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Stranger 100, Day 100 - Meet Toccoa

Stranger 100, Day 100 – Meet Toccoa, the “Hard-working, Loving Mother”

Merry Christmas! Today… was an interesting day to find a Stranger. I didn’t intend on today being the last day when I started this journey 100 Days ago. However, it was/ is. I wanted to spend a lot of time with my family, so at some time, I needed to leave my family in search of a Stranger. I drove to two Starbucks nearby (the first was closed.) At the second Starbucks, I approached a couple, and they weren’t at all interested.

The second couple agreed. Or at least, the woman did. Unfortunately, the woman was actually underage. She’s got a fascinating story, and was emancipating from her parents. I still spoke to her, though, to meet her, and honestly, I wanted to share her story if only because I was worried about the sparse Strangers around. (Christmas has a lot of places closed.) However, as I drove away back to join my family, I realized that I wouldn’t normally share an under-aged story unless I have explicit O.K. from a parent/ guardian. So, I’ll share her story, but in a different way later. Onwards!

Where else can I count on to be open and full of Strangers in a city I don’t live in? Waffle House! Haha, perfect. I drove to a local Waffle House, parked, and saw a few servers outside. I approached one of them, and shared with her my journey. She happily accepted to be Stranger 100. This is her story.

Meet Toccoa, 30

Who are you?

“I am a server. And, I drive for Uber and Lyft. What else?”

Anything!

“And I’m a mother. That’s about it.”

“… and an owner of a dog,” she laughs.

Tell me a little bit about being a mother. What’s that like?

“It’s exciting! I love my baby. She’s my best friend. She’s 10 — just turned 10.”

… And you have a dog…

We get interrupted. She has several coworkers who stop her trying to “put me to work! I gotta go!”

You drive Uber and Lyft.

“… and Waffle House!”

Why do you work so hard?

“I have a daughter. I’m the only parent,” she chuckles.

“I’m a single parent.”

What is a dream or aspiration that you have for your daughter?

“For her to do a lot better than me, and finish college. Finish college with a doctor’s degree!” she laughs!

“That’s my dream! I don’t want her to stop at Masters or Bachelors. I want her to get her doctor’s degree, and do whatever she wants in life.”

How do you do that for her now? How do you inspire her to do that?

“With the grades. We keep the grades up for school — can be a little easier for when you do go to college, you won’t be so hard. You won’t be so stressed out because you’ll be a little more ahead, than behind.”

I’m guessing, too, that seeing you work so hard inspires her.

“Yeah, because I don’t want her to do what I have to do. I don’t want her to work so many hours just to make ends meet when life can be easier. I want her to know that, not just see it… just see me struggling. We actually have talked — she’s my best friend — we talk about it. I tell her, ‘I don’t want you to struggle like mama.'” She laughs quietly.

“I don’t. It’s not a struggle, but I don’t want you to work so hard for something that can be a little easier if you just finish school. Whatever doctor…”

Seeing as today’s Christmas and everything, what is something that maybe you can’t just buy her? What is something that you want to give her that you can’t just buy?

“The only thing she wants that I can’t buy, by the grace of God, is a brother and sister. I can’t buy that!” she laughs. “And that’s what she wants, so… everything else, I’m blessed. I’m blessed to buy her everything she wants.”

Very cool. So, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day, if you could ask anyone anything, what would you ask anyone? Yesterday, I met a gentleman by the name of Shyamal, and he wants to, essentially, ask you, “What is something you’re planning to do or do do to make the future better for everyone?” (Thanks to Shyamal, Stranger 99)

“I pray. I pray a lot. I pray for everyone. I’ll pray for you when I leave. So, I will advise the world to keep praying for each other instead of being mad at each other. That’s what I advise the world. More prayers, and less hate. That’s all I want for the world to do.”

So what’s a question you’d like to ask anyone?

“I would like to ask…” She thinks.

“I guess, what would they do to change to make the world a better place. How can they help us be a better place?”

“Yeah, make this world a better place.”

After the handshake.

Today’s story is a little shorter. However, in what few precious moments I spent with her, and hopefully, you can read, she is an incredibly hard-working mother who loves her daughter dearly. She had just gotten off her shift, so many people kept asking her to stay longer or go to another location. She was exceptionally courteous, and I didn’t want to take up too much of her time because the minutes she spent with me were minutes she was not spending with her daughter. It is, after all, Christmas. I was so happy to have met her, and to wave her goodbye because I knew she was on her way to see her daughter who would no doubt have a big smile on her face to see her mother.

