2020 Monolithic in Its Challenge
But Erie demonstrates resourcefulness, resilience to carry on
So...what y'all wearing when the aliens get here? Surely you've heard about all the monoliths popping up lately — the tall, shiny columns shaped like Toblerone bars that have been spotted in Utah, Romania, California, and Texas? Well, that seems to me like a sign they'll be here any day now, so at the very least we'd better be wearing a smile and can-do attitude — because after this latest round of shutdowns, many of us may very well be looking at our next employers.
Of course, I needn't remind you to do your smiling from at least six feet away. This COVID-19 deal's still dragging its feet like an old mule with a bellyful of Railbender, and Yahweh Yahweh Yahweh (as of this year, the name of an actual Erieite) only knows what kind of bugs these outworlders might be carrying. Hell, they might even be bugs. At any rate, remember to be courteous. Good morning, Zanaglorp. I gotta say, I just LOVE what you've done with your mandibles.
It is with some concern that I write this, because as you and I both know, 2020 hasn't exactly been our best showing. At times this year, our behavior as a species could be described as counterintuitive and counterproductive — what with all our bickering and in-fighting over pretty common-sense issues like "Who has the right to stay healthy?" and "Who deserves to be treated like a real person?" And to Zanaglorp or Zeebleebop or whatever alien overlord is making the executive decisions, that would seem to be quite the indictment. Why shouldn't they just zap us all and start over tabula Roswell?
Although I can only speak for our tiny corner of Pennsylvania, I'm going to do my best to argue that they absolutely should not, but y'all gotta back me up. If you felt jilted when The Temptations and Four Tops canceled their Warner Theatre gig back in January, imagine how you'll feel when the Xergloggians (or whoever) cancel Earth. If you're able to — and I hope you are — take a few deep breaths with me and let's run through this together.
Column A: Please, We're Begging You, Zap Us Now
I'm going to be real with y'all, there were a number of stories to emerge from our area this year that would have any sensible sentient being scratching their head(s).
- Corry Police were able to track down a stolen bulldozer when they found the perpetrator's hoodie at — you guessed it — the site of the stolen bulldozer. Surveillance footage from a nearby Wal-Mart showed a man wearing it the night the machine went missing, as well as his truck that had been captured on Jackson Excavating cameras that same day. A Wal-Mart receipt was still in the hoodie's pockets. With all due respect to the investigators, this case was kind of a pushover.
- Speaking of thieving, some general tips — do not stab yourself during an attempted hijacking (as an Erie man did this August), and definitely do not wear the same sweatshirt to multiple car break-ins in a row, especially one that a November Millcreek Township Police report described as bearing the "cartoon image of a wildcat and image of a yellow star to the right." A lucky burglary shirt is only lucky until you get caught.
- In January, an Erie man was sentenced to up to 23 months in prison and one year of probation for staging his own kidnapping, which had involved a "kidnapper" duct-taping him to a chair in order to collect "ransom money" from his fiancee. We hope they get to tie the knot soon.
- An apt analogy for the serious dents 2020 has left in our collective psyche — amidst a domestic dispute this April, an Erie road rager was charged for repeatedly ramming a woman's car with his truck.
Although these petty misdeeds are certainly to be frowned upon (or however the aliens might express disapproval — acid drool or perhaps inflating some kind of indignation pouch?), they are nowhere near as contemptible as what transpired on the evening of Saturday, May 30. That night, a peaceful protest of police brutality in the death of George Floyd devolved into a full-scale riot, damaging several Downtown Erie businesses and injuring several people. Perhaps the ugliest and most indelible moment occurred when a riot control officer kicked unarmed, seated 21-year-old Hannah Silbaugh to the ground — a visual circulated widely in the aftermath.
It would hardly be the last unsightly scene from a year fraught with social and political tensions, as racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic sentiments bubbled to the fore. A public park vandalized with racial epithets. Highly disrespectful, sexist comments made during a Erie City Council meeting. Numerous insensitive memes and remarks made at the expense of the very capable Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine (a trans woman).
If this was all we had to show for ourselves, we'd be in trouble. But thankfully for us and our molecular constitutions, we have many more examples of good that should spare us from any potential disintegration rays.
Column B: On Second Thought, We'll Keep Our Molecules, Thank You
Despite all the evidence of self-sabotage I've presented so far, here's why I'm hopeful we (hypothetically) won't be vaporized.
