FTX 65 – FTX 66 – FTX #18

September 16, 2012

FTX 65 – FTX 66 – FTX #18

Dear FTX Gang,

it’s been a long long while since i’ve written to you. our last event was over a year ago on September 11th, 2011 in NYC. it was an extremely powerful FTX and i was gifted with incredible people to help.

two of those people are Ana & Charles and it gives me great pleasure to welcome them into our family of friends.

i met Ana in 2009 in Morocco when i was working on (gasp) Sex & The City 2. we became friends out there but i have to say i had no idea how incredible a person she was until September of last year.

Ana not only coordinated almost all of FTX ♥ NY for me while i was in the UK for work but used her skills working in props to supply us with everything we might need (tables, transportation, where to buy challah bred – Moishe’s!) and even opened her home for my mom to sleep and stay in.

i believe no one really accomplishes anything on their own. FTX could not occur by myself alone. Ana was one of the handful of pivotal people that helped us on that historical sunday day last year to connect with people who felt drawn to a city still healing.

thank you Ana so much. we are honored to have you as our FTX 65.

i met Charles in January of 2010 when we were doing FTX Downtown 2 in Los Angeles. you may remember the size of those events where hundreds of homeless and in need people waited in line for a little FT & X. near the end of the day i noticed Charles and he asked me if he would be able to talk to me when i was done.

Charles explained to me that he had created an organization called United Steps.

http://unitedsteps.org/

it’s mission is to reverse the cycle of homelessness by speaking to people in a one-on-one conversation and in doing so connecting with them through encouragement, respect and listening. in the almost 2 ½ years since i’ve known him i’ve seen Charles do just that. approaching people as equals creates a bond based on the truth that we are all brothers and sisters.

i have been lucky enough to participate in some of the many events United Steps does in the Los Angeles area and i would recommend getting involved. i learned a lot about myself by doing them.

so please join me in celebrating him as our very own FTX 66!!

both Ana & Charles have inspired me as you all have. more and more i realize how powerful it is to be surrounded by the incredible people that make up FTX.

some of you may not know but since June i’ve been working in Namibia Africa on one of the goals of my life – a Mad Max film!!

on the first day of shooting i learned from director George Miller that he had been speaking to actress Zoe Kravitz about FTX!?! (i still don’t know how he heard about our gang!) Zoe was so inspired by our gang that she had her character renamed to my nickname of “Toast”!

upon arriving in Swakopmund, Namibia (with my grill in my suitcase) i learned of the huge population of orphans in the area. since the town i am living in is so small i realized that doing an FTX on the street would yield very few people indeed.

so within the first few days of arriving i decided to change our rules a bit and invite some *special guests* to FTX Namibia. 300 children from the local schools!!

it’s been three months since then and i’ve never worked harder on an FTX. in that time we got permission to legally do FTX at the nearby children’s park that is right next to the beach. (i’ve been told that many of the kids have never seen the ocean.)

the production company of this film has been the most involved i’ve ever had. not only have i had the fortune to meet great people but the company is offering up tables, coolers, trash bins, transportation of the children and even possibly Mad Max’s very own V-8 Interceptor car for the event!! (we’ll have to wait and see if it arrives on the day!)

i feel so blessed in my life and i truly don’t have the imagination for all the great gifts i’ve been given. i am thankful for all of you and your love, support and friendship.

on Sunday, September 30th, at 9am we will be going to the park and beach for our 18th FTX with an army of helpers, an incredible amount of food and a brand new music mix.

you can download it here and pop it in your “Compilations” folder on your computer. feel free to share the link.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/26813995/ftx%20namibia.zip

being in Africa it’s easy to realize no food goes to waste. if you are eating out and can’t finish your meal it is unheard of not to get it bagged up to go. outside you’ll find well dressed people who are working whether watching your car, selling newspapers or any other job. the gratitude i see in their eyes when i hand them my leftovers really hit home. like Charles with United Steps i see only another human, just like me. one who would like a meal. there is no real begging but more thankfulness. more equality in the action of giving and sharing than i’ve experienced before. it’s two people connecting.

just like FTX.

realizing how precious food is here i went overboard knowing none of my food would go to waste and ordered more than i ever have before!!

100 loaves of freshly baked challah bred (i had to print a recipe online since no bakery had ever heard of the Jewish bred in this German town!)

