A Night in the Subway

As I sat down to dinner in Philly on Saturday night with three of my girlfriends, a bit disheveled from a long night, Christy asks, “What did you do last night??”

“I panhandled in the subway with my sister, made balloon animals and collected money in a hat.”

“NO you didn’t!”

Yes, we did.  But let’s back this story up, because as wacky as we sound there’s actually background to these crazy balloon creatures, and [somewhat] of a method to our madness.  Back in December, the day of NYC’s SantaCon, I somehow found my way to a SantaCon sponsored bar with Meg and my brother.  There were outrageously dressed Christmas themed people, a limbo contest… and a couple of girls with balloon hats.  Since my outfit so badly lacked a Christmas theme, I kinda wanted a balloon hat, so I asked one of the girls where she got it.

“My sister and I made them.”

Dannngggggg!  Impressive.   Chase overheard this, and of course had to throw in his two cents.

“Those sisters are way cooler than you and Carissa.  They make balloon hats.  All you guys do is go to Africa.”

Ohhhhhhh…. challenge, Bro.

So word spread (to the rest of my family), that Carissa and I were slacking on the cool o’ meter, (and the fact that I just typed  “cool o’meter” doesn’t help my case), and I got NOT ONE, but TWO balloon making kits for Christmas.  Equipped with pumps, balloons, and an instructional DVD.  I decided to pack all the supplies to bring to Africa with us that week, and watch the DVD on one of our flights.

Well we never watched the DVD, but the balloons were a hit.  We learned through trial and error, and made some pretty interesting creations.  The first time we made the hats was for our students at the school in Kitoola.  They were all over the age of 13 and the majority of them were boys, but they were awesome sports and rocked the hats.  Halfway through our lesson we noticed a couple of smaller children standing in the doorway of the classroom.  As the lesson progressed, the doorway filled, then eventually spilled INTO the classroom, with children sitting on the floor against the wall, while the rest just quietly peered in from outside.  We continued with our lesson, thinking the kids just wanted to listen in.  But as the class ended and the kids poured in the classroom from outside, we realized they had seen the balloon hats and were patiently waiting because they all wanted one.

We ushered the group outside and got to work.  Not expecting this huge crowd of kids, I was running out of balloons quickly.  I luckily had enough to get SOMETHING on every kid’s head and they were laughing and shrieking like Christmas day.  We were out in a rural village way back behind the sugar cane fields and nestled in a forest, so these children had never seen anything like it.  Balloons were new to them.  They were so adorable and grateful, and THIS day started our crazy balloon making extravaganza.

After we returned from Uganda, we knew our work there was just beginning.  The things we saw, heard and learned confirmed that there’s so much to be done, and we had only scratched the surface.  Where do we start?  Well we are starting by creating a non-profit organization, which we’ve named “Hope Floats” to begin to raise money for the causes we will be working on, including nutrition, and malaria prevention.   We are in the VERY early stages of this, so right now it’s still all about research, and educating ourselves.

Friday night Carissa and I did somewhat of a social experiment, while making sure all of the proceeds are going directly to our new organization’s bank account (new organization’s bank account = big plastic gorilla bank from my grandparents).  We gathered our balloon supplies, dressed in matching outfits, made a couple of drinks to bring with us, and got down into the NYC subway system.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but figured what’s the worst that can happen?  We waste $2.25 each on subway fare, or get arrested.  No biggie.

So we wandered around for a while, not wanting to steal any of the musicians’ thunder, then positioned ourselves far enough away that we were still in the hustle and bustle on the track, but not within earshot of the guy on the bongo.  We put a clown hat on the floor and got to work.  We started out making hats and giving them to the children, but as the night progressed we started getting specific requests.

“Can I get a flower?  I’m going on a date and want to give it to my girlfriend.”


Did we know how to make flowers?  Absolutely not.  But with confidence in our delivery, the man walked away thinking he was holding a flower.  And we got $4 added to our hat.  Score!

Next, a cute little Asian woman came up to us, and asked us if we do events.


She gave us her card and told us she’d LOVE to work with us, doing events on the upper west side.  She walked away;  Carissa and I started giggling.  “If you like what you see, we do events!”  We’re standing there surrounded by balloon “blobs” as we call them.  Flowers that didn’t look like flowers, and hats that had no rhyme or reason to them.  We had them looped through our feet and around our arms to keep them from blowing into the tracks every time a train passed by and stirred up the wind.

Our next request:  “Can you make Spiderman??”


That guy walked away staring at his creation with a bit of confusion.

“Can you make Yogi Berra???”

“Of course!”

Carissa goes, “I’ll make the bat, you make the guy.”

The man looks confused…. I asked, “You want a baseball player?”

“No, a cartoon character.”

“Then you mean Yogi BEAR.”

“Yeah, Yogi Bear…. can you do him?”


Cranked out another amazing creation, and sent him on his way… I guess he thought it was Yogi Bear?  He threw $5 in the hat.

Most feedback was positive.  Kids were smiling, adults got excited, taking one to wear and acting like a little kid.  But then there was the group of teenagers.  They sat on the benches in front of us, waiting for their train, staring and snickering.  We offered them hats, one took it, the rest declined.  At one point I heard one say, “I hope that’s not their salary,” and the others started snickering again.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut.  So I opened it and said, “No, this is not our salary.  We’re raising money for children in Uganda.”

Instead of any sort of remark, the whole group shut up, and one boy got up and put a dollar in the hat, and sat back down.  A second later, another got up, walked over and threw in some change.  After that, one of the girls made a donation.

I was impressed.

Our first night in the subway was definitely a learning experience.  We learned it’s cold down there in the winter.  We learned once you go down there, there’s no bathroom.   And we learned that watching people walk away happy and giddy with a balloon was just as rewarding as seeing a $5 bill get thrown in our hat.

This is just the beginning.

xoxo Gossip Girl

Hope Floats


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Courtney
    Feb 25, 2013 @ 14:45:59

    I absolutely love everything about this. Will you two make balloon hats at my wedding!?!? 🙂


  2. mom
    Feb 25, 2013 @ 19:04:15

    This is the best blog you’ve ever written! I laughed out loud throughout, then reared up at the end, when the teenagers donated their coins. Love, Mom
    I’m proud of my girls.


  3. Tiff
    Feb 25, 2013 @ 21:24:24

    Sent from my iPad


  4. meowlissa
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 11:56:29

    sent from my ipad:
    i love your creations! you can make some for my wedding too if you want! or if you need another hand to make some ameteur creations, i’d be happy to assist?!


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