Author Archive: Bill Black

I'm a baby boomer, lefty Democrat, Boston Irish Catholic, born in 1953. I work as a public affairs consultant in Washington.

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FCBA – Day 1

| June 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

Today was a relaxed day in Seattle.  We were mostly just getting ourselves situated.  Still a few riders trickling in, which involved a trip to the airport for pickup.  It was technically a “build day,” but that meant moving boxes for a few families whose apartments had been renovated by the Fuller Center.  I skipped the “build” to assemble my bike with the help and guidance of my friend and partner, Peter Asmuth.

Peter Reconnects with 2016 FCBA rider, Joseph, also known as "Pui"

Peter Reconnects with 2016 FCBA rider, Joseph, also known as “Pui”

One surprise visitor was Joseph, aka “Pui,” who rode across country last year.  He was one of the “Three Stooges,” which included Peter, Pui and Fred Smoak.  They were inseparable during the ride.  Since I arrived in Peoria, I was not eligible to join their fraternity.  I guess I was Shemp.

After getting the bike outfitted and making an aborted run to the airport, I connected with my cousin, Paul Campbell.  Paul’s like the big brother I never had.  He’s the second oldest of my 40 or so first cousins on my mother’s side.  I was close to his brother Gerald, who was born 2 days before me, and did a lot of sleepovers at his house.  He was, and is, a huge outdoorsman, which is probably why he moved to Seattle decades ago.   Given the distance, we don’t get to see enough of each other.

We did a driving tour of Seattle, including a stop at the Troll Under the Bridge, a landmark little known

Paul and Me at the Troll Under the Bridget

Paul and Me at the Troll Under the Bridget

outside of Seattle.  It was constructed by a group of local students.   When we went, there was dozens of people taking their pictures with the statue.  It is also an important site in that it is the place where Paul and his wife, Helen, were married.  Yeah, Paul’s a bit funky, which is one of the many reasons I love him.

As to the ride, I have been interested with the role of “team leader” for a chore group.  My chore this week is “Snack Bins and Coolers,” both of which I need to ensure are full for the riders.

Tomorrow we ride to the Space Needle and back, 24 miles, not too many hills and extraordinary views of the harbor and Seattle skyline.

A Note to Supporters of the Fuller Center

| June 2, 2017 | 0 Comments
Heading to Seattle with Bike

Heading to Seattle with Bike

To get myself into the swing of things, I am posting the note I sent to those who have supported my bike rides on behalf of the Fuller Center for Housing. 

If you are getting this email, you have supported me in some way in my bike rides for the Fuller Center for Housing.

As I write, I’m flying over the “Trump Belt” on my way to Seattle for the ride to San Diego.  While I did a similar ride last year from Peoria to DC, this one is a bit more daunting.  On the other hand, I have a new bike with much lower gears (for the hills) and I actually did some training in advance.  So, I feel like I’m reasonably prepared.  I’m still not sure how we’re going to get across Big Sur, since much of it has slid into the ocean.  But mine is not the reason why….  I’m sure they’ve got it figured out.

I do hope to do a better job of “journaling” along the way this year than last.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to be sending any more emails.  It’s a purely “opt in” system.  My plan is to post regularly to Instagram and Facebook with short updates.  When I’m feeling more literary, I will post to my blog.  There’s a subscription option on the blog if you would like to be notified when I’ve posted.  The more who do that, the more incentive I’ll have to post.

Here are the links:




The Fuller Center also maintains a blog for a less subjective account of the ride:

Having experienced last year the Spartan lifestyle that the Fuller Center bikers enjoy on the road, I can assure those of you who contributed that your money is well spent.  Imagine St. Francis on a bike, sleeping in church basements and eating donated food. None of the money goes to creature comforts.  Frankly, our only real indulgences are the bikes.  They are pretty high end, but we obviously pay for those ourselves.

So, I’m off and, again, thank you.


Feeling Old

| May 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Another Dave Stapleton photostory from ThriveDC.  This morning I was working the shower station with another volunteer who came with a group from the Coast Guard.  He was a soft spoken young man wearing a Red Sox cap.  So, naturally, we talked baseball.  I asked if he was from Boston.  He said, “No, Alabama.”

