- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Mr. T pities the fool who doesn’t ask for directions.Ron Templeman, known to one and all as “Mr. T,” works for the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, a group of landlords, merchants and other employers who work together to promote the city’s downtown.

He is a member of the nonprofit organization’s safety and maintenance (SAM) team.

Some team members spend their day cleaning the streets; others, like Mr. Templeman, simply stand all day at a high-traffic street corner, greeting workers and tourists and offering them directions — even when they are reluctant to ask for help.

“For some reason, people don’t like to ask for directions,” Mr. Templeman said.

“You’ll see them walking up and down the sidewalk, holding their map upside down, looking confused. I’ll ask them, ‘Do you need some help?’ and they’ll say, ‘Oh no, I’m fine,’ and then they’ll pass by you again. So I’ll ask them again, ‘Are you sure you don’t need some help?’”

The SAMs, as Mr. Templemen and his team members are known, also serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for the police, and they walk downtown workers to their cars after dark.

Mr. Templeman, a native Washingtonian, has been a fixture in downtown Washington for 33 years.

Before he joined the Downtown D.C. BID a few months ago, he spent 24 years working as a salesman in downtown stores owned by his friend, developer Douglas Jemal.

Mr. Templeman has seen it all: The downtown’s decline after the riots of the 1960s, the dark decade of the 1980s, when people were afraid to visit the city, and the boom years of the late 1990s, when people started coming back.

SAMs have been an integral part of the BID since it started about seven years ago.

Mr. Templeman loves working with people.

“A friend years ago told me I was blessed with the gift of gab. I don’t know. I just like to talk to people. I’ve had people tell me, ‘God must have sent you to talk to me.’ Well, maybe. I haven’t figured it out myself.”

Mr. Templeman leaves his home in Largo each day about 5:30 a.m. and drives to the Metrorail station on Addison Road. He catches a few winks in his car in the parking lot, then hops on the train that brings him downtown.

By 8 a.m., you can usually find Mr. Templeman eating breakfast at his favorite waffle shop. He finishes up by 9:30 a.m., when he reports to the D.C. BID’s downtown office for the roll call of all the SAMs.

On a recent Thursday, Mr. Templeman and 15 other SAMs assembled in the rear of the office for the roll call. A supervisor began by bringing the crew up to date on the latest goings-on downtown.

The big news of the day: The “American Idol” auditions have moved from the Convention Center to the Renaissance Hotel across the street.

Also: the ESPN Zone restaurant will host an opening casting call for a new Samuel L. Jackson movie, and the International Spy Museum will host a seminar on the intelligence gathered before the Iraq war.

Roll call is an important part of the job, Mr. Templeman said.

“If you’re not clean, if your shirts are not pressed, you’re sent home for a couple of hours until you straighten out. I like that,” he said.

The supervisor then gives the SAMs their assignments. One is told to report to 14th and I streets NW, another to Seventh and F streets NW, another to the Navy Memorial.

Mr. Templeman is given a choice gig: Patrolling the entire downtown area. It’s considered a good assignment because instead of spending an entire day in one place, he will get to move around constantly.

“The day goes by a lot faster when you’re not standing still,” he said.

Mr. Templeman — clad in his summertime uniform of a crisp white shirt, blue shorts and black sneakers — heads to the streets.

He checks the sidewalks for cracks and graffiti, which he records in a notebook he carries with him. He also stops and gives directions to people who need them, whether they ask for them or not.

He is rarely stumped when asked how to get someplace downtown. But if he doesn’t know the answer, he can radio back to his home office, where a clerk can look an address up for him.

“They have a computer system that will tell you where your aunt lives,” he said.

Mostly, though, Mr. Templeman spends this day smiling and waving to the people he passes.

“I love to tell people in the morning, ‘Have a good day.’ They’re not expecting that. The trick is to catch that same person in the evening and ask them, ‘Well, did you have a good day?’”

About 10:50 a.m., Mr. Templeman stops by the Navy Memorial near Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, one of his favorite spots downtown because of its huge map on the ground and its elegant water fountains.

“I like bragging on the city. This is a good bragging place,” he said.

Mr. Templeman spots a family of five climbing the steps at the memorial.

“Hello. How you doing?” he asks.

One of the two women in the group tells Mr. Templeman her family is looking for a place to eat. She and her husband are debating between one of the two delis at the memorial.

Mr. Templeman recommends the Manhattan Deli because it has places to sit.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is the most beautiful place in the world,” the woman tells Mr. Templeman.

“Well good. That’s what we like to hear,” he responds.

Mr. Templeman is always friendly, even when he encounters homeless people who don’t want his help.

“That’s how my mother raised me: Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” he said.

Mr. Templeman’s day will not end until about 8 p.m., when he hops the train home.

When he isn’t working, Mr. Templeman enjoys spending time with his wife of 26 years and his three grandchildren. Occasionally, he even brings them downtown, showing them where their Grandpa works each day.

“I’m living pretty good. I’ve got a good life,” he said.

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