Today’s Stranger 100, Day 100. In a lot of ways, this was the perfect story. My earlier meet with the woman who was a little younger was great, too, and I do want to share her story in a more “age-okay” way. She was very mature, and had a big, big smile. However, today is Toccoa and her daughter’s. Toccoa’s story encapsulated much of this journey in her making time for a perfect Stranger like me while sharing her love for her daughter. That’s what motivates her. That’s why she works so hard.

Meet Toccoa. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 93, Day 93 - Meet Mike

Stranger 93, Day 93 – Meet Mike, the “Man with No Excuses”

Meet another staple at the gym I go to. He’s here often, and I’ve always been impressed with his work ethic — in frequency, quality of his routines, great form, etc. In fact, he’s one of the few people in the gym I “look up to”. Yes, there are plenty of people who are stronger than me, more flexible, etc. However, today’s Stranger has always reflected the type of athleticism I admire, and strive to achieve/ maintain.

It was high time we met, so I walked up to him during our workout to meet, and then ask for time after his workout. He agreed.

Fast-forward a little bit. Our conversation took place pretty quickly, and we really just dove right in. So I’ll insert you in here…

Meet Mike, 27

We just get so caught up with everything else around us. We don’t make time to say hello. And this is great, and I didn’t want to interrupt your workout routine. I plug in my earphones. I have a timer. So, it’s like don’t F$*@ with me.

“Ha! Yeah.”

So it’s nice afterwards to connect.

“Yeah, I definitely come in here… it’s almost like therapeutic for me in here. It’s like you said — getting so busy and caught up. For me, just come in, and do my thing. Get my endorphins going. Get my sweat going. And I usually come in in the mornings just because it starts my day off so much better.”

“If I’m working late, then I don’t have to be like worrying about 7 o’clock. Am I going to get to the gym? I got two dogs. So, am I going to get home and let them out, or am I going to get to the gym? So doing it in the morning is much easier.”

Exactly. At least between sets or whatever, I can nod to you or say hi, and then go about doing our own thing.

“Yeah, I’ve seen you in here for at least the last year or two.”

*We talk about my workout routine a bit in the gym as well as my running and soccer regimen + yoga.*

“I go… usually, I lift Monday-Friday. I try to get five lifts-a-week. Then, do a couple days of something outdoors — whether it’s taking the dogs up to Kennesaw Mountain, or trail running with them, or I’ll go over to Marist and run stadiums over there. Just something to keep myself going.”

“I played Lacrosse in college at Bucknell. It’s Division I. And then, it was probably two years after school — so, I lived in Baltimore for a year. Then, came down here in 2012. Then, maybe two years after that, I started getting terrible, terrible pains in my hips. And so they tried this thing called dry-needling. You ever heard of dry-needling?”

Nope.

“They basically try to shock your muscle tissue because they think it’s some sort of mobility issue. And my third session of dry-needling, they tried to address this pain that I had. The physical therapist was like, ‘You gotta go get an MRI’ because he thought it was hardened muscle. But it was actually just my bone. It turns out I had, it’s call FAI — femoroacetabular impingement. You ever heard of that?”

No…

“It’s the top of your femur. You know the ball-in-socket? I guess my entire life, it’s almost like a bone deformity, but it’s an impingement. So, it’s a mechanical limitation to movement. I had excess bone on the outside of the top of my femur. So instead of, like, rotating nicely in that socket, if there’s more bone on the top of the femur…”

You can’t go that far.

“Right. It would kink out. So, over time, it just started to wear away at the cartilage and soft tissue, which is called degenerative joint disease. So I had torn labrums in both hips, and degenerative joint disease in both hips. So they repaired that as much as they could. They put anchors and medical stitching, or whatever. Then, they shaved off the bone that was causing the impingement. I guess not only on the top of the femur, but was also on my pelvis, too.” He laughs, “… chopped off bone on both sides of the femur and the pelvis.”

“So that was like — I’m 27, so that was… I think started at 24. I’ve had my last surgery a year ago. A year and a half ago. Last summer. So summer 2015. So long story short, I don’t know if you saw me, but I was in here with my brace on and a cane.”