I asked how a guy from Alabama becomes a Red Sox fan.  He said he was the son-in-law to a former Red Sox player, Dave Stapleton.  He reminded me that Stapleton was a first baseman who alternated games with the infamous Bill Buckner.  For non-baseball fans, Buckner is the guy who muffed a ground ball that cost the Red Sox the World Series in 1986.  Clearly, like many Red Sox fans, his in-laws believe that if Red Sox Manager John McNamara had played Stapleton, rather than Buckner in that game, the Red Sox would have won the Series in 1986.

I was duly impressed and said “Wow, that’s amazing.  You married his daughter?!”  He said “Yes.”  I blurted out, “Did you know her when he was playing for the Red Sox??”  He said, “I wasn’t born, when he was playing for the Red Sox.”



A Moment of Grace

| March 20, 2017 | 0 Comments

William S. Taft

Thrive DC is a very special program that provides for the needs of the homeless in Washington, DC. It operates in the basement of St. Stephens Church on 16th Street, NW and offers food, laundry services, showers and a number of training programs for its clients.

I volunteer weekly at the program and one of my jobs is to take the names of the guests as they arrive for breakfast in the morning. I love this job because it allows me to get to know the guests and to learn their names. Many are regulars and I derive great satisfaction when I can greet them by name and even have a brief conversation as they check in.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an incident that was so touching, I wanted to share it here. On this day, most of the guests had arrived and the dining room was pretty full. As usual, there was a lot of conversation and laughter. I was having a conversation with Brian, a staff member, and William Taft, another volunteer.  William is a handsome man who has a radio voice, dreadlocks and a winning smile. Years ago, William was a client of Thrive and, in appreciation, he returns to the breakfast program almost every day to provide emotional and spiritual support for the guests.  William thrives on intellectual discourse and, when he’s not encouraging clients and staff, he is engaged in deep philosophical discussions.

We were probably talking about the meaning of life when a woman came in who was clearly in pain, not physical pain, but emotional pain. Her face was wracked. She was so stressed she couldn’t speak. I asked her for her name, but she didn’t – or couldn’t – respond. She just stood there looking like she was carrying all the anxiety in the world on her shoulders.

William asked her if she was alright. No answer. Just pain in her face. He asked her again. Nothing. Then he said, “You need a hug,” and walked over and wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. She leaned into him and put her face on his chest. They held that pose for a long time. Her face softened a bit. After a while, they separated and William kissed her on the cheek, saying, “You need to pray, dear, just pray, and you’ll be fine.” She proceeded to her table, seemingly somewhat relieved, and William departed.

The incident illustrated what, for me, the best thing about Thrive DC. There is a spirit of community that surrounds the organization. The direct services provided are necessary for the body, but the community serves the soul. Who’s to say which is the more valuable?  Both are necessary and both can be found at Thrive DC.

A Letter to My Kids on the Occasion of the 2016 Election

| November 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

Dear Danny & Bridget,

It’s now two days from the election of Donald Trump as our next president.  As I’ve said to you, the

Bridget accompanying Rita to vote. Bridget voted in PA

Bridget accompanying Rita to vote. Bridget voted in PA

magnitude of this event makes it hard to keep all the negative consequences in your head at the same time.   I keep thinking of new ones that I hadn’t considered or forgotten about.  Most of them are things over which we have no individual control.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change…”

But one thing we can control is how we remember this campaign, particularly the last few days.  As you know, I am always proud of you.  But my pride was literally bursting as I heard of the things you were doing to support the election of the first woman president.  Danny in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Bridget in Pennsylvania. Me in Cleveland and

Photo accompanying NBC story about Bridget and the Springsteen rally

Photo accompanying NBC story about Bridget and the Springsteen rally

Mom holding the fort in DC, anxiously watching us all from home.  I was moved to tears more than once.  I loved the fact that we all stayed in such close touch, even in our various locations.  It was truly a family affair.