100 dozen eggs

20 liters of homemade gelato ice cream (cinnamon, coconut, chocolate & vanilla)

320 boxes of strawberries

20 kilos of bananas

40 cans of Italian whipped cream

60 bottles of maple syrup

and on and on and on.

if on September 30th you find yourself up at 9am our time (we are 9 hours ahead of Pacific Coast Time) and want to put on your gold and yellow FTX shirt and maybe give the new mix a spin i’d appreciate it.

i’m a bit nervous because i don’t want to let all these kids down. i know that might sound silly and i know when the event kicks into gear (V-8 INTERCEPTOR!) i’ll find my balance. but i have never had to rely on more people than with this FTX.

we’re two weeks away and my strongest feeling is gratitude. just as i felt in the power of sharing as equals with the people here in this seaside town i feel when i share with you.

my thanks to you all. i would never be here without you.

love toast

FTX 1

 

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the wedding video almost as good as the real thing

I was honored to not only be present at shyam and brandy’s wedding, but also to be a part of the wedding party. Needless to say, it was a unique experience and I thank them for giving me an opportunity to shake my groove thing in public, again.

few wedding, memory video/slideshows can do justice to the actual event, and of course this is no substitute for having been there, but if you were NOT in ojai, california on the May 28th, 2011.

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FTX Namibia Is A Go!!!!

i find my heart and my grill in Swakopmund, Namibia in Africa as plans get underway for FTX Namibia!!!!

the local German bakery here had never heard of Challah bred so i downloaded a few recipes off the internet for their baker to do a test loaf.

i grilled up a few test slices today in my apartment and it went the golden brown that i love so much.

the locals and co-workers i have met in the two weeks i’ve been here have already helped me in tracking down maple syrup, local music for our mix and possibly cinnamon gelato (just like at FTX Auckland in 2008!!).

the date for our event is still tbd but i’ll post more news once i have it.

FTX Namibia is a go!!!!

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FTX ♥ NY Wrap-Up

 

September 18th, 2011

FTX ♥ NY Wrap-Up

FTX #17

http://www.frenchtoastandhugs.com

 

A week ago today was one of the most powerful and greatest of my life.

———————————————————————————————————

Time and learning are mysteries for me. Something can occur so very long ago and then you realize later what it was for. Proof again for me that every moment, every person, every seemingly lost memory is connected. That hidden in these slight things we will find who we truly are and how we got here.

Among the many epic things that occurred last Sunday to and around me there was one of those times.

Our last public FTX was on May 15th, 2010 in my birthtown of Philadelphia. I was planning to set up at the Art Museum’s steps in front of the Rocky statue – one of my childhood heroes.

Since we never have permits to do an FTX I’m often asked if we get in trouble with the authorities. In truth we never have. The police have always been accepting of the unconditional gift we are handing out. The only issues have ever been with vendors because they could possibly look at us handing out free food as bad for their business. So in turn they can go to park rangers (if we are set up in a park area) and have us moved. This had never happened until May 2010 when the ranger told us that although he loved what we were doing we would have to go across the street to continue. Which we did and led to an amazing moment for me regarding my father who passed on in 1991.

You can read about it here:

http://frenchtoastandhugs.com/?p=414

I thought after having that experience with my father on that day in May that moving to a new location for FTX was ok with me.

But I was wrong.

I realized as FTX ♥ NY was approaching that I had fear in my heart.

With almost all FTXs I’ve had people express their fear or concern that we could create a disturbance with the police or be moved. And when we did the two FTXs in downtown Los Angeles I actually got letters from people warning me that we would be hurt by the homeless. In all those cases I recognized those worries as not my own and moved forward. And in each case we were a success and able to do the simple thing we wanted to do – hand out free french toast and hugs unconditionally.

But FTX YO! as I called the Rocky event was different. it wasn’t unconditional. I wanted something that had nothing to do with FTX. And I was shaken when I didn’t get it. Small and petty, but true nonetheless.

———————————————————————————————————

September 11th, 2001.

A day that changed the world.

Easy to write but in truth that day means something unique and complicated to each and every person.

As I wrote in my invite for our FTX ♥ NY my only goal to do this FTX in NYC on 9/11/11 was to find a connection with the people I would meet that day. And in that connection and communication and understanding to find love.

http://frenchtoastandhugs.com/?p=525

Before Brandy & I arrived in NY there was the usual concern about setting up our makeshift french toast stand without any permits. But as we scouted Battery Park days before 9/11 a deep and heavy fear sat inside my stomach. The park and area around it was filled with vendors, park rangers, police and military.

