that brown is the color of love.
that sharing a meal can change the world.
that none of us have to ever go it alone.
i added the french toast and she added the hugs.
and together we set out to turn strangers into family.
the best of families. one born of trust, respect and love.
like john and yoko, daisy and i are equals.
so much so that we both share the same FTX gang number of 1.
in our world 1+1 always equaled 1.
today my lovely brown friend passed on from our world.
some might think of her as only a dog but they would be wrong.
she is on par with gandhi and king and peace pilgrim.
with her open heart daisy connected hundreds of people the world over and fed thousands upon thousands.
more than anyone i have ever met, daisy changed my life for good.
she will always be FTX 1.
as will i.
but today i feel less.
This was written to Sharon Van Etten’s cover of Bruce’s “Drive All Night” on repeat for hours and hours.
September 14th, 2015
FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Motor City – FTX #19 Wrap Up
What a strange concept we humans have made up.
We use it to track our minutes and our days and the minutia of what seems to matter at the moment.
But how often do we stand back and view it for what it really is?
For me time is an ocean we all float in.
It ebbs and flows and we have no choice but to move with it.
Sometimes it is calm and the sky is the softest of blues and the sun is warm on our faces as we rest on its surface.
And sometimes it rages with silver tipped waves and the sky is as black as the water below as we scream air in and out of our lungs.
September 14th, 2014
One year ago today I was living in Michigan for work.
On this day my temporary home was filled with loving people who among many others were preparing to descend on Hart Plaza in Detroit as we emptied out our hearts and pantries to the people of the Motor City.
French Toast & Hugs was in full effect!
That was one year ago today but for me the time between then and now has been lost in that raging black sea of memories and emotions.
For on the evening of September 8th, 2014 my wife Brandy and I had to say goodbye to our soul mate, our love, our friend, FTX Gang Member #59 – Audrey The Good Dane.
More than anything else, for me, she was and is my daughter.
Audrey, a sweet and funny Great Dane, was diagnosed with stomach cancer not long after I left our home to work in Michigan. Brandy, as always when I am away, had to take on the brunt of the work. The medications and the comforting. The physical and emotional heavy lifting.
But I was away from them. I was stuck in time. Because I couldn’t physically be there I was trapped in the last peaceful memory I had of us all before leaving.
I have a deep love and respect for all living things.
I have the stubborn belief that we are all the same.
I refuse to accept that one person is better than another or one species is above another.
To accept that you are better or worse than another creature limits you from seeing the value of all life, including yours.
For are we all not out here swimming?
Losing Audrey was not losing a dog.
It was losing an invisible limb that I will always feel tingling and wondering where it went.
You get what you give in this life and when I love I give everything I have.
One year ago today was the culmination of almost four and a half months of work to prepare FTX Motor City.
Happy work. Joyous work.
For I never truly feel as close to perfect as I do on the day, the moment of an FTX.
Here is my journey.
I arrived in Detroit on April 28th, 2014 to wintery skies and grey sleet lined roads.
Chris O’Hara, a Michigan friend I met in 2012 while we were working in Africa of all places, recommended I connect with his close friend Gary Sibley who made low budget films as well as taught autistic kids how to make their own. Chris told me Gary was just the guy to help me plan FTX Motor City and Chris was right.
I met Gary at Dino’s Lounge on May 24th. I had never met Gary before and had no idea what he would look like. As I sat at the bar, weather beaten cowboy hat in hand, I scanned the room looking each person in the eye to see if there was a spark of recognition. But no one stood out as the voice I had heard on the phone.
And then he walked in.
A beaming smile of joy filled his face. Gary, a 51 (at the time) year old African American with a pronounced limp, a bit of a belly and at least to me (a New Jersey kid who doesn’t know much about much) a shorter version of Kid from Kid ‘n’ Play’s vertical hairdo.
In other words he looked like a big happy kid.
It is fair to say I liked him right off the bat.
Over the next three months I met Gary weekend after weekend as we prepared for FTX Motor City. He gave me moral support, insider Detroit wisdom of where and how to hold the event, his dedication that he would bring as many of his students to the event as he could but most importantly he gave me his time.
