The Random Acts Challenge

Name:            Traci Marx

Age:         28

Birthday:         Sept. 21



280 minutes of yoga (2 classes + some)

28 routes at the gym

28 hits in the batting cage

28 bar dips

2.8 miles running (in 28 minutes or less)

28 minutes of straight hula-hooping

28-minute abs

28 oz of Ben and Jerry’s

28 push ups

28 consecutive cartwheels down the beach

28 treats to 28 dogs

28 random acts of kindness

When the alarm went off at 8 am on Sunday morning, I have to admit, my first words were, “can’t we do it on Thursday?”  I was serious.  I hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before, and then was nervous that I was starting out my first birthday challenge already tired...

            But who was I kidding?  Even if I had slept, waking before 11am is always a challenge.  Doniel assured me that today was the day, and, well, I guess I could think of worse ways to begin a day than a yoga class with the most beloved teacher in Santa Barbara (check out with Eddie Ellner).     

And what’s more, Doniel was going to do the class with me - and what can I say, I love to see a man struggle.  So off to class we went.  2 hours of yoga.  We breathed, and stretched, and contemplated the notion that all the answers we need are within us.  Eddie gave me a ‘Yoga Soup’ tank top for my birthday, which I wore graciously throughout this birthday challenge.  

After class, D and I went out into a gorgeous Santa Barbara day and I got my favorite breakfast from Jack’s bagels.  While there, we gave a treat to what would end up being the cutest pooch of the birthday challenge – a tiny Chihuahua named ‘Pez’.  Giving a Jack’s oatmeal raisin cookie to a man on the street also kicked off the random acts of kindness (act #1). 

            Next, we headed across the street to Batty’s, for the hits in the batting cage.  The challenge felt officially underway.  I love to play softball, so this activity was really fun.  Also a bit exhausting for the upper body, though, especially after all the chatarungas in yoga.  And I hadn’t used those ribcage muscles in a while either, so I was slowly becoming more and more aware of the muscles in the upper body, and conscious that the climbing was coming up!  But no sense in worrying about it.  Picked some flowers for the woman working in the food hut (act #2).  I tell you, people think you’re crazy when you go doing nice things for them.   



  We stopped at the beach next, where we had figured it would be easy to bang out the 28 cartwheels and dog treats in one shot.  I did the cartwheels:  14 one way, and then 14 on the way back.  Made me a little dizzy (especially for someone who gets nauseous in an elevator) but it’s one of my favorite things to do.   

       Now for feeding treats to dogs.  Easy, right?  Silly part of the challenge.  Good for a laugh.  Well, go figure, for the first time ever, there were practically NO dogs on the beach.  Where the hell were they on a Sunday??  Watching the game??  This we did not expect, so we ended up chasing after the few dogs that we did see; and continued throughout the day to stop the car and run across the street in pursuit of any dog spotted here or there.  To add another obstacle to this ridiculous part of the challenge, when we did find them, it wasn’t guaranteed that they would even eat what we had to offer.  5 varieties of pup-eroni and some pups just aren’t satisfied.  Snubbed by about 10 dogs.  Very rejecting.  Not a real morale booster for the team.  I tried not to let it get to me, after all, my dog at home won’t eat unless hand fed, and KC is partial to dairy products.  Anyway, we did wine and dine some nice hounds along the way:  Snickers and Jack, Banks, Barren, Oreo, Breeze, Lady and Trooper, etc.  I got about 10 the first day and then moved along to the climbing.

We got to Goleta Valley Athletic Club (GVAC) at about 1 PM and got set up. 

We jacked up the radio with a Phish CD, to the dismay of the sun-bathers at the gym who were trying to relax.  Admittedly, I didn’t push it too hard in difficulty, since the shear number of routes I knew was going to be tough for me.  So I kept it at about 5.8, and took the opportunity to really practice my backstep.  I made it through the routes with a break about half-way.  Took a dip in the pool to cool off before doing the last round.  Overall, it was a lot and my forearms were pumped, but I kept a quick steady pace and therefore busted through them all before the exhaustion truly set in.   