You both threw yourselves, heart and soul, into this election.  From the day I heard that Mom was pregnant with Danny, I have always said that my fondest hope is to have children with passion.  Of

Rep. Joe Kennedy greets VP Joe Biden in Scranton Photo by Dan Black

Rep. Joe Kennedy greets VP Joe Biden in Scranton
Photo by Dan Black

course I was hoping that your passion would be consistent with mine, but that wasn’t a prerequisite.

And boy did I get my wish.  You both are passionate and showed it in this campaign.  Danny, your 3,000 miles logged with Rep. Joe Kennedy will be something you remember your whole life.  And, Bridget, your enthusiasm for canvassing is one of the things that brought me to tears.  Frankly, I hate canvassing, but I do it because we have to.  Fortunately, I moved up to “management” on this campaign and only had to dispatch canvassers, not canvas myself.  That was nice.  And I loved hearing about your volunteer gig at the Bruce Springsteen concert, including getting on the news as a result of your Hillary socks.

What I want you both to promise me is that you will compartmentalize this experience.  A bad outcome on a campaign can taint the whole experience.  Don’t let that happen.  I’m not just preaching to you.  I’m preaching to myself, as well.  Let’s all draw a bright line between the campaign and the election.  And lets remember this experience with the fondness it deserves.

You are both extraordinary people and you showed in your “passion” the big-hearted values that were the engine of the Hillary Clinton campaign.  No outcome can change that fact.

Bill meeting Hillary at Kent State University

Bill meeting Hillary at Kent State University

Yes, she lost and it was devastating.  I honestly don’t have any words of comfort on that point.  Our friend Luke said it was like a sudden death in the family.  The only way through that experience is time, the time to absorb it until it becomes part of the new reality.  We’re all going to have to go through that process in our own way.

America is heading into a rough patch politically.  But we’ll get through it.  I would just ask you to keep the values you fought for in the campaign.  And keep that passion.  I love you both more that I can express.

Jay-Z Concert – Chaos

| November 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Things were going very smoothly, albeit somewhat slowly.  There were four magnetometers and many thousands of people waiting to get in.  Some had waited since 3 pm and it was now about 6:30 pm.   I was dutifully overcoming my unconscious bias and giving out stickers to everyone that walked by me.

A commotion erupted at the left-most magnetometer.  A man who seemed very intoxicated got into a dispute with the police and the secret service.  It went on for a while before he was shuffled away.

As if this little dustup were a dramatic foreshadowing, a real crisis erupted.  Suddenly a very large crowd of people waving “preferred” tickets arrived from around the other side of the building.  They seemed disgruntled and were demanding to be let into the venue.  Nobody at our station knew what was going on or where they were coming from.  It turns out there was a suspicious package at the VIP/preferred entrance.  The secret service closed the gate and sent them to us.  Maybe somebody was informed, but my team was surprised.  I called the overall leader to let him know and he told me about the package.

The people patiently standing at our gate were understandably reluctant to give up their places to this new folks, irrespective of their “preferred” status.  I’m told that some senior Clinton staffer lifted the gate to allow the preferred people in front of the regular folks and all Hell broke loose.  The crowd surged into the security stations and the Secret Service declared a safety hazard and shut down our gate, as well.  The crowd erupted.  For the next 40 minutes various police and regular people tried to get the crowd to back up to no avail.

Jan Roller, my host in Cleveland, and her sister stood up on some concrete barriers and shouted for the crowd to step back.  “Go back!! Go back!!” they bellowed.  It was pretty scary.  This video doesn’t really convey the crisis situation, but gives an idea.

Somehow, very gradually, some space was established in front of the magnetometers, enough to begin screening people through again. After about half an hour of screening people, some order was restored.   It was pretty amazing that the mood of the crowd became more festive.  It was during this period that the guy said I looked like Bernie Sanders.

Ast a kind of epilogue, we went for Chinese food after the concert.  I walked behind Jan, Joy and a couple of their friends as we entered the restaurant at about 11:3o pm.  As we were being seated, a couple in the booth next to us asked how we liked the concert.  Jan asked how they knew we were there. The guy said, “You were the lady shouting, ‘Get back! Get back!”