Yes time. Or what we make of it. In truth what is time but life? Gary gave generously of his life. And it seems to me he did this with everyone.
My mom, FTX #70, and my younger sister FTX #55 (don’t think I’m not getting a kick by calling them by their numbers and not their names!) came to visit me for a weekend in late August before FTX.
FTX #55 has Down’s Syndrome and also difficulty walking. August 16th, 2014 was something of a special day in Detroit. It was the day of their annual Woodward Dream Cruise where muscle cars and other classics drive up and down Woodward Avenue showing off some of the best art Detroit or any other city ever gave to this world.
Gary, as was his way, offered to share the day with us and show mom and sis around. As the gorgeous steel girls of Detroit rumbled past us I was captivated for I have a deep deep love of Detroit muscle. Gary offered to sit with my mom and sis as I wandered around to see this once in a lifetime event. I was grateful.
It wasn’t until that evening that I found out from the internet that that day was Gary’s birthday. His 52nd.
He never said a word. He just shared his day with us with a quiet grace.
May 28th, 2014
Brandy & my third wedding anniversary.
Brandy woke that day to Audrey vomiting and refusing to eat.
Scared to take her to the vet and something horrible be discovered on such a special day my brave wife still took our Aud in.
Less than a week later we learned that she had cancer in her stomach.
June 5th, 2014
The biggest ball of cancer the surgeon had ever seen was removed from our good girl. The surgeon tells us we caught it just in time.
June 19th, 2014
As with our last FTX, FTX Namibia in 2012, I wanted to dedicate this FTX to kids. More specifically, kids without parents.
In Africa they are called orphans and there are more than I could ever imagine – on the outskirts of the small town I was living in at the time there were thousands.
In America they are called foster kids. We have state run programs to make sure they have homes and food and clothes and schooling. But they still are missing what the African kids were, what matters most – a stable family.
My goals were to invite as many of the kids that could go to FTX Motor City – a family in its own right, and to raise donations for them as well. Whether a kid needed a new backpack or sneakers I believed that first and foremost what they would get is that someone out there cared about them. That they weren’t alone.
I contacted one of the oldest and highest regarded foster care agencies of Detroit – The Ennis Center For Children.
I was plenty nervous calling them as I was concerned I would appear as the stranger I truly was asking them to take me at my word that I only had the best intentions.
I find that in the west we have a suspicious nature.
It must be something taught just as I find often in the east it is not.
When I told the locals in Namibia that I wanted to hand out free French Toast and Hugs to local boys and girls their reply was “Well of course you do.” It just made sense to them that someone would want to help someone else.
That isn’t always the reaction I get over here.
I rehearsed and rehearsed what I wanted to say to whoever answered their phone. I would tell them that I had done this eighteen times before all over the world and even though I would have no permits that I could be relied on. That I was accountable. That all I wanted was just this one moment – to give to this special city and to these brave kids.
And so it was with a desperate heart that I called.
My call was directed to Jennifer King and in that moment I forgot everything I had rehearsed!
I stuttered as I am apt to do and I rambled as I am also apt to do in a winding road of thoughts and emotions.
When I finally came up for air she paused and her heart said:
“Well of course you do.”
Sight unseen, she leapt completely and fully into my dream!
She told me she would talk to the President of The Ennis Center, Bob Ennis, and see what he thought.
I immediately wrote my new brother Gary to which he immediately replied:
“Keep me in the loop! I can reach out to more organizations. Let’s blow the roof off this event!”
And even now, one year to the day, I find tears in my eyes to think of their love.
Turns out Bob Ennis loved the idea and Jennifer King and Erin Covert of The Ennis Center put the word out to all the various foster agencies in the Detroit area about FTX Motor City.
Days and weeks passed as I locked in the location (where could be better to share our hearts than in Hart Plaza?) and found the local bakery, farm and gelateria that we would purchase our challah bred, eggs and gelato from.
I put the word out to people who could or couldn’t make it that day that we were raising donations for these kids. And boy did those donations ever come in!