Doniel convinced me to begin the ab workout, which I did on the lawn at the gym.  After that, we went to find more dogs and to perform more random acts of kindness.  We picked up trash from the beach, gave clothes to a woman with a little girl on the street, and left a drink for a man sleeping in his van (acts #3-5).  I wrote love notes and put them in random people’s mailboxes (acts #6 & 7).  I put flowers anonymously on my neighbors’ doors (act #8).  We stopped and bought lemonade and cookies for 10 cents from a kid’s lemonade stand – all proceeds of which went to the 9-11 fund (act #9).  I called 310-228-2828 and sang “I just called to say I love you” on their answering machine (from a secret admirer) (act #10).  I made someone I didn’t know smile (act #11).  Eight hours into the challenge (4:20 PM) and still not done, but good enough for now.  


                    It was time for a first helping of Ben and Jerry’s (about half a pint), and then a second helping of Yoga Soup.  Same teacher.  Same class.  Just harder.  Doniel had opted out on this class.  He doesn’t like to cry twice in one day, and I guess I can’t blame him for that.  So he dropped me off and I was on my own.  Regardless of how tired I was, especially in upper body strength, class was actually unbelievably amazing.  Because I had already gone just that morning, I felt so stretched out and flexible.  I was falling into poses deeper than ever before and, with some, feeling for the first time the way the poses are really designed to be done.  It was awesome.  I highly recommend this experience to anyone, including myself again sometime.          



  D met me at class when it was over (7:30 PM).  We headed out to the beach with hula hoop on waist.  It was dark by now and the beach was beautiful in the moonlight.  I took off my shoes and found a nice spot in the sand.  I had absolutely no idea how hard or easy it was going to be to try and hula hoop for 28 minutes straight.  It really wasn’t anything I had ever timed myself doing or anything.  But it was actually pretty easy.  I even got to talk to my sister on the cell phone during this one.   

Home seemed like the next place to go since there was no way I was going running before morning.  At this point I had to make more of a dent in the ice cream.  So I polished off the Phish food (my favorite) and then headed for bed.  For some crazy reason, I was unable to sleep!  So I got up and started doing dips, push ups, and eating the Concession Confession ice cream.  A little ways into the ice cream I had to stop.  I decided right then and there that there was going to be no more ice cream ingested, again . . . ever.  Of the whole challenge, I am most shocked that I could not finish two pints of Ben and Jerry’s.  Now, mind you, I didn’t lay it out in a trough and shove it in my face till I puked (like the fritter boys) but rather when I began to feel as if I had physically put on about 10 pounds in one day, I stopped.  Bar dips are hard enough for me without the extra weight, if you know what I mean!  The hell with it.  Stopping was the only way I knew I had a chance at finishing the rest of the challenge.

The next morning (Monday) D had to go to class so I was on my own for the remainder of the challenge.  That’s almost enough to make a girl quit, but a woman must stand on her own.  So, there was no stopping now.

It appeared that there was no more room for evading the running; so I reluctantly laced up my sneakers.  I always dread running.  Aside from ‘rounding the bases as a kid, it was just nothing that I ever did much.  In the last two years or so I’ve started running a little because it’s a quick workout and makes me feel great, and I can balance it out with the incredible scenery up on shoreline park, trying to spot dolphins.  But, still, it remains to be very hard for me and I pretty much suck at it in terms of endurance and speed.  But I figured there had to be something in the challenge that is somewhat unpleasant, if for nothing else than to increase the sense of accomplishment.  So I banged out the last 8 bar dips and went down to the City College track (to be precise about the distance) with my walkman and angry songs mix tape.  It was actually a beautiful day.  Aside from the sun beating down on me, feeling like I was going to have a heart attack, and again sensing that extra layer of insulation around my body made up of ice cream, the running was actually enjoyable.  As embarrassing as this is to say, I must report the truth, which is that I finished the 2.8 miles in exactly 28 minutes (for those not mathematically inclined, that puts me at a 10 minute mile!)  What’s worse, I got lapped by a man with a walker.  But ego serves no purpose here; I had achieved what I had set out to do . . . and now only the dog treats (18) and random acts of kindness (17) were remaining . . . with one hour to spare.

