People of Cleveland

Progressive Field Credits: Samantha Gier
Naomi at Lakewood Park Credits: Samantha Gier
Madonna’s letter at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Credits: Samantha Gier

Most people spend days, weeks or even months planning their ideal road trip. They pick the perfect destination, the perfect sights to see and make perfect Instagram posts.

I, on the other hand, spent two hours planning mine and picked my destination out of a cup.

Let me explain.

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As part of a journalism course at St. Bonaventure University this spring, I was asked to pick the name of a Major League Baseball team out of a cup. That was the team that I was tasked to cover on a blog for the rest of the semester. My fateful pick – the Cleveland Indians.

I spent the rest of the semester attempting to keep up with a sport that always failed to entertain me. Long innings and long seasons had kept me away, but this time I was forced to stay with it.

I managed to keep up with The Tribe through spring training. The Indians’ World Series run last season did help my cause. But the last post assignment had me stuck. All I had to do was wrap up the past few months in one simple post. And I couldn’t.

My solution?

On a Tuesday morning, I woke up, I booked an Airbnb, I bought an Indians’ ticket, I did my laundry – and I started driving to Cleveland.

If the story couldn’t come to me – I was going to go to the story.

Looking back on the trip, I see that I still didn’t find a baseball story. I ate peanuts, sang “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” and exchanged high fives. I wore an Indians’ jersey and spit out stats when appropriate, and I did have a much better time than expected. But the game wasn’t the story I found in Cleveland. The people were.

Three people caught my attention in The Land. One didn’t speak English, one spoke football and the other I simply met through a letter.

The first person I had a conversation with in Cleveland was a Puerto Rican immigrant named Naomi. I found her at Lakewood Park, a quaint public ground with a mesmerizing, hidden view of the Cleveland skyline. She was looking at the view of the city across the water and exclaiming loudly in a mix of Spanish and English in her excitement.

“Magnifico, Encantar, look look! It’s so beautiful,” she screamed over and over. She didn’t care who was listening – and in this case, it was only me.

She asked me to sit on a bench with her, and I listened to her story.

“I sit on my computer every night typing into Google translate. I type a sentence in Spanish and translate it to English and read it over and over again,” Naomi said.

After an accident in her hometown, Naomi received enough money to move to Cleveland. The world can bring you to your knees, especially in a country that is making it harder and harder for immigrants to find happiness, but Naomi still found a reason to smile.

“My sister called to me because of my depression. Go to the Lakewood, go to the lake, try going, use the bus 26, go to the park in Lakewood,” she said, with a beaming smile. “It is beautiful, it’s too beautiful. I can’t believe it, we are so blessed.”

The second person I learned a lesson from was my Uber driver, Rod. I was a little nervous to take a 20-minute ride alone to a place I had never been with a person I had never met. Rod made it easy.

We started talking about Buffalo, and he told me that he was Darryl Talley’s best friend. Darryl Talley played for the Buffalo Bills for 14 seasons. He never missed a game. Jim Kelly said in an interview that Talley should be in the Hall of Fame right now. Dan Marino said that Talley was one of the best players he ever played against.

Rod? Rod said Talley is a fighter.

In a Buffalo News piece covering Talley, Tim Graham said Talley had learned after he retired that he’d played with a broken neck. He also suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head trauma. And, from what I heard, Rod has been with him every step of the way.

In our 20-minute ride, Rod must have mentioned five separate times how much his best friend belongs in the Pro Hall of Fame. The power of friendship and love seeped through in our conversation. The world needs more Rods.

The last person I met was in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The last time I was in the museum I was 8, uncultured, and I cried uncontrollably. This time I was still uncultured, but I didn’t shed a tear.

Tucked in a corner I found a letter that Madonna wrote to her friend when she was in college in Maryland. Before she made it big she was nervous about the future just like the rest of us. The letter contained many sentences of uncertainty and doubt.

“I also realize that chances of me making it dancing are extremely slight, but you know I gotta’ prove something to myself and I’m pretty strong,” wrote Madonna. “I’ll probably be shoveling sh*t off of sidewalks, but I can’t take this easy slow-paced living.”

According to CNN, Madonna, now 58, has a net worth of $800 million. The girl that was doubting her existence, much like most college students these days (including me), is now on the Top-10 list of the richest singers in the world. I think that means I can make it too.

I found so much hope in humanity when I started listening to other people’s stories and stopped worrying about my own. Every person in Cleveland, not just the three I chose to write about, taught me this lesson.

I’m starting to realize that maybe this assignment didn’t forge a newfound love for baseball, but it started a newfound love for this world.

And after weeks of searching for the perfect end to a less-than-perfect assignment and hundreds of not-good-enough drafts, Madonna said it best.

“Writing is very exhausting but satisfying. I’m glad I know people like you, who can make me feel satisfied just by writing.”

Thank you.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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