I did remember once or a few times, but…

“You were probably like, ‘What the hell is that kid doing in here?!’ But I was like, I can’t. I’ll go stir crazy, so I was like, ‘I gotta do something.’ I had my buddy that was in here. We started, and we probably lifted together for like a year or so. He and I started lifting together at that time. So, it was motivation to do something instead of just laying on my back all day. I only did upper body stuff. So that’s kind of been, for me, made the last couple years kind of suck. Even more for me, never wanting to not do something physical. Flag football, or like, I said, trail running, or just lifting weights… it’s nice for me. I think it’s as much mental as it is physical as far as stress decompression. Saying I’m not going to use anything as an excuse to just do something to make myself feel better.”

“Yeah, it’s been good, though. I refuse to go back to the doctor right now!” he laughs. “I talked to my mom, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not feeling so good’. She’s like, ‘Go to make an appointment!’ After two and a half years of all that, I’m just going to try to see what I can do. I don’t know if that’s healthy or not, but…”

*I tell him about physical therapy, and how yoga has been great for me, and for many people around me. Several Strangers over this journey have also found yoga to be hugely helpful for different physical, mental, and emotional elements. I share with him, also, how yoga helps complement my lifts and running/ soccer.*

“Yeah, I’ve been to Infinity on Dresden.” (Infinity is the studio I go to, and where I’ve met lots of Strangers.)

“My sister’s a certified instructor. She’s always telling me to get into it. I’ve enjoyed it.” He mentions how he did the teaser classes, and also how the cost has prevented him from signing up longer-term. “I’ve done on-demand stuff at my house. I agree with you, and she’s always trying to push me into it as far as restorative and flexibility.”

This place has some yoga (referring to the gym we’re at). I started out doing yoga here, and then I switched over after 15 months or whatever, I went over to Infinity. *Mike then asks me about my background, and if I still play club league soccer today*

“I also played club league hockey down here for a year. But the rinks… I’m from upstate New York, and there’s four or five rinks within 10 minutes of me. Yeah, down here…” he laughs. “Either Cumming, or sometimes you go up to Marietta. Or there’s a little rink in Buckhead, but they didn’t schedule our games that much. So after a couple years of driving to Cumming for a 10PM men’s league game, getting home at 12:30AM, I was like, ‘Meh, it’s not worth it.'”

Yeah, we have games at like 10:15PM and stuff. It’s like a shorter game. It’s like half.

“And then lacrosse, I pretty much have played every year since I’ve been here. But two years ago, and it was actually kind of when I was finishing up with surgery, the league disbanded. My buddies started up again last year. So lacrosse is growing down here. It’s good to see. I actually used to coach over at Marist. They had some raw, raw talent over there.” He laughs. “Lots to learn, but it’s good to see. I love the sport. The kids that don’t go out for football, or whatever, want to concentrate on a different sport since football’s so big down here.”

So, aside from working out and lacrosse, any other passions?

Mike thinks for a moment. “Other than work?”

Is work a passion?

“Yeah, I think so. I’ve been working for this company for five years. Actually, a friend of mine from college, recruited me to work down here. I work in operations management now. The company was very fragile, and so I think I’ve grown a lot in learning how to motivate people. It’s been very helpful, and very… it’s been a good learning experience for me.”

He shares with me a little bit about the challenges of the company, and how he’s appreciated the opportunities to learn. “I mean, I guess I don’t have a really good explanation for it, but it definitely keeps me going.”

So I’ll start to wrap it up, but what is a key to motivating someone?

“Knowing that everyone is different. You can’t be a hard-ass on somebody and think that being a hard-ass on everybody will work. You can’t be, you know, motivating and being a servant leader to everybody, and think that’s going to work. Everyone has different motivations, and you can’t just work with people from afar. You have to, I think, dig in and understand everybody in order to know what drives them. If you do that, they’re going to feel like you have that personal relationship with them rather than ‘Oh, here’s just this guy that’s just trying to manage or make money for the business or whatever’. It’s more like, ‘This guy actually cares about my personal progress as a professional or as a human-being.'”

“So I think that’s a big key is understanding the people.”