The people in my office had to start storing them in another room as they began to reach to the ceiling.
And Audrey, my good girl, weeks past her surgery began to eat once more, growing happy and strong and my heart grew with her.
Jennifer & Erin told me they weren’t sure how many foster kids would actually be at FTX as it was up to their foster parents to take a Sunday off to bring them down. There was no judgment. The foster parents were doing their best and lives always get busy. “No matter” I told them, each FTX turns out exactly as it needs to be.
August 8th, 2014
The previous year, 2013, I had the rare fortune to actually be home on my birthday. Brandy, knowing how much I love being with our family, planned for Audrey, our coonhound Greta and us to stay at a small inn along the Pacific ocean. We took walks on the beach with them and ran and played and laughed.
It was the greatest birthday I have ever had.
But August 8th, 2014 arrived and this time I found myself working. It was a long, hot and tiring day and I told my friends that I’d prefer to go home and rest rather than celebrate. I called Brandy as I was leaving work and couldn’t help but hear the silence in her voice.
“Audrey’s cancer is back.”
And just like that the sky went dim and I found myself alone in a raging sea.
Salt water choking me and mixing with my tears.
It was the worst birthday I have ever had.
Audrey got progressively sicker as her cancer caused her to starve herself.
Brandy, my poor lady, had been thru this before you see as her mother passed from stomach cancer in 2012 in our home months after we married.
She too starved to death.
August 30th, 2014 to September 2nd, 2014
I flew home for one last visit with our girl.
Oh dear God how thin she was but her eyes were still a puppy’s.
We did everything she loved to do.
Frolics on the beach.
And my favorite – lying down on the floor with her and holding her close.
As I did I fell asleep with Audrey, my arms draped around her chest.
Softly I felt a touch and woke to see Brandy wrapped around Audrey’s back.
We held her in a circle of love.
I promised Audrey I would be back soon as I closed the front door.
September 8th, 2014
I will never forget that Monday.
It was a hard night of work.
Due to the nature of where we were working I had to be the only one from my department out there for most of the night. I spent it running back and forth down a muddy road carrying equipment.
Once Audrey got sick Brandy & I made a deal. While I was working if anything important came up that she had to email me about she would put what it was in the subject line. This was because my internet would often go down and if I saw a subject line about our girl and was unable to open the message I would go into a state of panic.
I finished work the morning of September 9th alone except for my co-worker and friend James. I was covered in mud and exhausted as I checked my email before leaving for home.
There was an email from Brandy.
Subject: I’m sorry to have to do this via email
It had been sent at 4:54pm the previous day.
Audrey was done. She was telling Brandy it was time for her to go.
I didn’t get the message till 6:24am the next day.
I had worked thru the last moments of her life.
I looked up at James and told him my girl was gone.
While Audrey was struggling for life Brandy and I decided it would be best if Brandy stayed home in California to nurse her while I did FTX in Detroit on September 14th.
Now that Audrey was gone it was undecided if Brandy should come out.
How do you give when you feel so empty?
September 9th, 2014
Another email from Brandy.
Subject: Heidi and I are coming. :O)
How do you give when you feel so empty?
The answer is simple.
You get what you give. And you give what you get.
September 14th, 2014
And so here we are.
A long journey thru a very specific time.
The sun is full and the sky is blue. The air is crisp but not cold as we arrive at Hart Plaza. The perfect weather for grilling!
Hart Plaza – home to many Detroit concerts and events. I purposefully chose this day as there was nothing listed on the official Hart Plaza schedule. Since I didn’t have a permit I didn’t want to interfere with anyone that did.
I pulled our van near the iconic Joe Lewis sculpture (as seen on our FTX Motor City flyers) and got out. Gary was there along with some of his students – ready to go.
I made a mental note to myself that I would have to induct Gary into the FTX Gang with his own gang number one day soon.
The crew started to unload and carry the enormous amount of food we had across the street to the empty plaza.
I stood alone for a brief moment and looked around.
Here I was, so very aware of time. And the life it actually stood for.
Here I was knowing that Audrey would not die for me until I returned home three months later.
Here I was and I took the deepest breath I could.
