Joe and I met in a parking lot. I parked there every morning for my workout across the street and he liked to hang out there, so we gradually built up a nice little friendship. One morning, I asked him if he needed anything and he asked me for two very specific things: to create a digital map of locations where he could find resources like shelters, meals, and free internet and to attend a Universal Human Rights Initiative meeting led by a local human rights advocate where residents, city officials and unhoused individuals meet for meaningful dialogue. The specificity of his request blew me away at the time, but it makes a lot more sense to me now. Joe thinks big. And looking back, I appreciate that he told me exactly what he needed instead of me just guessing or making an assumption.
Because I am part of the Local Guides community, I knew how to make customized lists on Google Maps that chart locations on the map, which you can edit, publish and share with friends so I started making maps right away like the ones Joe envisioned. Almost a year later, we've spent dozens of hours together and gotten to know each other and usually chat over coffee on a curb somewhere. And although we have different perspectives on a lot of things, we've established a comfortable equilibrium that carries us from one conversation to the next. No matter what, I know we'll always have a fascinating conversations.
Here are 10 things about Joe I'd like you to know:
1. Joe is a photographer
He's a talented wildlife photographer and beautifully captures everything from flowers in bloom to hawks stalking their prey on the bluffs. He dreams of a day where his work can be featured in a local art gallery.
2. Joe is a consultant
He's educated me and consulted with me on a number of issues, including his inability to go into stores without discrimination, difficulty getting internet access, constant threats of violence, limited access to proper healthcare, and the horrors he's witnessed on the streets. He's spoken at length on the many shortcomings of city projects, including the widely publicized Project Roomkey. It's impossible to provide a solution until we can truly understand the complexities of the problem and attempt to address them while preserving human dignity. And Joe has taught me a lot about that.
3. Joe is wildly creative
He's come up with tons of creative ideas in the past year, but the most impactful is his idea to transition resource lists from paper postcards to something easily accessible on the internet. Most of the city's digital resources aren't easy to find if you're lacking Wifi, a mobile device, a safe place to charge things up and a lot of time to dig through poorly organized, outdated resources. A while back, Joe shared one of his favorite motivational videos with me, which features a young John Cleese on creativity. Cleese claims that "creativity is not a special talent" and that people are either in an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ state of being. The closed mode enables people to apply themselves to tasks intensity, but the open mode is more relaxed and conducive to creative thinking. Joe believes that being in a constant state of open mode thinking allows him to creatively solve life's daily problems.
4. Joe is a builder
He's a natural at building things, including an entire electric bike from scratch without instructions and a tiny cardboard home to rehabilitate an injured crow. He spent days monitoring the bird's health after it had broken its leg and the clever box kept him protected from predators.
5. Joe is obsessed with coffee
There’s few things that Joe loves more than a big cup of coffee. He lovingly refers to it as "liquid gold" and won't take it with any less than six creams and six sugars. One time I emailed him to ask if he wanted coffee and he just replied, "Totally. I always want coffee."
6. Joe is an ecologist
He's a passionate observer of all local wildlife, which is why people call him Joe Hawk. According to Merriam-Webster, an ecologist is a person who is "concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments." This is spot-on Joe. He knows a ton about our native Cooper's Hawks, including their navigation, behavior and hunting patterns and will spend hours looking out for them and knows their favorite nesting spots around the city of Santa Monica. He's the same with dolphin and orca pods. Of all of Joe's many precious moments with animals, my favorite is seeing him talk to and play with the cat through the window at the vet clinic.
7. Joe is a joker
He loves to make jokes. One time I made a batch of stupidly healthy vegan, gluten-free muffins for him and he told me straight up they were horrible. And we both laughed, because I knew it was true. His favorite t-shirt features the lovable extraterrestrial Marvin the Martian and often asks me if I'm actually an alien in disguise.
8. Joe is a exceptional writer
We've exchanged hundreds of emails over the last year. Joe writes from the heart, capturing the beautiful ups and brutal downs of daily life in Los Angeles. He usually writes in a stream of consciousness format, which will include a range of interesting topics for us to explore together. Here's one of my favorite things he's written lately as creatures return with spring.
9. Joe is a podcaster
He has an interesting podcast called California Love where he interviews folks around town, giving them clever nicknames and discussing various topics. We made a flyer last summer to direct folks to his website: californiahungergames.wordpress.com.
10. Joe is human.
Like all of us, he has good days and he has bad days. Sometimes he dreams and sometimes he doubts. But he keeps going and his resilience inspires me and my ability to better understand the needs of others in my community.
There’s a lot more to Joe than meets the eye, but that’s true of all 7 billion of us. Isn’t it? If you’re interested in learning more, I'm honored that the folks at Google wrote about my experiences and I hope it inspires you to get to know your neighbors like Joe.