I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congratulations, you’re Stranger 93), if you could ask anyone anything, what would you ask them? Before you have that opportunity, there were two people yesterday (they combined into one, they were a couple). Two questions they wanted to ask. Andrea wanted to ask you, “Without any boundaries, what would you go do right now?” (Thanks to Andrea, Stranger 92)

“Without any boundaries? I’d probably go visit my good buddy out in San Francisco. He’s been out there for like three years. He’s my best friend growing up. He’s never visited Atlanta, and I’ve never been to San Francisco. I think we owe it to one another to see what each other’s life is like. Since 3rd grade, we were inseparable. If I could just go and hang out with him for a few weeks, and see what he’s up to… It’s kind of been like a relationship we haven’t kept as strong over the years.”

Mike asks me if he’s just passing a question to tomorrow’s Stranger (Stranger 94). Yup!

So David, her husband, wants to ask, “What’s the motto or otherwise a saying that you live by?”

He answers quickly, “No excuses.”

“I don’t want to become complacent in anything, really. I don’t think you should ever let some sort of impediment to your progress keep you down. I think everyone — from time to time, it’s happened to me. You get down, and then you gotta snap yourself out of it. Keep moving forward whether it’s your mental psyche or physical ability or capability to do something in your work-life. Don’t become complacent, and don’t let it rule you. No excuses.”

“So I gotta come up with a question for the next person?”

Yeah.

“What’s the most down, or the lowest, you’ve been in your life? And what did you use or how did you get out of that rut… and keep moving forward? That’s what I would like to know.”

After the handshake.

After asking his question for tomorrow’s Stranger, he made the comment that he was sorry to ask a question that was “down in the dumps”, but I saw it totally differently. I saw his question as more as a question on how to not only connect with others, but also to learn and inspire others with ways to move on. Mike recognizes this, too, knowing everyone goes through something challenging. It was clear that the last several years were very difficult dealing with his hip pain and how it bottlenecked his desire to be active.

Like I said earlier, I noticed Mike because of his athletic abilities in the gym. He does some power lift, but does a fair bit of Olympic-style lifting, too. His form is usually impeccable (like his squat). We talked a moment before we went over to take his picture as he told me he wanted to get his picture doing a squat. I thought that picture was perfect, and I was actually think that before he said it. Him doing a squat is representative of his triumphant return and the ongoing diligence he has for being active and improving himself.

We also talked for a brief moment about his form. Specifically, he’s got great form, but it’s as a result from being hurt. After surgery, he’s spent a lot of time being cognizant of his form. I related to this after a few injuries over the last couple years. It’s funny, and somewhat terribel, that we focus on our lives and the present (and our form) typically only after something bad happens. This is familiar territory for those who suffer some setback. They reassess their lives — purpose, relationships, etc. We should be more present day-to-day and catching ourselves when our form starts to slip before they truly slip and we get hurt. Be proactive (or even active in the moment) rather than reactive.

But when we do have to react, react in a way that keeps us going and moving towards our greater goal. As Mike says, “no excuses.”

Meet Mike. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 78, Day 78 - Meet Zach

Stranger 78, Day 78 – Meet Zach, the “New Man”

As the counter reaches 100, I’m leveraging this journey to connect with the people I see often but haven’t talked to. These are more “warm” Strangers, as no doubt they’ve seen me before many times.

Today is onesuch Stranger to whom I’ve wanted to get to know for a while now. He came to a meditation class weeks ago, and has been a staple to that class and several other yoga classes I take. In between meditations in class, we have discussions, and he’s always participating either asking a question or sharing how the meditation affected him. He always had a confidence about him, so I was interested to learn who he was. Happily, he agreed to be today’s Stranger.

Meet Zach, 28

Who are you?

He smiles and laughs for a moment. “Man! I’m not 100% sure how to answer that question.”

“I’m kind of looking for who I really am, if that make sense at this point of my life. I’ll kind of give you a sense of who I am, what got me here, you know?”

“I had a really big substance abuse problem for a big part of my life. I couldn’t get off drugs. I probably started trying to quit using drugs probably about five years ago. My life was just real horrible, as you can imagine. They kept sending me to, I guess, 12-step like-AA-based recovery. That wasn’t very effective for me. I was introduced to the idea that — well, I guess, addiction is a mental disease, right? It’s all in your mind — your cravings and all that stuff that goes on. Well, if you could change your thoughts, if I could control my thinking, then maybe I could train myself to quit using.”