Because I knew, somehow I knew, that I would be trying to stay afloat in that raging sea of grief and that each and every breath counts.
Turning I saw my friend Kurt, aptly numbered for his irreverent nature as FTX #69 and we laughed because what could we do but laugh?
Together we crossed into Hart Plaza.
I hung up a picture of Audrey in front of my grill and read my speech to the small crew that were assembled.
FTX Motor City was a slow burn. People came and went and even the cops came (and went thanks to FTX #5!) and all was well. That is until 10:30am!
Just as I was talking about packing it up early the entire Detroit Salvation Army showed up!
Unknown to me they had booked the plaza and were celebrating their organization along with a full marching band!!
I think they thought we were part of the Salvation Army and we fed every last one of them. The line stretched on for hours and at one point I looked up and saw that their marching band was facing us as they blasted into a full concert!
With the punctuated drum rhythms and the deep brassy horns I found myself grilling to even greater heights and speeds as the music took me over.
Bees swarmed us and danced around us as we picked them out of pools of syrup and whipped cream. Leaving us *mostly* unstung.
It was a true celebration of life as I battled each moment with the grief that tried to hold me under.
I could and can still feel the love in the faces of my gang.
Chris and Daisy with the gelato and Robin cutting the fruit.
Kyle in his chef uniform and Heidi staying near and close to Brandy.
And James, who was with me on that dreadful September 8th was there holding up pictures of my car Grace.
And Sandy and Paul and Amy and Eric and Jami and Carmine and Tricia and Kurt. Lovely Kurt walking up to complete strangers and telling them “So glad you could make it! We’ve been waiting for you!” and leading those poor confused people into our joyful celebration.
I looked and saw Brandy and she was smiling and laughing, loving and giving.
My dear wife who had lost the greatest love of her life less than a week before was filled with joy!!!!
She confided to me in later days that the love of that FTX got her thru those first few weeks without Audrey.
No greater miracle has FTX ever accomplished.
By the end of it all I was spent.
I had emptied out fully and was grateful for the privilege to do so.
And as we drove out of Hart Plaza I was aware that we were already becoming a memory.
But what a wonderful memory.
October 26th, 2014
Jennifer and Erin come to my Michigan home and pick up a wall of donations.
Days later I receive this letter from their founder – Bob Ennis
December 5th, 2014
But it didn’t quite feel like home.
Since September 8th, 2014 I find it hard to look people in the eye.
And so as I walk Greta around town I do so with my cowboy hat low on my eyes.
I look down and smile as I pass people hoping that will be enough.
Enough for them and enough for me.
April 23rd, 2015
Gary Sibley, my friend, my brother, passed away in the night from heart failure.
He was only 52.
He spent his last birthday with me and my mom and sis.
Gary, who never got his FTX number but will forever be in the gang.
Gary posted an image online the night before his death.
It is a clock face over which is written “The Clock Is Ticking”.
September 14th, 2015
It’s been a year and I still find it hard to look people in the eye.
The sea is calmer now but not entirely so.
But I feel something in myself stirring. A need, a calling to do it all over again.
One day I will look up again and I hope that on that day as I’m setting up my grill and music is in the air (hopefully a marching band) that on that day as I lift my head that I’m looking at you and that you are looking at me.
Because time is life and life is all we have and I want to share mine with you.
Of course we all know that toast loves Mad Max, if not then you probably don’t know toast.
But the story of toast working on Mad Max; Fury Road is something you may not know. An astounding testament to the kind of a person toast is, and even more so, how his succinct, beyond subtle way that he attracts those who “need” to be in the know. More words than necessary, but I hope it gets the point across.
I encourage toast to edit this post at will, but my understanding is that he wrote a letter to the director George Miller, of Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller is also the director of the original Mad Max. Toast explained in the letter why he wanted to work on Fury Road, basically asking for a job.
If you are not in the film industry you might not understand that this kind of job hunting is as about absurd as walking into an Apple Store and thinking you are going to get a job as a genius. It just doesn’t work that way, but for toast, it did.
