self-contained, unglamorous blocks that are the real backbone of a city. I wanted a block full of people whose voices would otherwise never be on the public radio airwaves. I wanted a block where people’s workplaces would give us a great palette of sounds. 3300 Greenmount has it all. TCIAF:: How did you collaborate with the sound design and scoring? The music/SD are as prominent characters as the people we hear from. Wendel Patrick: Aaron conducted all of the interviews on site, usually at the interviewees place of business, so there was a wealth of wonderful audio surrounding each interview at my disposal. As a result, many of the tools our subjects used for their every day work became instruments in the piece. At one point, for example, you can hear a barber’s clippers as the musical anchor for his segment. TCIAF:: Did everyone on the block agree to participate? Did some need more convincing than others? Did any outright refuse? AH: Everyone was skeptical at first. Wouldn’t you be? But once I was able to make it clear that I had no agenda other than to share their stories on the radio, people put their trust in me. Twenty five addresses are in the finished piece. Three addresses are missing. One is a wig shop run by a Korean couple with whom I couldn’t get over the language barrier. One is a Chinese carryout run by a nice young guy who always politely told me he was too busy to ever talk to me. And one, ironically, is a non-profit community mediation center whose director was simply never in the office when I’d come by. TCIAF:: How did you gain the trust of the block? Presumably you didn’t exactly blend in — walking around with a microphone, headphones, asking questions, etc. AH: Add to the mic & headphones the fact that I am a tall, skinny, white dude with no logical reason to be hanging out on Greenmount & 33rd, and no, I did not blend in. But I spent every afternoon on that block for two weeks before I ever brought a microphone. I made sure to introduce myself to everyone who’d hear me out. I just kept visiting, checking in with people, asking them about their lives and their friends and neighbors, talking about how great I thought the block was and what an excellent radio story it was going to make, and pretty soon, people just expected to see me around. That’s when I started bringing the mic & headphones. WP: After about a month I began to join Aaron down on the block on a regular basis, showing the folks down there some of the photographs that I had taken of them and sharing some of my music which I think also helped to earn trust, and which was reciprocally a wonderful experience for me as well. Talking to Strangers: TED Talk Aaron Henkin is Senior Producer & Cultural Features Reporter at WYPR-Baltimore and producer of The Signal and “Talking to Strangers: Chance Encounters with Fellow Americans”. Wendel Patrick’s most recent album was titled Forthcoming. Thanks to the Knight Prototype Fund for supporting this Transom Online Workshop resource. Share:Share Related Features Signal-to-Noise SHOUT OUT: A Kid's Guide to Recording Stories Interviewers on Interviewing Transom Online Workshop Previous Sidebar | Next Sidebar Leave a Comment 3 Comments on “Talking to Strangers” kim-ohradiogirl says: Wednesday, 20 November 2013 at 4:50 pm Love this … just wondering how was the photo collage created? I love how the quote are displayed when you put your cursor over the image. Thanks. Reply Aaron Henkin says: Wednesday, 20 November 2013 at 7:30 pm Hi there Kim, Thanks for your interest, and thanks for taking the time to write. For the excellent layout of the photos on Transom (and the way the captions pop up), all props are due to Barrett Golding, who edited the entry. If you check out Barrett’s site, http://www.hearingvoices.com, you’ll get a better sense of his wide-ranging genius. The photos themselves were snapped by my partner-in-crime, Wendel Patrick. He’s a fine photographer and electronic musician, and you can check out more of his stuff at: http://www.wendelpatrick.com. All my best, Aaron Reply katherine says: Friday, 22 November 2013 at 12:23 pm Hi Aaron I must appreciate the way you take initiate and interviewed strangers, I must say it’s good to interact with strangers to know more about people.Your pictures are looking beautiful with hover effect and that captions I loved that! I hope you will carry on your initiate to remove fear of talking to strangers. Thanks Reply Leave a Comment Cancel reply Subscribe to Transom RSS Feeds for: Features Comments Podcast http://transom.org/?p=38865

July 05 2011


the radio rabbi • A r c h i v e • Rabbi Barbara Aiello

The Radio Rabbi Show Archive • Past Shows http://www.rabbibarbara.com/the_radio_rabbi_archive.html
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