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Day 2 - On The Train with Mentors Eric Kessler and Mike Zuckerman

We left the Emeryville station just after 9 am and headed east towards Denver.  After some breakfast and checking out the train we had presentations from some of the mentors who boarded with us in San Francisco. 

Eric Kessler of Arabella Advisors

Eric spoke to us about his experiences traveling through Russia, working for the Clinton administration, and now in running his consulting firm Arabella Advisors which advises philanthropists on how to best invest their dollars in non-profts.

Some highlights from Eric’s presentation:

  • for any project – define outcomes and measure
  • understand the difference between outputs and outcomes – especially for non-profits
  • learn how to be mentored (which made me think of this blog post Mentor/Investor Whiplash which I read before the trip)
  • lead from the front and from behind

It was great to hear Eric talk about the book, The Lean Startup, and applying “lean” principals to philanthropy.  If you are interested in entrepreneurship or growing a nonprofit – I highly recommend the book.

Mike Zuckerman

Mike Zuckerman is one of the minds behind [free space] in San Francisco.  He joined us mike-on-trainon the train and during our stop in Denver.

I’m really glad Mike joined us for the trip – he has been a part of some incredible projects, including [free space] that focus on building communities – including the National Day of Civic Hacking which occurred earlier this summer.

Mike talked about the some of the folks who have influenced him – Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and Ray Oldenburg who authored the book about the third place.

Mike talked about the importance of leading with culture to engage others in a cause.  He also discussed some examples of civic hacking, one example that he used and that we have participated in Pittsburgh is (Park)ing Day – an annual event where citizens and businesses convert parking spaces into parks.

Mike also talked about the importance of having spaces where people can come together to share ideas, innovate and be creative.

Mike’s talk made me think of some spaces and organizations that are working on bringing people together in creative ways in Pittsburgh:

  • WaffleShop - the WaffleShop is no longer open but there are tons of video on the site and this was a great example of a community space in Pittsburgh
  • Conflict Kitchen
  • City of Play
  • Free Ride

Another organization that Mike mentioned that I think might be of interest to some Pittsburghers is Architecture for Humanity.

About Architecture for Humanity in A Minute:30 from Architecture for Humanity on Vimeo.

You can read more about Mike’s presentation on the Millennial Trains blog here.

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Day 2 - Meeting the Train

Due to some security issues we were not able to spend Thursday night on the train so we spent Thursday night at the Marin Headlands hostel Marin Headlands Hostel.

We left the hostel by 7 am and everyone was eager to head to the train.
But first a stop for another view of the Golden Gate bridge…
…then headed over to Emeryville Station to board the train.
At 9 am the Amtrak train pulled into the station with our cars attached to the back!
IMG-20130809-00148 IMG-20130809-00149

The MTP Train

Our group is housed in three privately owned rail cars that are hitched to the back of the Amtrak train.  The train cars are owned by
Doug, one of the owners of the rail cars gives us a safety briefing from the dome car.

Doug, one of the owners of the rail cars, gives us a safety briefing from the dome car.

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[free space] - San Francisco, CA

IMG_0020Our city hub for the day on Thursday was a community space called [free space] – [free space] is an incredible example of community collaboration and its a concept that is kind of hard to explain.

One of the orgaziners of [free space], Mike Zuckerman, has joined us on the train and I learned a lot more about the project.

The idea of [free space] is inspired by the idea of the Third Place and the National Day of Civic Hacking.

From Wikipedia:

The third place (also known as third space) is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good PlaceRay Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil societydemocracycivic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

[free space] set out to create a free public space where people can come together and collaborate.  [free space] started as a 30 day project and stayed open for the month of June and July.

Check out some of the projects from [free space] here.  Here is an article from the San Francisco NPR affiliate KALW about [free space] –  [freespace]: a temporary space for lasting change.

It was great to see a community space like this in San Francisco.  I think Pittsburgh has had some great success with community projects – spaces like the Union Project and the Waffle Shop have helped me to appreciate the power of public spaces.

I’ll write more about [free space] and the third place in a latter post but here are some of my photos of the location.

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Pittsburgh Stop #2 - Francesca's and South Bay Steelers in Mountain View, CA

francesca's steeler bar silicon valleyThanks to a former Pittsburgh resident, who I met many years ago when I was working on the Kerry presidential campaign, I learned about Francesca’s in Mountain View, CA.  I grabbed a ZipCar and headed south of San Francisco.