The movie was made in Namibia, Africa. There were not that many people brought in from the US as far as I know, so even more so is the fact the he basically got the job because he HAD to get the job because THAT is the way things happen when you hang around with TOAST. It is just a fact of life if you are a member or friend of a member of the world of ftx. It all works out.
My heart sings as I see images of toast attending the premiere of Fury Road all decked out to the nines with his lovely bride and none other than the baddest ride I have ever been in, for reals.
Here’s to you toast, a toast to a good friend and what’s more a person who I think transcends, period.
Oh, and whats that I see happening in the image from the Fury Road premiere? Some sort of official ftx hand salute, can we get confirmation, is this true, do we have an official hand gesture salute thingie?
I’m not from here but I feel like a part of me is Detroit.
The part that doesn’t give up.
The part that pushes forward, knowing and loving who I am but still wanting to be more.
The part that knows that community and friendship is stronger than any job or industry could hope to be. And in that friendship we will find our future.
The part that loves muscle cars.
I was born in August of ’71 and that very same month that my parents brought me home they also brought home a brand new Chevrolet Malibu Chevelle. She was a metallic green with a black vinyl roof and an AM/FM radio. On cold winter mornings in Jersey I would ask my parents if I could be the one to start her and wait with her as she warmed up. I remember pretending all alone on those mornings as my breath fogged the windshield that she was my car. I remember summers as she drove us around to the community pool. And I remember her saving my life when a station wagon ran a red light and smashed into us. Even then she kept running. Because you see, her heart was strong. Her heart was made and inspired here – by the people of Detroit.
I have my own girl now, the first car I ever bought. She’s a jet black 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle and her name is Grace. But in truth I didn’t really buy a car. I welcomed a new friend. I knew it the first time I sat in her and closed her door. It was a not so chilly Los Angeles night 11 years ago and as I turned the same style GM key as I had as a boy I knew I was once again complete. That my childhood friend was here once more.
And so I thank you Detroit because you have given more than you have gotten.
Which is why it is my honor to celebrate you today with FTX Motor City.
Our 19th event but one that I’ve been waiting for since that cold 70’s winter morning. It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ because I am grateful.
Something I feel every single time I start Grace and hear her rumble back in return.
This FTX is dedicated to Mr. Jim Ellis who passed away from cancer the week I arrived here. He and his wife Nancy raised more stone cold FTX members than anyone else. I wrote him a letter during his final week here on earth but it didn’t arrive in time. My hope is that he hears this one now.
It is also dedicated to Mrs. Mimi Burdick. Another close friend who passed away a few weeks back. This gang would never exist without my having made a lifelong friendship with her son Geoff and his pup Daisy. You have changed my life Mimi dear. I send you my love on this very day.
And finally this FTX is dedicated to my baby girl Audrey, The Good Dane. What can I say about Audrey? She is FTX 59. She was there when love bloomed between her mom Brandy and me. She was the glue that cemented us together into a happy little family. This week she has ended her battle with cancer. I honestly cannot imagine a world without her. And I won’t have to. Because love never leaves. And love is what we are creating here today.
Audrey my dear dear girl – your daddy loves you, now and forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, please celebrate with me life – here and now.
FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Motor City Invite – FTX #19
September 14th, 2014
Hart Plaza, Detroit (Corner Of Woodward & Jefferson)
Starting At 9am
August 3rd, 2014
It’s been almost two long years since FTX Namibia rolled out on a beautiful sunny September day in Swakopmund. It was our 18th FTX and a turning point in my life.
French Toast & Hugs (FTX) has changed with every event.
And in doing so has changed me.
It has made me bolder, it has made me braver, it has made me kinder with the understanding that we are all the same in wanting to be loved and accepted.
We are truly each other’s brothers and sisters.
FTX has given me faith in life and in people because I have seen firsthand how unconditional love can change the world.
So how was FTX Namibia different? Well, instead of handing out french toast and hugs as unconditional gifts to just people passing by we also invited 300 children from local orphanages to be our special guests.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I only knew I didn’t want to fail these kids.
I wanted to give them a day of unconditional joy.
A day where everything went their way.
A day filled with love.