Cleveland is a small town.


Jay-Z Concert – Unconscious Bias

| November 5, 2016 | 1 Comment

My job providing replenishment tickets to other team members converting Clinton tickets into venue tickets did not require much work at all.  They all had plenty of tickets.  So, I wondered aimlessly watching the people come through security.

I discovered a large roll of Hillary stickers and decided to distribute them to the incoming Jay-Z fans.  It was an interesting social experiment for me.  As might be expected, most of the attendees were African American rap fans.  Distributing stickers meant going up to people and offering them a sticker.  Some would simply take the sticker, some would lean their shoulders toward me for me to apply.  It was fun interacting with people.

However, I found myself more willing to approach the women with a sticker than the men.  Some of the guys frankly looked scary to me.  Leather jackets, torn jeans, lots of bling and sunglasses.  I realized that my reluctance to approach the men was a clear sign of my unconscious bias.  Most of them had been waiting for 2 hours before they got through security and their expressions were serious, if not grim.  But I forced myself to approach whoever came through security, including the scary guys.  In literally every case, the man’s face would soften into a smile when I offered the sticker.  They immediately went from looking scary to looking benign, if not downright friendly.  No matter how many times this happened, I retained my reluctance to approach many of these guys.  That unconscious bias is very deeply ingrained.

There was, however, one very mean comment that cut me deeply.  I relieved one of the team members and waded into the crowd to do distribute tickets.  One guy in the crowd yelled, “Hey, look, Bernie Sanders is here.”  Ouch.  I reminded him that I had the tickets and he’d better be nice to me.  He claimed that somebody else that looked like him made the comment.

You be the judge.
















Hey, what a minute…

Jay-Z Concert – Sound Check

| November 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Waiting for the doors to open, we were able to peak into the auditorium.  The concert was at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University.  Looks to hold about 12,000 people.

Both Jay-Z and Beyonce rehearsed a bit to an empty arena.  Jay-Z was dressed very casually in an untucked flannel shirt and his trademark baseball cap.  Beyonce rehearsed separately wearing sexy shorts and a spangly top.  She came back a little later for a dress rehearsal wearing a pantsuit, in honor of Hillary.  She objected a quote that was projected on the screen behind her.  It was Hillary’s quote from earlier in her career about declining to stay home to bake cookies.  She said it was an incomplete sentence and lacked context.  Sure enough, during the concert, the quote was extended and more clear.

Jay-Z Concert – The Setup

| November 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

I was assigned to be an usher at the Jay-Z Concert as part of the GOTV program in Cleveland.  I took as just another assignment and even told my “boss” that I had no real interest in seeing the concert.  Not a big fan of rap.  Fortunately, he disregarded my “sacrifice” and I did get to see the concert.  It was pretty amazing, but more about that in a later post.

Volunteers gathered at 3:15 pm.  Doors were scheduled to open at 5;00 pm, concert begins at 8:00 pm.  The first couple of hours consisted of getting trained and mostly milling around.  My team was responsible for converting the campaign-issued tickets to official venue tickets with scannable bar codes. We were stationed in front of the security stations and make the exchange.  My job was to stand inside the security perimeter and supply the other members with the tickets they needed.  So, I floated.

Cambridge Ohio

| August 8, 2016 | 0 Comments
Bill, Beverly & Peter at Guernsey Kitch

Bill, Beverly & Peter at Guernsey Kitch

Peter and I strolled the Main Street of Cambridge, Ohio looking for a good beer. Peter is a beer snob, and he often finds someplace that offers IPA beer in every little town we visit. Sure enough, we found Guernsey Kitchen. Peter went into his spiel about what saints we are biking across America to provide affordable housing to families in need. Sometimes people will listen attentively and wait for payment.. Sometimes, they will shower us with effusive praise and allow us to drink for free. This was the latter. Beverly was so impressed, she not only gave us beers for free, she prepared a cheese and sausage plate to accompany our beers. All on the house. Here we are with Beverly.