Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 10:05 a.m.
At best, it was a heartfelt sociological experiment. At worst, it was a half-baked publicity stunt. Yesterday afternoon, a masked avenger of greed -- who goes by the name Atlas -- began giving away money to strangers on Biscayne Boulevard. Free cash. Atlas wore a handmade mask with comics pasted to the outside, which revealed only his sad brown eyes. He rounded up a team of homeless men and women to stop cars at the intersection of NE 36th Street and hand out dollar bills. The reason: to send busy commuters a clear (if a tad clichéd) message: Money doesn't make you happy. On the bottom of the dollar, he printed a website, withinorwithout.com. Atlas set the site up as "an effort to save the world," he says. It contains jewels of disjointed wisdom about, more or less, how to be "rich" without having money.
When we pulled up by bike around 12:30 p.m., Atlas was standing alone on the corner, videotaping cars. "Watch this!" he said. A short homeless guy with a cardboard sign around his neck approached a teenage female driver. She sat in a yellow car waiting for the light. "She's been conditioned to think he's going to ask for money," Atlas said. Instead, the homeless man pulled out a dollar bill -- which had been withdrawn from Atlas's bank account -- and offered it to the girl. She looked incredulous. Then she shook her head and drove off without the money.
Atlas wouldn't say much about himself. He claimed to want anonymity (hence the mask). He volunteers for the homeless in Overtown, lives in Broward, and is a fan of New Times solely because it's free. At the beginning of the day, he planned to give away $300. Problem was, nobody seemed to believe the money was real. You could see it on their faces: No, he wouldn't do such a thing during a recession. We gladly took our free dollar -- and spent it on a pack of Fritos at the office vending machine. It made us wildly happy! For about 35 seconds.