Category Archives: Amazing Strangers

Get me back

Amazing Strangers Wendell iconYes, I’ve returned to NYC for one week, and much to my surprize I discovered I can pick up right where I left off without hardly a stutter. And I had a blast! In fact, I yearn to come back again. But I need help. One basic help, actually.
1. Accommodations.

If I had offered to me a place to stay for a week that wasn’t just a sofa in a living room, but instead an actual room with a bed, it could be done. I could return periodically throughout the year to document this Square. And it’s still going on there from what I witnessed. The regulars still haunt those steps, and I’ve got contacts for so many others who are happy to show and update me on their lives. I have so much footage and had a lot of fun my week there. But damn if my achin’ back and tired eyes were ready to leave after a week of sleeping on a futon in a living room.

Now, listen to this. If there were also a stove to make eggs & toast, and a coffee maker to brew my Bustelo each morning before I set out, I could do two weeks. Two full weeks of content for YouTube’s Amazing Strangers a few times a year. How great would that be? I’m more efficient than I ever was before. The amount of footage I acquired in one day visiting is more than I ever got any day prior to moving away. I have more of an urge to get interviews, document events, and obtain valuable footage than ever before.

So that’s what I’m hoping. Someone out there who sees the value in what I’m doing with access to a living quarters in NYC generous enough to offer a room with a bed. I do dishes. I clean up after myself. I buy my own supplies. I buy my own plane tickets and taxi cabs.

Greetings from Union Square
Greetings from Union Square

I know it can sound like a lot I’m asking. I lived in NYC for 13 years and never once did I let someone stay rent free for a week or two in their own room. I have friends offering me a sofa for days at a time, but my body and mind isn’t cut out for that much roughing it any more. It used to be, but no longer. Otherwise I see myself maybe coming once a year, in spring, for a week. That’s the full extent I can manage on a sofa without a door to close.

I get how to many this might seem petty, or snobbish. Like I won’t come unless I get a red carpet. Fact is, when you’re in NYC spending most your time in the busiest, craziest parts of town, you need that sanctuary at the end of the day. A solid rest with peace & quiet to get back into it the very next day at 100%. Having to go to sleep when the last person in the house leaves the living room, and waking when the first roommate’s alarm goes off and they’re walking past your bed to make cereal, you don’t get that needed rest. Especially needed when you’re almost 50 years old.

My hope is after you see the amount of great content I’ve gotten after just one week it’ll prove I’m worth it to someone out there with offerings. I’m ready to come back and document the park & people we’ve grown attached to over the years. There’s a limited window of time for this unique project to even continue. I realize that too. So let me know if you can be of assistance. I’m ready.




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From the Mines of West Virginia

Aaron Osborne/West Virginia coal miner
Aaron Osborne/West Virginia coal miner

Dude, I’ve been stuck watching your Union Square videos for days. I love them!! I’m an underground coal miner from southern West Virginia, and I’ve always loved New York. It’s the light of the world. And your videos are just as good as taxicab confessions or something like that, they just need the exposure or the right advertising and I think they’d be a hit. It’s just sad to me that I can’t make the drive to Union and most of these people probably won’t be there. Except for maybe Signs and Wendell, and they’d probably run me off lol. But thanks for the entertainment man, it’s honestly been great.

The outside of the Oceana, West Virginia mine I work in. You can barely see the drift mouth, to the left of the middle blue building
The outside of the Oceana, West Virginia mine I work in. You can barely see the drift mouth, to the left of the middle blue building

Your views on religion are spot on, and I love watching you calmly and very courteously tear them down. It’s beautiful to watch😂😂😂… I’m 34 years old, and was raised in church. And I slowly started forming my own opinion at 15, kinda like somebody trying to sell you a bullshit Rolex. You want it to be real, but you’re just kinda like “ehhhh iiiii don’t know…”

I tell ya man, it's honestly a living hell. But you depend on each other so much, you form a bond closer than family. And you look forward to work to see your guys, and everybody brings each other food, candy, equipment. And it becomes fun. A band of brothers for sure.
I tell ya man, it’s honestly a living hell. But you depend on each other so much, you form a bond closer than family. And you look forward to work to see your guys, and everybody brings each other food, candy, equipment. And it becomes fun. A band of brothers for sure.

I know ur busy, but I’d love to bullshit with ya for a bit. Gimme a yell man, I got a lot of questions about New York and some of the people. Btw I hope your parents are well, and I love your dog, the sticks crack me up (FB pics). I have a siberian husky that’s full of energy. I love dogs. But anyway bro, I never meant for this to go on so long. Gimme a shout man. I would love to bullshit for a bit.

