A Response to Erie

My rigorous blogging schedule has slid into lackadaisical picture posting. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. No, in fact I’ve been writing a lot. I started a post about my religion class from a week ago but somehow haven’t found the time to finish it amongst the other writing I’ve been doing. I’ve been writing project profiles at work. I’ve been writing random short stories. And I’ve been writing responses to annoying newspaper editorials.

While I won’t bore you by posting my work-related writings and there’s no way in hell I’m posting my short stories, below you’ll find my editorial response to Pat Howard of the Erie Times. See, I get this weekly Erie Times newsletter called Inside Erie, which I guess is like a condensed version of the local newspaper. I think Jennifer made me sign up for it a long time ago to access a picture of Owen that was printed in the newspaper and ever since then I’ve been the recipient of these weekly Erie emails.

Most often I just delete them. Sometimes I’ll glance through it quickly, scanning for familiar names. And sometimes when something catches my eye, I’ll actually read the thing. Yesterday, when it popped up in my inbox, for some reason I actually read the thing. And here’s what I read:

Thursday, February 14, 2008
Let Erie be Erie by Pat Howard

At a reception long ago for a marriage that’s long gone, a few of the groom’s buddies wanted to make the point that they expected him to remember where he came from once he joined the upscale family he was marrying into.

The boys sent that message via a special delivery to the swanky party at the Erie Club — Greek dogs from Red Hot restaurant at East 12th and Parade. Point made.

That moment came back to me as people started talking about Erie making a good impression when some of the business world’s A-listers come to town in April for the annual General Electric Co. shareholders’ meeting at the Bayfront Convention Center.
Sure, the usual lessons your parents taught you about special occasions apply. Wear clean clothes, remember your manners and make a good first impression.
But mostly, be yourself.

GE Transportation has been generating some press for Erie recently in big-time media.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman — he of “The World Is Flat” fame — not long ago held up the Lawrence Park locomotive plant as one of the success stories of globalism. A reporter from the Financial Times noted that the factory has become a star performer in GE’s cutthroat corporate culture.

But the latter report poked at a sore spot. The Financial Times guy felt the need to set the factory in “the unfashionable town of Erie.”

You see that sort of thing every once in a while in the drive-by reporting of journalists rushing through on their way to someplace else. It’s what they do. They only get a few minutes and a few words to capture us.

The most common form has been the summing up of our community from the seat of a cab or rental car headed east from Erie International Airport along West 12th Street. Look at the empty factories. Cue the tired Rust Belt/seen better times/hardscrabble references.

But unfashionable? Well, the gentleman has a point as far as it goes.

Bright lights, big city we’re not. Trust me, the business glitterati and the press that follows them aren’t going to confuse our town with Wall Street or the Hamptons.
And that’s OK. Embrace it. Be proud of it. Strut it down the runway and work it.
We are who we are, and we come from where we come from. We live on a lake with all the water any industry could drink. We enjoy a quality of life that many entrants in the global rat race would envy.

We work hard. We play hard. We’re quirky. We’re fun. If our town were a character in a movie, it would be played with soul, depth and a touch of weirdness by Johnny Depp.
Think of the mail that comes to Inside Erie from natives now living in Atlanta or Orlando or Los Angeles. A good many point out that Erie doesn’t have a lot of what they have in their megalopolises. But that’s not what they miss.

By all means, each of us should put our best foot forward. Let’s hope our guests will understand if some of them are sporting Chuck Taylors.

Okay, for those of you who have never lived in Erie, or visited Erie, or know anything at all about Erie (which is the majority of you), this little newspaper column probably didn’t have the same effect on you as it did on me. It grated on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. It seemed to represent everything that annoys me about my hometown, and before I could help myself I was furiously typing out a scathing response to Pat Howard’s smug and vaguely self-congratulatory editorial. Here’s what I sent him:

Erie is a frustrating place. Yes, it's unfashionable, but unfortunately not in a quirky way. Erie is unfashionable in a depressingly trite way. More of a Tom Arnold character than a Johnny Depp. But for some reason, the people of Erie seem grossly ignorant of their unfashionability, i.e. "strut it down the runway and work it". That would be sound advice if there was in fact something to strut. They speak highly of the fine dining and plentiful shopping and cultural opportunities, when in reality, Erie is largely full of mediocre chain restaurants, suburban stores found in every middle-class town in America, and cultural events that include fried cheese on a stick. There is nothing fashionable or quirky about Erie. It can't even call itself quaint.

Though born and raised in Erie, I moved away for college and grad school, and in a fit of misplaced nostalgia, I moved back only to move away again in defeat and disgust three years later.

The only thing I miss about Erie is the Lake. Erie does have some of the most stunning natural environments I've ever experienced. But man cannot live on nature alone. Career opportunities are nearly non-existent for those coming out of higher education programs with advanced degrees. Things like independent thought, global awareness, imaginative alternatives, progressive solutions, and diverse cultures are what help make small communities fashionable and quirky. Erie does not seem to value any of those things.

Perhaps at one time, Erie could have moved in the "quirky, unique, quaint" direction and maybe could have even flourished by embracing a Johnny Depp personality - becoming something uncommon, fascinating, and a little bit weird. Instead, Erie moved like a small-minded lemming and followed in the footsteps of so many other mundane, unimaginative communities with irrationally high opinions of themselves. I'm afraid Erie will continue to be a place of stunning natural beauty, but little else.

I'm not usually one to take the time or effort to make a fuss over something I can't change, but I felt compelled to voice my opinion on the perceived vs. real image of my depressed little hometown. We’ll see if my response is included in next week’s installment of Inside Erie.


boty said...

well, it is covered in white hell fire 9 months of the year...oh wait, that doesn't make it quirky...just cold and stupid!!

Alison said...

Did you sign that with your real name?

Dennis said...

I'll post it on my blog, if you'll give your permission.

schroederjt said...

Okay now, I support your righteous indignation on the Erie thing -- but what about these short stories?

Anonymous said...

you're right. erie offers a lot to a very select few but very little to most. erie just doesn't want to move ahead and part of the problem is the same old tired families doing the same old tired things. erie shoots down anyone new with new and improved ideas. it is entrenched in the political thoughts of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. there is no "vision" and corruption abounds in the local and county government.

cathryn said...

boty - yup, do not miss driving through the white hell fire!

alison - yup, my real name AND my real location...hope the villagers don't come after me with torches and pitchforks!

dennis - feel free :)

joanna - eh...just mediocre attempts to remain somewhat verbally articulate in my overly visual-oriented life.

anonymous - I couldn't agree more. Erie has (or had) great potential and it's sad the way it has turned out.

Anonymous said...

I left Erie ten years ago and have never missed it (other than Presque Isle). Whenever we visit family and friends there we shake our heads and wonder why anyone could possibly live there. It's depressing to say the least. I don't care what anyone says...you're on spot with your assessment of the town and I couldn't have said it any better. Erieites enjoy living with misery and being miserable. Most who live there are jealous of anyone who leaves and makes a better life for themselves. That stupid phrase "Erie is a great place to live and raise a family" is complete and total bullshit and anyone who believes it is only kidding themselves.

sally said...

Cathryn, please come back to Erie, the town hasn't been the same since you left.

Anonymous said...

She seems to make whatever city she lives in better so I do not think Nashville would let her go without a fight. Erie had its chance. It is our turn now.