“So, that seemed to be really effective when I started trying to do it. Just trying to catch negative thoughts, bad thoughts. I learned to be able to change them… thinking of the world in a positive way. I’be been clean maybe 10 months now. I’ve never been clean this long, but when I’m 27 years old, and I look in the mirror ‘I’m a junkie, I haven’t accomplished anything in my life’ that just makes you want to use more. When you learn to look at yourself in a positive light and thinking of yourself in a positive way, then you feel better about yourself. You don’t have the urge to maybe stick needles in your arm and do all that shit I was doing for so long.”

“So, I started coming into this belief that our thoughts are so important… changing my thoughts has had such an impact on my life. Somebody actually told me –you know, I was looking into the internet and stuff like that — meditations is really like training your brain. I’ve gotten to where I really enjoy it, so here I am in meditation class. And yoga! I’ve always liked working out, you know? Physical activity… that’s like meditation and working out. This has all been really helpful to me.”

“I didn’t even know, man. Even something new that’s hitting me is I started going to meditations at the Buddhist Monastery down the street right down Dresden.” He was telling me about how much it all surprised him. “There’s a whole religion that’s based on this. Based on suffering is nothing more than thoughts in your own mind. Your state is ‘perception is reality’. That’s really cool to me. So, I’m thinking. I’m really intrigued into learning more about Buddhism, and take that interest to a deeper level.”

“Yeah, man…” he laughs.

“So right now, I’m not a drug addict anymore! But I spent my whole life as a drug addict. I started using when I was… smoking weed, eating pills and stuff when I was 13/ 14/ 15 years old. So, it’s like I’m learning who I am now because I’m not that anymore. But I’m not 100% sure who I am or what I’m going to do or whatever. It’s been a beautiful experience.”

“I hope that wasn’t too much.” No way, Zach! This was great, and I appreciated you sharing with me and others. Know that there are lots of people who will appreciate who you are NOW, and lots of people who will look to you as their inspiration.

Thinking about how you started thinking more positive, what were some of the keys to thinking more positive when most everything seemed negative at the time?

“Therapy helped a lot. I actually got introduced to therapy and seeing a therapist. He was the one who told me to look up various people on YouTube. There’s a guy named Wayne Dyer.” Zach tells me a little bit about what Wayne is about before chiming in, “As goofy as it may sound, I don’t sit there. I can’t ever bring myself to do it like some people say affirmations to themselves in the mirror. It probably works!” He laughs. “But I just can’t foresee myself doing it. Maybe one day. But it’s not my jam. But I don’t know…”

He pauses for a moment and asks me to repeat the question.

“Okay, for myself, just realizing the negative thoughts when you have them. So, I use examples to show people and share my experiences.” He thinks of an example.

“Okay. If I think to myself, ‘man, I’m 28 years old, and all I’ve got is like a beat-up car or a room in a house that I rent and a job that doesn’t pay that great, you know, I can think about that as negative. Or, I can come back, and I realize I don’t like to think that way because it’s not comfortable. It’s not a happy way of thought. I think to myself, ‘man, I was homeless a year and a half ago. And now, I’ve kept the same job I’ve spent X amount of time in. I’ve been getting paid a lot more when I started the job. Look at the progress I’ve made!’ And think, ‘man, if I continue making progress, and like, I’m going places’, you know? You can look at the same situation in two different lights. The more you realize… you kind of train yourself to, over time, be able to look at it in a positive way.”

“Your thoughts create your future, you know? If you’re thinking in a positive manner, you’re going to have a more and more optimistic future.”

If there’s something that you want in your life that you don’t have, what are you going to do starting today to get that? (Thanks to John, Stranger 77)

He takes a deep breath and looks up thinking. “Whoa, this is hard.” He repeats the question slowly, “If there’s something I want in my life… that I don’t have…”

He thinks for a little longer leaning against the wall.

“Just listening to my gut, and know I’ll end up getting it if I need it. Do the nice, right thing, man. Does this make sense? They call it path of least resistance. I believe that if I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and thinking how I need to think, the universe is going to put in place everything that I need to be whole.”

He admits, “I’m not 100% sure what it is that I do want. But I know it’s coming to me, if that makes sense.”

“And, once it’s apparent to me what I do want, action. Put action behind it. You know what I’m saying? Wake up and act the role in which that’ll take me to get what it is that I do want. Like, if I want peace, come to this class or the monastery. Now, I put action behind like everyday. I meditate everyday because it helps. I go to the yoga class or go to the gym. Do the shit that helps you. If I want to do something with my life or go to school, college, but I don’t know.” To Zach he’s deliberate and puts action into what he wants to do/ achieve especially things like meditation and yoga which have helped him a great deal.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Ask them to describe a time they were truly happy.”