I was a few minutes late but my Pittsburgh friend Faisal had already ordered an Iron City for me.  We had a lovely chat about the difference of living in Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley.  Faisal mentioned that in Pittsburgh – he really had a chance to know his neighbors, and he has been in Mountain View for 5 years but doesn’t feel that sense of neighborhood community that Pittsburgh has.

Francesca’s isn’t owned by a Pittsburgher but this is the home of the Steeler Nation in the South Bay.  Our bartender was from New Jersey but was a serious Steelers fan.  It must have been clear that I was talking Pittsburgh – with in 30 minutes – Chris, the head of the South Bay Steeler Nation came over to talk Steelers.

Chris is from Connecticut but has been a lifelong Steelers fan.  He started gathering with a few fans, who are now friends, at a bar called the Sports Page.  The group has grown and moved to larger space at Francesca’s.

The South Bay Steelers can be found online at which leads to their meet up page.

They now have over 100 members and gather for every game at Francesca’s.  Before I left I spoke with some other Pittsburgh folks who were in the bar and Chris insisted I see their banner – the photo doesn’t due it justice – but this banner would cover the size of a small building.



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Pittsburgh Stop #1 - Giordano Brothers, San Francisco, CA

On Thursday afternoon – we had time to work on our individual projects.  I headed over to the Mission district to check out Giordano Brothers.  This place was recommended several times as THE Steelers bar in San Francisco.

From the outside – this place looks like a neighborhood bar in Anytown, USA…


Inside, its is very clear this place is all Pittsburgh…


And yes, this is a Pittsburgh style sandwich.  Duncan is the roommate of Tim Livingston, who writes for IheartPGH. He kindly agreed to join me on this mission of finding Pittsburgh people.


Our server, Ryan, was wearing a Pittsburgh t-shirt and hat and happened to be from Western, PA.  I handed him one of the IheartPGH stickers I brought along for the trip.  The stickers were printed by Pittsburgh print shop Commonwealth Press and Ryan happened to be wearing a Commonwealth Press t-shirt.  Ryan is also working on opening a sauerkraut and pickle company, Sivertsen Pickle Company. (You can buy this t-shirt from CommonWealth Press here).


The owner of Giordano Brothers, Adam DeMezza, is from Greensburg and has been in San Francisco for almost a decade.  I was assured the place is packed on game day – and yes they do serve Iron City beer.

Giordano Bros. on Urbanspoon

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Day 1 - Crissy Field, UN Foundation, [free space]

After a bit of a scramble and a bit of good luck that I got the last seat on the only flight from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles (I did have to sit next to a woman with chihuahua name Lupe who escaped from his carrier midflight).
I arrived in San Francisco and the MTP folks had arranged a shuttle to take me to the hotel.
We spent Wednesday night at some hotels that were provided for the MTP trip by the company HotelsTonight.
Early Thursday morning we headed over to the Golden Gate National recreation area to start the trip at the Crissy Field Center.
This was the view from the parking lot of the Crissy Field Center when I arrived.
IMG_0010[1]This was the view from Crissy Field Center after the fog lifted.
Thursday morning speakers were:
elizabeth-goreElizabeth had lots to share about:
  • the idea of innovation in the non-profit sector
  • partnerships are key to success and it is important to have good communication in building partnership
  • engagement and authenticity – social media is making it cheaper to reach more people, authenticity is key to engagement
  • Nothing but Nets – a global, grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to fight malaria, a leading cause of death among children in Africa.
  • MyWorld2015 – a global survey by the UN asking for people to vote on what issues are important for the future
kamran-global-catalyst-partnersKamran spoke about
  • his experience as an entrepreneur and business person.
  • knowing about problems before they become big problems
  • the importance of building a team and some key characteristics of teammates – honesty, persistance, team work and a sense of humor.


I also had some time to speak with Johnny Price of KivaZip is a program that is just rolling out  to provide microlending in the US.  You can learn more about microlending in Pittsburgh from KivaZip here.

Pioneers Training

Another element of the Millenial Trains trip is the leadership training.  Dr. Max Klau is the Vice President of Leadership Development at City Year, Inc., a national service program headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.  Dr. Klau has adapted the City Year leadership training for the train trip.

We then headed over to [free space] which would serve as the hub for the MTP group for the rest of the day.  I’ve got a bunch of photos to share about [free space] in another post.
I grabbed a ZipCar and headed out to visit some of the Steelers bars in the bay area.
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