And it was perfect.
They arrived in their finest clothes. The boys in pressed suits and the girls in their dresses. I seldom looked up from my grill as I wanted each piece of tasty Challah bred to be golden brown but I could hear their laughter and joy as they played that day near the ocean.
It wasn’t until the end of that day that I turned around and saw a very serious looking young man waiting behind me. We introduced ourselves and he gave me his thanks. He then said “You are a great man. Don’t stop doing this.”
I tried to tell him he was a great man as well, that we are all legends. Something I will always believe because I know it to be true. But he wouldn’t allow me to deflect his words and so they sank in over these past two years.
Not “You are a great man.”
But rather “Don’t stop doing this.”
He was absolutely right.
Giving unconditional love is the most powerful and wonderful thing any of us can do. But giving it to these kids had an epic quality that I will never fully understand.
All I know is that it changed me.
And so we are gearing up for our 19th event. FTX Motor City in the “Hart” of downtown Detroit. Our special guests will be local foster kids and their foster parents and we are hoping to raise donations of summer clothes, sneakers, toys & backpacks for them. As always, the french toast and hugs are free. And there are no conditions attached and no donations required. But if you’d like to donate to these kids please send your packages (no money will be accepted) before the end of October to my office care of:
Shyam Yadav (FTX) – Sage & Milo VFX
1999 Centerpoint Parkway
Pontiac, Michigan 48341-3150
We’ll make sure the local foster agencies get them after our FTX in September to distribute.
And so we are kicking into gear our 19th event for a city that deserves love and respect.
Detroit: Home of Motown, John Lee Hooker’s Boogie, and Muscle Cars.
I’d say wish us luck but like I wrote earlier, I’ve got faith.
It has been a dog’s age since anything has been posted here, and there are so many stories to tell, but I wanted to add this tidbit that arrived in my email inbox this morning:
I am writing because you are the owner of frenchtoastandhugs.com and glutenfreefrenchtoast.com will become available in the coming weeks. You have been identified as a possible buyer through our domain-matching algorithm. If you are not interested in this domain or prefer not to receive future notifications, please disable the sending of any other domain notifications at the bottom of this email and I apologize for the inconvenience.
Our company is leading domain broker and marketplace. If you are interested in purchasing glutenfreefrenchtoast.com, we are committed to a satisfactory and risk-free experience. Payment is due only after the successful transfer of ownership and the new owner’s full control of the domain.
While i was in Africa last year my internet was spotty at best and i was unable to post on our blog my invite to FTX #18 – Namibia.
I’m posting it here now for anyone interested in reading my thoughts one week before that amazing day. 🙂
September 23, 2012
FTX (French Toast & Hugs) Namibia – FTX #18
It’s an incredibly vibrant sunny Sunday as I sit on the grass surrounding the children’s park located between the lighthouse and the beach here in Swakopmund, Namibia.
Kids are playing – turning strangers into friends instantly as only kids do. I see them eating homemade gelato and riding the swings standing up as they attempt to take flight.
The smell of french fries drifts over the Atlantic breeze to me.
And the Atlantic!! The darker ocean seems lighter now as we head out of winter into spring. The waves cascade and have changed from the stormy intensity from a few weeks back to the lull of a well earned hammock rest.
In one week’s time our 18th FTX (French Toast & Hugs) event will occur at this very spot.
As always free french toast & hugs for all!!!!
But this FTX is different than all the rest.
Unlike the big bustling cities we’ve had them in before, Swakopmund is a sleepy seaside town.
Mere days upon arriving here for work almost four months ago I learned of the vast number of orphans.
Kids walking long distances to go to school Monday thru Friday for the opportunity to learn and have a meal.
The volunteers at the schools don’t know what the kids eat on the weekends and if they are living with friends or family.
I knew immediately those months ago that this FTX was for them.
It’s been a long journey since June filled with uphill battles making this FTX our first officially approved one.
There have also been numerous moments of grace as I quickly made new friends (like the kids in the park) who carried a load I could not do alone.
Because that is the truth of our gang.
No one can do it alone.
And no one has to.