He explain why he wanted to ask that question, “by doing that hopefully it makes them happy.” That is, Zach believed that recalling a truly happy memory would trigger a recall, and thus, feel that same happiness in that moment. Wow.

After the handshake.

This was perhaps a shorter meet as we had limited time at the yoga studio before the studio needed to close. (I asked to extend the time so I could meet Zach.) However, we were able to stand around a little bit longer afterwards to just chat. He was very interested in what I was going to do with our conversation, and what this journey was about. As I explained to him more about how I wanted to inspire connections, he understood more and more of my inspiration. He also started to appreciate and want to read the stories of the other Strangers. I shared with him that no doubt others will read his story, and people will be inspired by his story. People will connect to his story in ways he and I didn’t even know, and may never know. That’s how many Stranger stories have meant to others.

I want to point out how great it was to spend a few minutes to listen to Zach. He left the building before coming back to share with me how spending just a little bit of time with each other could mean a lot. I’m paraphrasing a little (a lot) here. However, I think he genuinely recognized the opportunity to be had if people were to just take a few minutes to recognize people around them. I shared wth him that that is exactly the point of all this. It’s about inspiring connections and cultivating a stronger community.

Also, Zach’s question was good, but I didn’t really think too much of it having heard it in a similar form before. However, I was taken aback when he added why he wanted to ask the question. He wants tomorrow’s Stranger to not just share a happy moment, but he wants the Stranger to feel that happy moment again — to relive it. I thought that was powerful because, sometimes, we ask to know. Heck, sometimes I ask Strangers questions to know and to continue this 100 days journey. Yes, I want to inspire connections, and I want people to feel connected. However, Zach wanted to ask to inspire a feeling. Let that sink in for a moment. When you ask someone a question tomorrow, or when you say something (maybe even just a hello), how do you ask it? Do you ask just to greet someone because that’s “courteous”? Or do you ask a question so that the other person feels something — feels happy. Feels sad.

Perhaps I’m excited about Zach’s share because he explicitly said it, and it’s resonating in my head like a gong being struck. It’s calling to attention how I’m interacting with others. Like Kathleen, the Women’s Mentor (Stranger 60) who shared how men tend to interrupt women. I want to say I don’t, but her explicitly sharing makes me that much more conscious of my conversations with women (and men). It’s one of those shares that keeps me honest.

So meet Zach. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 67, Day 67 - Meet Amy

Stranger 67, Day 67 – Meet Amy, the “Aerial DJ”

I walk around the office today to find today’s Stranger. As I was walking I noticed an office with three women about to leave, so I did what I never do — walk up to a group of women to chat. In this case, I wanted to meet my Stranger for the day to which one of the women agreed, and stayed behind.

As we start out, she’s sitting on an exercise ball. She’s got so much energy to her that the bouncing on the ball really amplifies her energy. She’s even moving her arms while she bounces like she’s getting a full body workout — fitting, too, given she works at a company called Fit Radio. I note that there’s no radio on, but she’s certainly got the “fit” part down, and that she’s pretty much the radio on her own.

She surprised me, “Well, I’ve been on radio before. Well, I’m on radio right now. I do radio in San Diego.” How great, too, because I love San Diego. It’s all coming full-circle, and I mention how I love being fit (or trying to be).

She agrees, “We’re all trying to be fit. Have you ever met those people who never eat bad? Never… just… let loose? I can’t relate to these people!” Haha. As she was telling me this, I was literally thinking about how great it’d be to have a KitKat bar or Skittles right then.

So, we officially kick this off.

Meet Amy, “Grown and Sexy”

*I was told not to ask women their age, but I’ve committed that faux pas plenty of times already on my journey — whoops!*

As she tells me her email, I realize she’s DJ Mami Chula. I’ve heard her name come across the radio before, so it’s really coming full-circle for me now. In fact, I share with her how I just attended Atlanta’s MLS team’s kit unveiling — where they reveal the design and style of the uniforms and jerseys for Atlanta United. She was the DJ spinning the tracks at the big shindig. I remember thinking that the DJ was pretty good before the MC (master of ceremony) intro’ed the DJ — DJ Mami Chula. It resonated with me because I had heard her name on the radio before. Now, here I was meeting her for the first time. How crazy is that? Okay, back to Amy…

I share with her how I recognize her name from several radio shows I’ve heard in the morning.

