Edited by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
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In downtown Cleveland there is a sign that hangs alone along an old brick building that reads, “We Have Faith, in Cleveland.” If you would’ve asked Clevelanders about faith four years ago, they may’ve not been singing that tune. Sure, faith has always existed in Cleveland. But with a certain someone returning home to Northeast Ohio, hope has reestablished itself within those that call Cleveland home. There is no doubt that LeBron James has brought excitement back to this blue-collar part of the world.
Jon Bozeka and Curt Ashcraft spent a day walking in an everyday Clevelander’s shoes and they were able to experience what that faith and hope can do for a city and its people.
We set out to find out what makes up a true Clevelander. We didn’t know what we would hear or whom we would see, but we discovered that a Clevelander is an individual that has been through it all. From the steel worker and the bitter sports fan to the bartender on East 4th, they have all endured their own hardships and glory. Passion is not given, it is earned. After the roller coaster that Cleveland has experienced since 2010, it has many stories to tell.
Take the typical Cleveland family. A mother, a father and a son have all seen the city through different eyes. While out enjoying their day in the city, they come across a t-shirt truck that catches their eye. As the family ganders at shirts of forgiveness, Johnny Football, and the blessing that Cleveland isn’t Detroit, they have each found a different sign of hope.
As we discussed the latest decision with these folks, one thing was made clear; they all had a different opinion. While the wife is simply happy for the city, the husband still thinks there is work to be done. He goes on to tell us that while having LeBron is cool, nothing is for certain until the title comes home. The husband was of the mindset that even though he wasn’t happy after LeBron’s departure, he understood that business is business.
As we continued to talk to this Clevelander, we realized that he embodies what that spirit is all about. He believes that championships in Cleveland will lead to a domino effect and he’s even getting pumped for Cleveland Gladiators Arena Football. This man grabs on to any slice of potential he can find and it shows how Cleveland has excitement and frustration all in one package.
We then took a stroll down East 9th and found ourselves in Browns country. At the corner of Lakeside & East 9th, there stood a hotdog vendor, an ice cream vendor and an underground t-shirt salesman just waiting to give their next sales pitch. They approached us while we passed by, and we found topics of conversation with each individual.
The hotdog vendor, who proudly wore his Chicago Bulls hat, spoke loudly of his experiences with the public. The ice cream guy in his San Francisco Giants cap decided to tell us how it is. We now affectionately refer to them as Jekyll & Hyde because the ice cream vendor was high on his city and its future while the hot dog fella told us of customer displeasures with LeBron & Johnny Manziel. Then there were Jason and Dee of “Witness Forgiveness” Clothing that both sang the same tune. They both believed that LeBron brought hope back to the city and created their title t-shirt soon after the announcement. One of the founders, Jason, hopes James will bring a title back to Cleveland. It may be a lot to ask, but this common pattern is what has fueled this city for decades.
While we have talked a lot about hope, LeBron has done more than that. Above all else, he is providing a helping hand to his beloved city. We had the chance to speak with many different service professionals during our day, but it all started at Flannerys Pub while enjoying a cold brew.
Our bartender, Natalie, was exactly what we were expecting. She was a young, positive and outgoing person looking to help her customers. We simply asked her what her day was like when LBJ decided to come back. To which she replied, “We were f-ing slammed!” She then went on to explain that there has been a positive atmosphere in the air since that special day.
The resurgence of positive energy didn’t stop there.
At the other end of East 4th Street, in the Cleveland Clothing Company, a young college student was also experiencing the effects of the King’s return. A junior at Cleveland State University, Sam spoke of the hardships in her beloved hometown. From the high murder rate to soaring unemployment, she felt that Cleveland had lost its way. During her second week on the job, Sam experienced the turnaround. While folding t-shirts and stocking shelves, she heard of LeBron’s return and watched the streets fill with joy. With the added fans attending that night’s Tribe game, Cleveland Clothing Company couldn’t stock their shelves fast enough. Their latest product, welcoming home LeBron, sold out on pre-sale orders alone.
We have spoken much about the new found hope and excitement that has filled the city, but it isn’t all candy canes and rainbows filling the hearts of Cleveland’s own.
We continued along East 4th as we conversed with a guitarist playing for tips. Adam, a Cleveland-native, hasn’t forgiven LeBron for his first exit and probably never will. The musician is happy for his hometown, but for reasons that he kept to himself, his dislike is made clear for Northeast Ohio’s chosen one.
We ended the night at The Harry Buffalo. Known as a quality sports bar/restaurant, it’s not too far from the Q. We experienced great food, good times, and some interesting comments from the crew. Our waitress, Jillian, did a phenomenal job taking care of our order and putting up with our questions. Jillian shared the same beliefs as our bartender at Flannery’s. She spoke of the copious amounts of people flocking to the downtown district each and every weekend since the announcement. Jillian was working the lunch shift when LeBron announced his return and she was almost in disbelief. All of a sudden, the restaurant filled to capacity and celebration was underway.
Earlier, we spoke of LeBron’s helping hand in this community. This helping hand may have impacted Jillian the most. From an economical and financial side of things, Jillian can now pay her apartment’s rent in just a matter of two shifts. Take a moment and reflect on what you just read. Can you even imagine paying a month’s rent in two shifts as a waitress? It may seem like a dream, but in Cleveland that’s reality.
As we wrapped up our night, a man from the back came up to us and introduced himself as Fig. Fig is another server at The Harry Buffalo and even more importantly, he is the guy we had been searching for all day. Fig was born in East Cleveland and then made his way to Bay Village where he became the man he is today. He has experienced struggle and witnessed all aspects of Cleveland’s society. He talked to us like old friends and told us that he was your typical sour LeBron fan, repeatedly comparing LBJ to a bad ex-girlfriend. When the idea of LeBron coming home became more and more of a reality, Fig began to look at it in a new light. As a tried and true Clevelander, Fig believes that there is now unity in Cleveland.
It is safe to say that we witnessed all kinds during our journey. From a middle-class family to a college student trying to find her way, one thing resonated above all else: hope has officially restored itself in the blocks of this rustbelt city. Four years ago, a writer referred to Cleveland as “Believeland” and while that may have been true back then, one can’t say the same today. Cleveland is no longer that city. There is still a lot to believe in, but now there is hope that it actually will happen.