Rudy Daniels will never see this mural of himself going up on the side of W. 8th Street’s Methodist Towers. The rest of us will never unsee it. | Photo via Christopher Millette, Erie Times-News.
Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:
I love Erie. Not in an, “It’s okay to love Erie“ kind of way, either, but in much more of an, “If you don’t love Erie there’s something wrong with you” kind of way. Still, I get that this place isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t perfect. It’s not New York City or Philadelphia or even Pittsburgh, and it shouldn’t try to be.
Erie is quieter than those places, and I love that. Most days, you’re just a short drive from dipping your toes in a Great Lake and watching the sun melt all different shades of blues, pinks, and oranges together across the sky until it finally disappears beyond the water. My heart rate slows a little just thinking of those scenes. So what if you can’t take your dog swimming; he’s fine. Your dog’s fine.
This time of year, you can drive down the road and look out your window at a string of maple trees and see the most brilliant colors nature has yet figured out how to produce anywhere in the world. Maybe you hate pumpkin spice. Maybe you even hate Halloween. I bet you still look at those trees and feel that first strong, fall breeze and get a little tingly.
You know what, though? Some part of me looks around at Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh with a little tinge of jealousy. Don’t you want what they’ve got? They’re major cities and they know it. Hell, I went to Houston a couple years ago and told someone where I was from, and he didn’t know where Erie was.
“You know, the lake? Lake Erie?” I asked hopefully. Nothing.
“Like, Pittsburgh?” was the guy’s response.
“Yeah, Pittsburgh. I’m from Pittsburgh.”
I told a guy that. I told him grudgingly and only because he was an ignorant Texan whom apparently only knew cities by their football teams, but I told him nonetheless.
I think we all have a version of that story, of telling someone where you’re from almost apologetically, then quickly adding how close it is to Buffalo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. Why is that?
I think we all know Erie’s story by now. Manufacturing used to be our identity, and it turns out the identity was a lot tougher to replace than even the manufacturing. Old, brick buildings still dominate our downtown. We have our fair share of square, concrete, cookie-cutter type real estate, too. You know what it is? It’s forgettable.
I’ll always love the quiet beauty of Erie, but it can’t just be quiet – because if you’re too quiet for too long, people might start to think you’re dead. Well, dammit, Erie isn’t dead.
Erie’s startup community is thriving. Each of our two major hospitals have seen investments of over $100 million committed within the past year. We have delicious local beer. We’re finally starting to see see attitudes change away from the constant negativity that gave Idiotville Podcast our name in the first place, and I’d like to think we’re owed a share of credit for that, however small.
Now – finally – Erie is starting to turn up the volume. How, you ask? We’re turning up the volume with an eight story mural of a man smiling like he doesn’t give a crap whether you like it here or not. He loves this place, and the peace he feels is written all over his giant face on the wall of the Methodist Towers apartment building on West Eighth Street in Erie’s vibrant downtown.
The man depicted in the mural is Erie’s own Rudy Daniels, a 71 year old blind man who’s lived here his entire life and was chosen due to his “very uplifting and inspiring” look, according to artist Elio Mercado. You might think it ironic that Erie’s first giant effort to add some swagger to an old, bland facade will be of a man who will never see it, but I think that’s actually perfect.
It reminds me of another man, Jack, I once knew that volunteered tirelessly for his community. When we got together for meetings, we’d greet Jack with a, “Hey, good to see you, Jack!” And he would always counter with, “It’s good to be seen!”
Jack was blind. He never let it stop him and it never wore him down. For Jack, for Rudy Daniels and for Erie, lacking something others have is no excuse to stay quiet in the shadows. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve got, get out there and let people know what you feel! When you do, you’ll give people something to remember by, and you’ll know just how good it is to be seen.