She responded, “I don’t know if they’re here now. I’m not on radio here. I was on 95.5 the Beat, 107.9, and Power 96.1… AND Wild 105.7/ 86.7.” Very cool.

What drove you into radio?

“I was going to go to school to be an FBI agent.” She corrects herself, “I was in school to be an FBI agent.”

“My school had a radio station. I was like, ‘oh, I can go up there and have fun. Just a side thing to have fun.’ And then they had turntables and the radio show, and I fell in love. That’s all I wanted to do.”

“…Turned into my passion.”

What about radio really drew you in?

“The creativity. Being able to move people by just playing a record. Making them feel good. Making them say, ‘Oohhh!’ When you get that ‘oh’, that’s like the best feeling as a DJ.”

“Also, to be honest, not many women do it, did it, or was doing it where I was from. So I just thought it was really cool. Be like one of the boys!”

“Just one of those things I’ve always been — I want to beat the boys,” she laughs. “Very competitive.”

I told her I felt like she made a name for herself recalling how I recognized her name at the Atlanta United event last week, and that I enjoyed the music she was “scratching” (I put quotes because I’ve never said that or typed that before, but she’s using the term). I had a great experience from her music. I asked her how she felt about where she is now.

“I’m happy!” Then, she breathes in deeply. “Okay, so to be honest, Power 96.1 got rid of me — they let me go. I think because ever since I was in Atlanta, I’d done radio. This was the first time I’ve never been on radio in Atlanta. It definitely threw me for a loop. But I’m so happy at Fit Radio.”

“I’m doing another passion project. It’s called ‘aerial DJing’. Have you seen the girls on aerial stilts hanging from the ceiling? I’m combining that with DJ’ing. My first show is New Year’s Eve at Opera.” (Opera is a club in Midtown Atlanta.)

“It’s a full show. Every 15 minutes, I’ve got two girls up with me. We’re doing mini aerial acts, and then I’m in the sling upside down DJ’ing, scratching, yeah! That’s what my passion is right now. So I’m happy. I’m good!”

I’m thinking about how I should introduce her to Andrew, yesterday’s Stranger.

What brought up aerial DJ’ing?

“Yeah, getting letting go from your job!” She laughs.

“Honestly, I always wanted to do… add something to being a DJ. I’ve been on tour. I’ve DJ’ed for people on tour with Ciara, Snoop Dogg, The Game, but I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to take my DJ’ing to the next level. I didn’t want to DJ in places where I didn’t want to DJ. Every DJ does gigs… and they’re like, ‘oh god, I don’t want to do this gig’. I just didn’t want to do that to a degree being that I’ve been doing DJ for so long.”

“I wanted to create something that would hopefully go viral. That would be something nobody’s ever done. To do it. To do it for me.”

“I started doing aerial, and I thought ‘oh my god this would be cool to add this with it.’ It could totally happen.”

“That’s just how I came up with the two. I don’t know. When I get something in my head, I just go do it. Might be a little bit of ‘I’m going to do, I’m not going to do it’, but then I just go. I attack it!”

When you were let go, how did you get into the zone to still be happy with what you’re doing?

“It was hard. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot. Took like 6 months to almost a year of being let go. I was still DJ’ing at the clubs, and stuff. But to start working on this, this is a year in the making for me to get this show. You have to be strong enough to even do the moves in aerial. It was a come-on-let’s-go type thing. I can’t really pinpoint what motivated me. I just see something big in my head. I know that this could work. I know it could be big. Nobody’s ever done it. Why not?”

What kind of advice would you give to someone who comes to some sort of hardship (i.e. being let go, a break-up, some other loss)?

“The hardest thing for me was to realize — I’m a very big go-getter, and I was really mad at myself. There was a time period I just couldn’t get going. I just got so down on myself. I think just try and recognize why you’re sad. When you lose a job, or when you lose somebody, that’s a big thing out of your life. It hurts, and you don’t understand why. Just being able to recognize you need some time to grieve. You need some time to get yourself together, but don’t waste too much time. I wish I could’ve not wasted so much time being so mad. Then, pick yourself back up and freaking go. Go get it. Go with what makes you happy.”