RIP Joey Boots
Aaron Osborne
Continuous Miner Operator at Blackhawk Mining LLC

(Aaron and I have since messaged each other several times on Facebook.)

Adam Saleh is a Fraud

Adam Saleh getting kicked off Delta
Adam Saleh getting kicked off Delta

There’s a video getting a lot of attention right now on YouTube of several young guys getting kicked off a plane for speaking Arabic. The video is short, of a guy yelling into his camera phone about how he and his buddies are being booted for speaking a foreign language while he was on the phone with his mother, and chastising white people on the flight for letting the toss-off happen. CBSN described Adam Saleh as a “YouTube star kicked off Delta.” And that he most certainly is. You see, I have a history with Adam Saleh and his “True Story ASA” gang, and now seems like as good a time as any to share with you who they are and what it is they’re doing.

I had been documenting Union Square Park in NYC for the last decade or so, and 2014 – ’15 I would see them there trying to bait people in one way or another. For instance, trying to get New Yorkers to complain about a Muslim praying in public.

Fake "Stop Muslim Praying" videoThey’d lay out a rug and pray on the park path, but no one cared. So they’d have one of their friends try and drag people over saying “Yo, you gonna let him pray like this? It’s mad disrespectful, right?” and still people wouldn’t jump on board with the enthusiasm they needed for a video. The last resort was having a friend pretend to be offended and complaining, blur out his face, call it a real passer-by, and there’s your video. It’s shameful and cringe-worthy, and not very hard to figure out if you’ve got even an average eye for social studies.

Thrown off Planes Career image

Immediately when I first started seeing this “Kicked off Delta” story circulating through my Facebook feed I knew that they’d gone and done it again. I wasn’t even aware (until now) they’d already posted videos of themselves causing this kind of trouble on planes before. In the past they’ve recorded themselves counting down from 10 to 1 in Arabic loud enough for everyone on the plane to hear, and laughing while they did it. Yes, Adam is this type of guy. He needs this sort of attention. And his YouTube channel, with over a million and a half subscribers, is audience. As a videographer myself I understand the pressure to get material for a YouTube channel. I understand the urge to make something happen when nothing’s happening. And it’s clear Adam has embraced this method without regard for his own reputation, or the reps of his If-he-jumps-off-a-cliff-so-will-I friends. The host of WeAreChange did a better job of illustrating this in a video than I ever could.

I have a history with Adam Saleh and his True Story ASA gang. They got involved in my Union Square footage when my friend Joey Boots was yelling at a lady wearing fur. That video gets pretty obnoxious, but it was my introduction to these guy’s faces. That’s when Joey and I both started looking through their videos and discovering what frauds they actually are.

When I first posted my video with Joey Boots criticizing them and their methods, they immediately flagged it and got it taken down. I had a back and forth with their “legal rep” (I posted the entire exchange on Reddit), but in short their defense was that I didn’t ask permission to use their clips in my critique of them. Of course I am allowed to do that without permission, so eventually they gave up and the video remains. It’s an amusing exchange if you need a good laugh, or want some insight into their mindset.

They’re clumsy with the amount of incriminating information they leave out there, terrible actors, and no shame at all when it comes to seeking out creative ways to look victimized. I think that’s what disgusts me the most about them. So when they’re pretending things like being arrested for being Muslim, or his embarrassing fake crying, it comes off like kids playing make-believe (which is exactly what it is, I suppose).

Watching their videos, seeing them around the Square all the time, and my direct encounters with them, I can assure you these are not a group of guys you want to trust. They’re pranksters, which is not a bad thing, but they’re also liars & con men, which is. They don’t understand how playing these sorts of games & getting caught hurts the credibility of those who really are victimized in real situations.

I have a hard time picturing how this won’t come back and bite them in the ass in some way or another. Especially now with them pranking the airline industry with terrorist jokes. They’re really just a bunch of obnoxious, unsupervised kids with a popular YouTube channel, but this time they may have bitten off more than they know.

How to Document your Park

Aug 3, 2016
Hello Bob,

My names Atilio and I’m a 24 year old living in Calgary Alberta up north in Canada! I’m a huge fan and have been following your art for the last few years. I've been into photography for a few years now and after lot of thought and inspiration from your work I've decided I want to branch off into anthropology as well.

Calgary has a few locations not too different from Union Square and I’m going to try and create a documentary about the people of these areas. I was hoping I could get some advice from you as your art has been a huge factor in my decision to start this project!