Hundreds of flags with the names of the victims of 9/11/01 filled the grass of the park around the Sphere monument erected there after it was damaged and scarred from its original home at the World Trade Center.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sphere

Brandy and I started to look for the spot where we would set up. Each spot she recommended with her good heart was vetoed by me as too likely to be “in the way” or “shut down”. I felt so silently depressed that I had to sit down on a bench.

This idea to do an FTX here on this day came to me months back without any prodding. There wasn’t any ulterior motive like I had at the Rocky statue was there? Why would this come to me only to never be realized?

It was then that I acknowledged how I felt about our Philly FTX. It was then that I started to deal with my fear.

We both got up and looked around for a bit more and finally left Battery Park. As we stood in front of the park on the sidewalk, green worn benches stretching out in either direction, a warm breeze filled my lungs and both she and I knew this was the spot. I had never chosen a location to be hidden but rather to be found. And here in front of everything, police lining the road, was it.

In that moment I stopped caring if we would be allowed to stay in Battery Park and I became excited about the idea of having to move to different areas of NYC on that special day. Washington Square Park was my second pick if we moved but in the end we never needed it. I’m a believer that there is nothing to fear on this planet but ourselves and this moment was proof again of it for me. Once I got over my fear things became clear and easy.

Here’s what happened….

 

I started with “Easy”.

Every FTX begins with me playing The JB’s “Breakin’ Bread” our unofficial theme song but when I woke up at 5am on Sunday the 11th I knew it had to be “Easy” by The Commodores.

Brandy & I met our mom Sandy who was staying with our amazing friend Ana. (Ana single handedly hosted this FTX with supplies, her car, a place for my mom, hard work and an endless amount of love and care).

We didn’t even know if we could GET to Battery Park because of road closures and warnings not to come down due to the many memorials and events taking place. But we went anyway. Brandy went with Ana in her packed to the roof car and I took a cab with my mom.

As my mom & I got out of the taxi I got a call from Brandy saying that they found parking! Now if you don’t live in Manhattan you have no idea what a miracle this was. I figured if we were lucky enough to find a lot open it would cost upwards of $100 to park on this day. But $16!?!?! (a Sunday special!) and the guy even let us park on the sidewalk until we unloaded all our gear!

We then crossed the road to Battery Park where there were more cops than I have ever seen in my life. Here we are, dressed in our bright gold FTX shirts and stickers, pushing a table, coolers, 25 loaves of challah bred, 25 pounds of strawberries and 3 cylinders of propane right past them!!

Brandy and I stopped in our “spot” and began to set up when a park ranger called me over to his car. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, probably expecting some sort of anger or confrontation, when he told me we weren’t allowed to setup. But thanks to FTX YO! I was prepared!! I explained that we are a gang who travels the earth handing out free french toast & hugs to the people. We love the people of NYC and on this day wanted to give them this unconditional gift. He still wouldn’t allow it and so I offered him some fruit which he declined. Unaffected i turned to Brandy & Ana for ideas. Should we move before even setting up? I was completely good with it but Brandy insisted this was still the place to be. She knew it in her heart.

That was when Jonathan, a new friend and local of Battery Park, told us we should just move across the street outside of the park ranger’s jurisdiction.

JUST LIKE IN PHILLY!!!!

We did, all the while with police everywhere. On that street corner was a little market and I went inside with Ana to see if they would be ok with us setting up on their sidewalk. I said the exact same thing to them that I did to the ranger but this time it was a success!

We set up outside and had a line immediately. “Easy” started to play out of my boombox as friends old and new helped out. (my ♥ to Sam, Charles, Sarah, Louisa, Bryan, Amanda, Phil, Haley & Christy)

We fed approximately 200 people over the next 3 hours comprising mostly NYPD, tourists and locals. I think we fed every cop stationed to watch over the park that was in our area at least twice. One sergeant even tried to teach me to project my voice so I could be heard above the crowd as I called to my friend Sam to give him an FTX soundtrack. “Son I’ve been a traffic cop for a whole lot of years, let me show you how it’s done. SAM!!!!” To which she immediately turned and came over with a smile to give him a cd. As she walked away (and as I was still grilling him up some tasty FT) I tried to give it a go. I cleared my throat and expanded my lungs and belted out “SAM!!!!” With absolutely no effect! The sergeant turned to me and in true NY fashion told me “to stick with french toast”.