Amy shared with me someone close to her that she loved and respected. However, “she does something that she hates everyday in life. She hates going to her job. I’ve been so lucky to all my adult career to pretty much do what I love. Just go make that happen. If someone doesn’t see your worth, your worth is somewhere else. Forget that. It’s hard to feel it at the time, but it’s true. I had to realize my worth is more than what they were showing me. That’s a hard thing.”

Have you had anyone who has been a big influence who has helped you get to where you are today? How did that person help you?

“Well, there’s been a few people. There’s been my aerial teachers. Amber who owns Sky Gym. She’s helped me. Kathleen who was a trainer at Sky Gym. Those two people have really helped me. They’ve been doing it for years. They’ve helped me feel comfortable to do aerial.”

“My DJ teacher who I call him my ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi of DJ’ing’. He and Machete X. He’s helped me throughout everything. It could be scratch. It could be a show. How to put my show together. I’ve had some great people help me, and just motivating me and keeping me going, and make me see a different route, or make me a see a different move that could work over what wouldn’t work. No matter what, they’ve helped me make it happen. That’s how they’ve helped me.”

“Having those people in your corner is so important.”

Are you helping anyone in that way? How are you paying it forward?

“I’m a big person. My Love Language is Acts of Service. So what these people are doing for me, I have to do for them. I’ve put on a lot of people through my career on radio. DJ’s — giving them DJ gigs when nobody else would. Or got people hired when nobody else would get them hired. So as far as the aerial DJ part, I haven’t been able to pay it forward just yet. But I’ve got my girls hired and put money in their pocket. Whenever I get a job through my connections through aerial, I do it that way. I make sure they get a job. So I put people on. I give them jobs. I hire DJ’s to do parties a lot.”

“I’m not a afraid to teach somebody. Some people teach you wrong because they’re scared — a lot of people do that. I want to teach you right. Or, they won’t teach you at all because you might be better than them. I’m not afraid of that. Like, be better than me. Go ahead.” Probably raises her game!

Have you ever been betrayed? And what did you do? (Thanks to Andrew, Stranger 66)

“Yeessss!” She thinks about the first betrayal that comes to mind.

“Yes, I have. My really good friend that came up in radio. She was kind of a mentor. I think she saw me as a threat, and that’s why she didn’t help me get on when she left. She was leaving, and I was trying to get her spot, because she already announced she was going to a new station. So she told everybody that I was trying to steal her spot — just made me look really bad before she left. It was really hard to get through it.”

“What did I do? I didn’t talk to her! To be honest… I didn’t talk to her because I didn’t want that energy around me. I don’t know… that’s kind of where we left it. She emailed me saying she was sorry, actually. She said, ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I didn’t help you. I think about you all the time.’ As nice as that was for her to do that, I just didn’t hit her back. I was like, ‘you know what? I’m passed that.’ Cool, but I don’t know… It was just so deep, and so hard. I just couldn’t hit her back. I’m glad she hit me. I’m glad she’s doing good.”

Do you think you’ll ever close that?

“If I see her, I think we’ll be cool. But we’ll never be friends again. I’ll never just call her.”

Has that impacted some of your relationships today?

“Definitely because it was so hard. What she did before she left impacted my career for a long time. When those people have a certain view of you, it’s hard to shake that. And I don’t even think she understood what she did.”

“I didn’t… I just left it alone.”

She remarks, “That’s a deep question, Andrew! That’s a good one!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I want to know… are you 100% happy with what you’re doing in life right now? If you’re not 100% happy, what will make you happy? And are you going to do it? 3-part question.”

After the handshake.

I mean… like… yeah. I’ve heard her DJ name for a while on radio before. Then, I see her perform and do her thing at an event. Today, I just walk up to an office that she’s at, and she’s the volunteer to be my Stranger. The world is small. Serendipity happens all the time!

It was really great to meet her, and I loved her energy. She was happy and bouncing from the outset, and she stayed that way throughout while taking her picture on her exercise ball, too.

Also, as we were leaving the office, another woman walked up who worked on the same floor as Amy. I knew this woman, too, so introduced them. They both looked at each, smiled, shook hands, and mentioned to each other how they had seen each other several times before. Classic everyday Strangers! Glad the two were able to meet since they’re both good people. I’ll also make the intro to Andrew, yesterday’s Stranger, who spent some years DJ’ing as well.

Meet Amy. No longer a Stranger.