We’ve arranged for 300 kids to be brought to the park next week and we plan to feed them as well as anyone else who stumbles by on our day of unconditional love.
Many of the kids have never seen the ocean.
Most I am sure have never had french toast.
And I don’t plan on running out!
FTX Roll Call!!!!
100 loaves of freshly baked challah bred
100 dozen eggs
60 bottles of Canadian maple syrup
40 cans of Italian whipped cream
20 pallets of strawberries
20 kilos of bananas
20 liters of homemade gelato (cinnamon, chocolate, coconut & vanilla)
and on and on and on….
And so I sit here. On a sunny African day far from home. But home is where the heart is and I find it in you.
Next week wish us luck and good fortune as we raise a little in items for these boys and girls.
Wish us a sunny breezy day where strangers become friends – for kids and adults alike.
But most of all give us love if you can as we hope to fill their bellies and hearts
Well here I sit in my home in Ojai. The rain is falling gently and the grey skies are peaceful to my desert scorched eyes.
It is the eve of Christmas and I finally feel ready (or as close to ready as I ever am) at writing my wrap up for our past FTX (French Toast & Hugs) event that occurred in Swakopmund, Namibia on September 30 th, 2012.
Three months ago! It’s hard for me to believe that almost three months ago I was in a children’s park located in a very small Namibian town and FTX was in full swing!!
Hundreds of children belonging to the local orphanage schools were our special guests and they formed a line in front of our tables that stretched all the way to the legendary Mad Max V8 Interceptor – a car that only existed in a 30 year old dream from my childhood until this past June.
Three months ago!!
But I’m ahead of myself. Let me go back seven months….
The starter’s pistol in my almost ten year run to be hired on a Max film sounded in 2003 when I first learned they were planning to make another, this one called “Fury Road”.
It was the same year that FTX was started and my very own Interceptor – a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle named ‘Grace’ entered my life.
I don’t feel I am someone who dreams big or has a wide variety of dreams.
I find I am more someone who focuses singularly on something and pursues it relentlessly. I either run it to the ground and catch it or I run myself into the ground in the trying.
At the start of 2010 I sent an email to the Australian production company who would be making the film with a story about me renting “The Road Warrior” as a young New Jersey boy and how it inspired me. Of course, I also attached a photo of Grace. 🙂
Eleven days later I was contacted back that I was the man for the job and it was mine if I wanted it!
Many production delays ensued and in that time I married my Brandy in the late spring of 2011.
Only a handful of months after that Brandy and I learned on November 11 th, 2011 that her mom, Donn, had stage 4 stomach cancer. That same week I learned that Max was starting up again and I could be leaving within the next few months. Not for the planned Australia but for the even more remote Africa.
I lived on a ledge wondering when and if I should be leaving.
Donn lived with Brandy and myself and our golden year pups for the last two months of her physical life which ended on January 26 th, 2012.
My father passed away quickly from a heart attack when I was 20 but not until last January had I ever witnessed the cruel and inhuman way that cancer kills.
Shortly after Donn, Brandy’s wonderful cousin Carol passed from cancer as well.
From the start Carol owned a piece of my heart.
She had Downs Syndrome, like my little sister Asha, and because of that I knew that I would always love her. That and her love of music were our instant connections. (She would write on a piece of paper a single song name and for her that would be your song – the one she always associated with you. She picked KC & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way (I Like It)” to be mine.
I believe it was day two or three in Namibia that I learned from my friend PJ about the vast number of orphans in the area.
Without a moment’s hesitation I knew this FTX was for them.
Children who I was told not only had never had french toast before, but never had the taste of a strawberry.
Children who lived mere minutes driving from the Atlantic but who likely had never seen the ocean before.
And with my singular purpose I went forward.
Working days on my dream job and nights and rare days off on FTX.
FTX Namibia was our 18th FTX and by far the most difficult one to plan.
The hardest part was getting approval from the local government for this event.
It didn’t seem to resonate with them, the idea of an unconditional gift.