- Early on in the pandemic, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) established a $2.35 million COVID-19 Response Fund consisting of three components — an Immediate Human Relief Fund (benefiting low-income, homeless, and vulnerable populations), a Small Business Loan Program, and Civic Institution Deferred Income Loans. It was a sweeping gesture toward self-preservation impacting community members across the board.
- Following the announcement of Erie Community Foundation President Mike Batchelor's retirement, the organization marked its most successful Erie Gives Day to date, with $6,358,146 pouring in from 11,482 unique donors, a resounding show of support for area nonprofits and their causes — from animal rights to human rights and everything in between. One of the most prominent of those nonprofits, the YMCA of Greater Erie, celebrated its 160th anniversary this year.
- Throughout the year, a number of grassroots efforts emerged to help keep citizens informed and protected from the novel coronavirus. Gannon University student Austin Detzel designed a Live COVID Tracker that displays a heat map of where infection rates are most concentrated. Teenage Eagle Scout Ben Grassinger devised rubber fingertip protection kits aptly branded "Give Corona the Finger." Volunteer "sew-warriors" of the Mask-Erie Facebook group handmade thousands upon thousands of cloth masks for frontline workers. Regional manufacturers banded together with Penn State Behrend to produce a new type of plastic face shield, and area distillers stepped up to compensate for a nationwide shortage of hand sanitizer, the official alcohol of 2020.
- We deepened our appreciation of hometown heroes and trailblazers. Through a series of public art murals, we honored individuals such as NFL Hall of Famer Freddie Biletnikoff, 1950 National League Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe (who crossed over to predominantly white Major League Baseball from the Negro League), and retired Erie School District teacher and counselor Luther Manus Jr. — more tributes and more public art are forthcoming (see the Whole Foods Co-Op, for example).
- St. Vincent nurses were paid the ultimate respect when they were featured in the Marvel Comics limited release The Vitals: True Nurse Stories. Progressive hires like former Olympian Ian Roberts, the first African American man to serve as Millcreek School District superintendent, and Tyler Titus, the first openly transgender man to head the Erie School Board, may very well prove worthy of their own tributes in the future.
- While we're on the subject of education, Erie County, the largest statistical population area in the United States without a community college, was finally approved for one, a move that will grant affordable access to higher learning for years to come.
- Erie, this year named both a "welcoming city" (Welcoming America) and one of the nation's "most livable small cities" (SmartAsset), continues extensive development downtown (Warner Theatre renovations, UPMC Park, and the multiple Erie Downtown Development Corporation ventures in the vicinity of Perry Square, such as the Flagship City Food Hall) and along the bayfront (Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority-directed clean-up of the bluffs and dock wall improvements along East Dobbins Landing).
- It should be noted, however, that some are dismayed about PennDOT's plans for the Bayfront Parkway, fearing that its dual-lane roundabouts (at the feet of Holland Street and the Sassafras Street Extension) and a traffic pass-under at State Street will play up its highway-like character and diminish its potential as an asset for cyclists and pedestrians. I'm not sure how actual extraterrestrials get around (sometimes flying bicycles in the movies), but it's something to keep in mind.
- Pepperoni balls finally got the recognition they deserve, with an entire Stanganelli's inventory selling out in a matter of minutes on the home shopping network QVC. If we were to see intergalactic guests in the coming months, we must be sure to impress them with this Erie delicacy, as well as the best offerings of our local bars and restaurants who have fought valiantly to keep their lights on in a year hamstrung by restrictions.
Well, this list is not exhaustive, but I think it's a good start. If nothing else, it proves we generally do care for one another and are making strides toward a better and more inclusive future. Yes, we've done some stupid things out of boredom and frustration — such as illegally selling spiked slushies at a North East campground and converting a dried-up Water World at Waldameer into a private skatepark — but hopefully that will subside once our public lives can resume safely.
Once we wise up and do everything we can to make that happen, I feel the outlanders will find our diverse array of dining and entertainment options much to their liking — art, theater (not just the streaming kind, although ours have done a great job with that), live music, pro sports (the SeaWolves are here to stay!), indoor surfing, ax throwing, and even curling. If these activities are too primitive for their potentially overswelled craniums, at least we will have demonstrated initiative.
And that deserves a pat on the back with a warm tentacle.
Matt Swanseger is generally dismissive of conspiracy theories except in those situations when they provide a convenient narrative framing device. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org