Each person that came up to my grill was asked two questions: “How are you doing today?” & “How many slices?”. I got many people saying they were good and some saying they were just coping. The air was heavy with so many emotions. The speeches of Bush & Obama (both of whom later drove by us with their spouses – Obama waving to our crew) and various radio communications between the police could be heard broadcast over the area. I heard bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” as they resonated over the stillness.

Hernando, his name embroidered into his work uniform of a local apartment building, stood in front of me with tears on his cheeks telling me that he was in his building when he saw the planes hit the towers. I offered him up some food and a handshake and told him that we were here today for him. That maybe this moment would help. This connection.

In the end FTX ♥ NY was exactly what I dreamed it would be.

An unconditional gift of love for us all.

There was not a single negative moment in the day. When one person in line returned the favor and asked me how I was doing I replied with an enormous grin “I got married this year. And this is my second greatest day. My heart is literally bursting out of my body right now at you. Can you feel it?!”

As the same four of us left that park later that day my heart and hope were restored. I was reminded that there is no gift greater than unconditional love. And I personally want to thank everyone there that day who re-taught me that.

My boombox, still shuffling thru songs played it’s final one as we passed the flags, the Sphere, the park and the people of New York who I love so much. It was the perfect song and a fitting dedication to them and me and even more perfect – it was from my FTX YO! mix!!

Sly & The Family Stone’s – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). Or in other words, thank you for letting me be myself again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YXPJOUD7G0

Thank you NYC. Thank you FTX. Thank you.

One of my guests in line jokingly told me that he heard I was a french toast “MASTER”. To which I quickly replied “I never said I was a master. I just said I was a LEGEND”.

Legends. Aren’t we all?

love shyam

FTX 1

 

I found this quote by an unknown author in my email at the end of that day sent to me by my friend Trudy, FTX 35. I couldn’t have said it better.

Awakening

In those days,

we finally chose

to walk like giants

& hold the world

in arms grown strong with love

& there may be many things we forget

in the days to come,

but this will not be one of them.

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FTX ♥ NY – September 11th, 2011 – Battery Park, NYC

august 13th, 2011

hello my friends, shyam here with the French Toast & Hugs Gang!!!!

it’s been awhile since last i wrote and a lot has happened but for now i’m just going to tell you about a recent moment in my life.

it was a perfect sunny day in my new home of ojai and i was walking along listening to music on my headphones trying to pick out songs for a mix cd i was going to hand out on my upcoming wedding day (like i said, a lot has happened! 🙂 ).

i was excited about the beautiful unknown hill my life was about to crest and feeling connected to every person i passed by.

my then beautiful bride to be, b, loves the beatles and i have never known much of their music so i dove in hoping to surprise her with a track or two from them when john lennon’s imagine began to play.

we all know this beautiful song but i had never really heard it until that instant.

it was one of those moments where time slowed and you could see the dust floating in the sunstreaked air.

i can only remember this happening to me once in my life before.

and without realizing it i had veered off thinking about my wedding and new life and  was rambling down the familiar road we call FTX when i heard my heart speak asking “what day is september 11th this year?”

i immediately looked it up and found fortune had placed it on a sunday!

that was it. our next public FTX (we did a small one at our wedding) would be in the city of NY on sunday september 11th!

FTX ♥ NY

so please come to battery park, nyc at 9am and join us as we hand out all the unconditional love we can muster for the people of this wonderful city.

i know that the date has a lot of meaning for everyone and i respect that.

as for me, i’m looking for the feeling i had on that sunny day in ojai.

a feeling of connection with life.

because we are all here now and what greater gift is there than that?

(except maybe have the mayor declare battery park – batter park!!!!)

so come on down and enjoy some tasty french toast, good music and friendship.

the bred is from a local baker who says he only bakes for happy occasions!

and the soundtrack mix we’re handing out ends with the very same song that started it all.

this FTX is unusual for me because i have had to rely entirely on the kindness of others to plan it as i find myself far far from home. i want to thank the enormous hearts of ana, sam & b for the gift of their energy.

we hope to see you there.

love shyam

FTX 1

here’s a google map of battery park:

http://tinyurl.com/ftx-battery-park

please check our facebook page on the day for an update status on exactly where we are as things can sometimes change. 🙂

also if you haven’t already, please sign up on our new facebook page because they will soon be shutting down the older version due to a new policy.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/FTX-French-Toast-and-Hugs-Gang/200794489956228

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