I vividly remember one day, working out in the desert, jumping off one of the Max vehicles when I had a moment to call the municipality office only to be told I would NOT be allowed to have FTX at the children’s park. They labeled me “demanding” and wanted to know exactly what I expected the public to do with these orphaned children.
The concept that I didn’t want the public to do anything except what I wanted everyone to do – to have a fun day, nothing asked from us except possibly an appetite – seemed to be lost on them.
At the end of that day I sat in the front passenger seat of our work car waiting to go home. My outside was covered in sand and dust and the sun burned my eyes as it settled pink over the endless desert. My inside was close to giving up. So very close.
I had my head in my hands as I no longer was able to keep it up.
My friend Dan came up to the window and asked what was wrong. I told him and his words of encouragement that the simple fact that FTX would happen, no matter what, lit a small fire inside me once again.
Keeping my purpose for this FTX simple, the kids, helped me keep it on track.
More questions came during the four months of planning:
Just where do you find whipped cream in Namibia?
How do you get 300 orphans to a children’s park and where do you pick them up from anyway?
How do you get the various orphanage leaders to play nice together when they seem concerned that “their” kids won’t get the same treatment as the “other” kids?
Well if you’re me, then you take a lesson learned thirty years ago from “The Road Warrior” and applied in force almost ten years ago when you co-started FTX. You rely on the kindness of others. (Yes, Jess Harrison I’m talking about you).
I have never in the history of FTX had a job and the crew on it want to help so much. I believe that like attracts like and often you will find that the people who are hiring reflect the people they hire to work for them. And this was certainly the case here. From the top to bottom, never before did I have so many people want to help before the event, during the event and after the event.
Donations poured in as people brought wide ranging items from toiletries to toys for the kids that would be attending.
The Special FX department reconfigured both my grills to work with the African propane hookups and donated all the propane.
The Sound department offered up their sound system so I could play my FTX mix in the park. There was even a public electric plug discovered on the day so that we would never run the risk of running out of music!
Boeta, one of the local workers in the Transportation department, on his own dime, even arranged to have all the children picked up and returned. Promising me not to worry, not to worry, not to worry.
PJ got approval to have what started me on this path – Mad Max’s V8 car – to be on hand for the event. It arrived on time before the event began, the driver asking me where I wanted to have it parked and if he could rev it from time to time!!
Are you kidding me?!?! You’re asking me where to park something from my dreams? And if you can rev her? YES & YES!!!!
(A week to the day after FTX I looked with approval at an oil stain on the nearby park sidewalk marking the Interceptor’s presence from where she sat at FTX.)
And so with that army of legends September 30th, arrived.
The Interceptor arrived and for a brief moment I was 10 again, standing in awe of a dream.
Boeta had the kids arrive on time just as he promised.
My core crew set up and more kept arriving and arriving as the day drew out into a painting of perfection.
I though was spent.
I had never run so hard or for so long in my life.
My bones were hangers holding up my body as I went into auto pilot trying to do my best in cooking each slice of french toast into a golden brown.
I looked down into that smoky grill for upwards of four hours.
My army around me.
And as I looked down I heard the sounds.
The sounds of children laughing and playing.
The sounds of people from all over the world celebrating the simple fact of being alive and being together.
I looked down and instead of seeing the park I saw a blacktop race track.
Paint marked the runner’s lanes and I saw my legs.
They were hovering over the track no longer moving, no longer having the energy to move.
But they were still moving forward!
It was no longer me but you, all of you, that held me in your arms as you carried me across this finish line.
My goal of giving these kids just one day of love would never have been reached without your love.
All of you. The ones there. The ones wanting to be there. All of you.
And I thank you because this dream, this dream of love, is so much bigger than the one I had when I was 10. And yet somehow, in this mysterious world of ours, I was able to finish both dreams – at just the same time.
But the race wasn’t over on September 30th, 2012 although at the time I thought it was.
Days after the event I got a message from Ashley, one of the orphanage workers. She wrote to tell me that she had over three carloads of donations that came from FTX. She said she would give them to the kids over the Christmas holidays.
Tomorrow your gift of unconditional love has carried on. It has gone beyond the three months since FTX. It has carried forward across a new finish line as only love can.