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Words: Peter, Photos: Shauna, Hi5s: The Great City of Washington DC

(yes, this is a rerun. yes-it is still AWESOME-ed)

When I heard that National High Five Day was this week, two things immediately came to mind:

1. I must know more about this fantastic and important holiday. And

2. I want to try High-Fiving everyone I see for a few hours.

So first we made a facebook invite, and then we made some professional looking signs.

We parked right in the middle of Farragut Park and started asking people if they wanted to slap hands for no particular reason. At first it was embarrassing. The more hesitant you are about asking, the less likely people are to give you what you want. So there were some grumbly GET AWAY FROM ME looks at first. But once you get into a rhythm, people walking by just couldn’t say no.

From little old Asian ladies to babies in strollers, from leathery bowtied business dudes to Street Sense vendors, most people wanted a 5. Some offered low-fives. I accepted them, begrudgingly. One guy driving by wanted me to run across the street and give him the love…how could I refuse to risk my life for human contact? I could not.

Once we moved on to Dupont Circle, the world became so saturated with fellow-feeling and Unity I actually kinda started to hate myself for contributing to the overall cutesiness of modern discourse. BUT WE SOLDIERED ON. Some guys were playing soft acoustic guitar licks around the fountain and as people streamed through the park we were joined by random young folks who got swept along in the madness.

By the time it was all over, my palm was red with power-5s, and I was thoroughly addicted to the high of giving everyone I possibly can the joy of unexpected and unconditional love and encouragement. This must be how Matthew Lesko feels ALL THE TIME. Just fucking walking around in a question mark suit making people happy. I want that.

Then later I talked to Greg Harrell-Edge, one of the founders of the day, about how it all came about, what it means, and where it is going. But instead he started quizzing me:

Greg Harrell-Edge: How did the high-fiving go in DC today? Did you get a bunch in yourself? It really is fun as hell, isn’t it?

BYT: Man it really was fun. And educational. I was as surprised by the folks that got into it as much as the ones that screeched ‘GERMAPHOBE’ at me instead. We also recruited some strangers to do it with us–that was the best part. We hi-fived babies and dogs and old people and bikes and we tried to Hi5 a cab driver but he screamed like we were trying to mug him. It was glorious. the signs were atrocious. Oh and we brought a puppet. People were definitely not into hi-5ing him at all so we put him away.

GHE: [Laughs] Puppets probably finish a close second to clowns in the “people get unreasonably creeped-out by” awards.  Thanks for the love! So few people that cover the day actually go out and high-five people. That’s great.

BYT: Let’s get serious. How did National High Five Day start: On your college campus right? Was it just a joke or were there some serious motivation behind it?

GHE: OK. National High Five Day began at our campus at the University of Virginia in 2002. I would say it wasn’t serious and it wasn’t a joke: it was pure curiosity behind it. What would happen if we set up on the quad next to the gauntlet of legitimate causes asking for money or attention, and didn’t ask anything of people but just gave them high-fives and lemonade? And the answer that we found was, it’s fucking awesome to spend a day giving a bunch of strangers high-fives.

BYT: Was it always lined up with tax day?

GHE: National High Five Day always falls on the third Thursday in April. The reason behind that is that we thought it up on the third Sunday in April, and figured that we needed about 3 days to get our act together. It turns out that the third Thursday in April sometimes falls on Tax Day and sometimes falls on 4/20, which can make National High Five Day take on a very different context each year depending on how the calendar falls.

BYT: Was there a single moment when you guys were like: wait this isn’t just for us anymore, it’s a movement out of our hands?

GHE: Well we had named it National High Five Day as a bluff, to make people on our campus believe that it extended beyond the limits of Charlottesville, Va. Then about the third year or so, we started getting a lot of complaints from overseas that it was only a “national” holiday; that America was hogging the high-five holiday. Our ‘bluff’ turned out to be an underestimate. But worry not, our Swiss, Thai, Greek, Tanzanian amigos, we’ve got a high five for you as well.

BYT: That new music video is hilarious.

GHE: Thanks!

BYT: Who wrote the lyrics and how did it come about? Where was it filmed?

GHE: The National High Five Day music video was written by all of our friends on a google doc together, filmed and edited in San Diego and stars Jimmy Donahue and Steve Bossi with music by Greg Gibson and Kevin Mankins. National High Five Day is aiming to be more viral than H1N1.

BYT: Let’s talk technique: Are low5s allowed? What about fist bumps?

GHE: Low 5’s are allowed, especially if you can pull it off as part of a combo-platter move. Same with the fist bump, NH5D does not discriminate against the germophobes. Or the fingerless, handless or armless, for that matter. If you got something to throw up in the air and bump against something I got, let’s do it. In fact, NH5D stands with germophobes in solidarity against the handshake – the absolute greasy, germ-infested swamp pit of hand greetings. NH5D aims to replace the handshake with the more sanitized high five in all business and diplomatic greetings by 2020.

BYT: A couple people blew it up on us today, which was awesome. A bunch of folks we tried to hi5 today looked scared…one girl said “This is my worst nightmare!” What’s the worst reaction you’ve ever gotten from trying to give a hi5?

GHE: There is a definitely a moment in high-fiving strangers on the street where you are coming out of the blue at them with something they are completely not expecting as they walk down the street. They will size you up figuring out where you are coming from. I would say the keys are: 1. get the hand up as early as possible to give them a chance to size you up, 2. smile, and 3. let your eyes say “We were both babies at one point. Let’s high five each other.” But people don’t have long to size you up, and some people read those eyes as “as soon as I put my hands in the air, this son of a bitch is going to steal my wallet.” That’s going to happen. But you just turn your attention to the next person, and hope maybe you see that guy again next year.

BYT: Does NH5D do any outreach programs to those in need of more Hi5s?

GHE: Funny you should ask. We actually are trying to launch a program this year called The High-Five Project. It will be about starting clubs in high-schools across the country that plan to do one act of goodwill for their community per quarter, and give high-fives along the way. We are looking for 5 to 10 students to act as charter members of the pilot program, and are interested in talking to anyone interested at [email protected]

Ever gotten a hi 5 from a particularly surly public figure? I want to Hi5 Alan Greenspan just to cheer him up a little.

GHE: One of our favorite high-fives, although I would call him more ‘reserved’ than ‘surly,’ was from UVa professor and lifelong civil rights activist Julian Bond. We theorize that he must have high-fived Martin Luther King at some point, probably as he was walking off the stage after his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, so we figure we are all one degree of high-five away from having gone up top with MLK.

BYT: Who would you most want to high five currently: someone who deserves it, or someone who needs it desperately?

GHE: I would high-five anybody and everybody, but I would most like to get the person who deserves it to high five the person who most desperately needs it. Feed a man to fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to high-five, and all of a sudden that dude kicks ass.

BYT: Are there any plans for next year or four the 10 year reunion that will blow our readers minds? If not can you make some up?

GHE: The goal for next year is the same goal we have for ‘next year’ every year: to get every man, woman and child the federally mandated day off from work and class to devote to high-fiving the living hell out of each other. Come on Obama. This is what real Change looks like.

BYT: Absolutely. It should be his major platform issue of 2012.

And now I appeal to you, BYT readers. Go out there and give someone, not just your co-workers or friends or the bartender at Tryst who has to be nice to you–give a stranger a Hi5 today, if not 2 or 3 or as many as you can handle, to confirm that no matter how distant and isolated the modern globalized metropolis is, in truth we are all joined together in the widening circle of human friendship and that deep down blah blah blah UP HI MOTHERFUCKER WOO!