I've never created a doc and really have no idea what I’m doing! What kind of equipment do you use for your videos and any advise that would help make the locals more receptive to being recorded and photographed? i hope to hear back from you and id really appreciate your time.

Best wishes,
-Atilio

 

Hey Atilio,
I'm definitely pleased to hear that I've inspired you to do something similar to what I was doing at Union.

Interestingly enough, when I first found myself at the Square I had no plans at all about documenting it in any way. I just fell in love with that park the minute I saw it. It was such an amazing place for people watching. It's those two factors that made it a great documentary possibility. #1 Amazing people watching. #2 Falling in love with the place.

It wasn't until after a couple years into hanging out there I realized I had to have a camera to start filming what I was witnessing there. At first I bought cheap little cameras that didn't exceed $200 and took mediocre photos, and really crappy videos. Mind you, this was around 2004 before digital photography & HD videos got as popular and affordable as they are now. And I'd already had the online presence with Jesus Dressup so I was ready with a platform to showcase my work.

Looking back, the thing I had most in my favor in regards to making people receptive to being photographed, and/or simply allowing me to shoot what I wanted whenever I wanted, was seniority. The more time I spent at that park and the more years that passed, the more comfortable I felt, and the people there just got used to me always being there. They'd even approach me wanting to be interviewed. Then when it came to filming the eccentric regulars like Wendell, Signs or the crusty punks who'd normally shun photographers, I was able to develop a relationship with them before pulling out the camera at all. As time passed and I reached the 8 to 10 year mark I was permitted to film almost whatever I wanted because the people there simply knew who I was, what I was doing, and were even there to back me up if I looked like I might be getting a bit nosey to someone unfamiliar with me. Then it wasn't until probably 2012 or so that I really developed a skill for interviewing. Now that I think about it, that started with me interviewing Shaggy for Year In Reviews. That's probably when I discovered I could basically use the same method of getting information out of anyone.

It also didn't hurt making it all into a game on the postcards to get people involved. Having something tangible to show gave me credit of sorts when approaching strangers and getting them interested in being interviewed on camera.

Around 2008 or so, after the Amazing Strangers section of my site started to actually get noticed by making the Peepers famous I had a fan email me telling me to "Check your PO Box." When I got to the post office, inside waiting for me was a brand new $500 Canon Powershot SX50 HS. I asked the anonymous emailer why he got it for me and what he wanted in return for such an expensive gift. He simply replied "I'm sick of watching the crappy quality of your stuff, but I love what you're doing there." All I had to do was promise him I'd continue to document and upload NYC for him to see. That began my love for the Canon Powershot. And it's the 2012 model that I prefer most. It has the most dependable mic, the farthest zoom reach, and has lasted the longest of the followup models I bought later.

As for editing, I've always just preferred the iMovie program that came with my Mac. As long as I was able to move audio & video around easily, and maybe a few special effect options like slow motion and fading clips together I had all I needed. All of it I found easy to teach myself over the years.

Since I started the one thing I wish I would have invested in earlier would have to be external hard drives. I've lost plenty of photos and videos that I'd give anything to have back simply because I was a cheapskate and put off buying something to back everything up on. Now I have a stack of them, and I'm so pleased to have everything safely saved in several places. In my opinion getting something like a 3 terabyte Toshiba is easily affordable, will store years and years of footage, and could save you lots of heartache in the future.

I think the biggest challenge for you will be finding a place as easy to find subject matter as Union Square was for me. I've asked people from all over the world (who were visiting NYC) if they've ever seen a park like Union in their travels, and almost unanimously the response has been, "Nope. Not like this." But I'd be really interested to see what you can come up with there in Calgary Alberta, Canada. I've yet to see anyone else documenting a park like I have, and to me it seems like an obvious hobby for any filmographer out there.

Thank you for the compliments. I hope I answered your questions thoroughly enough!
Normal Bob

 

Thank you so much for the advice Bob! I was not expecting such a thorough reply I greatly appreciate it! 

I hope to start this project soon after some more investigation into the different areas of my city. Luckily I have almost identical equipment to your own but I'll definitely be picking up a hard drive for back ups! It's awesome to hear about the gifted camera and doesn’t surprise me at all your works incredible and you have a lot of fans! 

Once i get this whole thing kicked off I want you to know you’ll be credited in any video I produce and I’m absolutely honored to be mentioned on your site! thanks again for everything bob! 

Best wishes,
-Atilio