I got some quarters and went around putting them in the Laundromat machines, soda machines, and arcade games, ready to go for the next person that would approach them (acts #12-14).  Fun.  Then, in search of acts that offered more direct contact with people, and didn’t cost money, I drove to a few local bus stops and offered some people rides.  I used to love to do this in college, when it was snowing, but here, now, it instigated a game of 20 questions, with an attitude.  “What do you mean?”  “Why?” “Why are you doing this?” etc. (with suspicious looks).  I explained myself again and again, with my most innocent smile, but was ultimately denied.  “No thanks, I’m fine.”  Hmm.  Okay.  Be that way.  How about offering massages?  People are constantly holding in more tension than necessary, and a massage, to me, is the ultimate luxury.  I went to the Manhattan Bagel strip mall and recognized one of the women that works there, on a break.  After a few translation problems (my Spanish is somewhat rusty), I think she understood that I was offering a brief shoulder massage.  But she refused!  Again, with that strange look.  In retrospect, I think she thought I was coming on to her.  I still see this woman around all the time and there’s always this really weird energy between us.  Like I had propositioned her for some scandalous sex play or something, and no one else knows.  Anyway, whatever, I still need to complete 14 acts of kindness.  What would I like for someone to do for me? . . . I headed across the street to the gas station, got out of the car, and went around asking people if they wanted me to pump their gas for them (for free) so they didn’t have to get out of the car.  I couldn’t believe it.  No one accepted!  I swear, they looked at me as if I had just insulted their mothers.  Now I was getting pissed.  Fuck all these people if they don’t want my fucking kindness.  I was in danger of beginning the random acts of bitterness.  It was interesting to notice, actually, because I had had so many positive interactions throughout the past day, and yet it was these few negative ones that were totally taking me over.  Why does the positive energy not put up a bigger fight for control?  The message I took was a simple one.  The power of negativity is so strong, you have to actively and consciously focus on the good in order to keep your heart open.  Otherwise, it is the nature of negativity to suck you in to the darkness.  So I took a deep breath, reconnected with Team ‘Light’ and continued with the random acts of kindness.  Time was really starting to run out.  I had about 35 minutes left and still 14 random acts and 18 dogs to feed. 

I considered with the acts that maybe I was offering to people what I would want, but not necessarily what they wanted or needed.  So I drove and looked around.  It was a really hot day; I saw a bunch of people working outside doing construction and landscaping.  Cold cokes seemed apropos.  I went to 7-11 to buy a case, but they were so expensive there it was ridiculous.  So, though I was running out of time, I ran across to Albertson’s to get a case there, though I came to find that no one carries cases of cokes that are refrigerated, except for 7-11.  So I went back and purchased the overpriced sodas.  I had decided that the only way to find enough dogs in time was to go to the pound in Goleta.  So, on my way there, I offered a cold coke to every worker I could see along the street, without causing a major accident.  Giving out the drinks was very rewarding.  Whether it was the cokes, or the particular subset of people, I don’t know; but everyone gave the biggest smiles and genuine signs of appreciation!  It was really fun and made me feel really good.  And it was pretty easy to finish the rest of the acts with 24 sodas. 

And there I was at the pound with about 5 minutes till noon - the end of the challenge.  There were more than enough dogs there to feed.  And none were picky eaters.  Visitors aren’t allowed in the actual cage area, so I had to roll the treats to the dogs, and try to get it to them through or under the bars of the cages.  It was sad when the treats would land just out of reach enough that the dogs had to struggle to fit their snouts and tongues through the bars of their cage in order to reach the artificial pig byproducts in a blanket; but most of them got through.  It was really cute and the dogs were psyched.  And so was I.

It was a crunch for time at the end which was exciting, but that was that!  The challenge was done!  An almost success, all except for 3/4 of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  Who would have thought?  Oh yeah, and an extra 20 minutes of yoga that I sort of forgot about.  All in all, the things that I thought would be the least difficult posed the greatest challenge, and vice versa.  It gave some nice meaning to my birthday; and it was a very memorable way to celebrate a birthday.  Something I definitely look forward to doing again.  Not only that, but I no longer forget how old I am when people ask.