In the shadows of the Terminal Tower, a 1,200-pound, gray-steel bench spans two industrial hoppers. A "W" and an "E," laser-cut on the backrest, signify the two sides of Cleveland and attempt to unite them. "The beautiful thing is that when someone sits on that bench seat, that W and E goes away," says Michele Kilroy, who developed the concept with furniture designer Kevin Busta. The installation, which took two weeks to build, debuted in April. "I wanted to identify a way to acknowledge [those divisions], but at the same time, try to foster a connection point," Kilroy adds. We took to the streets and paired up these total strangers for a photo op.
Phyllis Munoz, 59, lives in Parma Heights and is a special education teacher at John Marshall High School. Her father worked at Cleveland Trust Co. and Ameritrust, until he retired in the early 1980s. "There's so much misinformation," she says about our civic divide. "People just assume that somebody likes something. They don't get to know the people. We should just get to know each other."
Robert Sirovica has been a contractor for Forest City Enterprises for three years. The 47-year-old lives in Tremont, but his 17-year-old son attends Montessori High School in University Circle. "I know Cleveland's had a weird tradition in the past, but I think it's changing," he says. "With the art museum having the outpost in the Transformer Station, that's been helpful crossing bridges between the city."
You've probably seen Michael Maples II riding his bike downtown for the Committed Courier Co. The 23-year-old Brook Park resident, whose favorite spot in the city looks out at the Fountain of Eternal Life, has been a courier for the last eight months. "It's actually a sweet gig," he says. "When you run into different kinds of people, you sort of get to know a little bit about them. Sometimes, even by looking at them and sometimes by how they decorate their door."
A 53-year-old attorney with Thorman Petrov Griffin, Betsy Rader works on the 31st floor of the Terminal Tower. A Columbus native who recently moved to Russell Township from Baltimore, she is drawn to the community's resilience. "We're united in adversity," she says, noting that our economic struggles, winter weather and sports disappointments all contribute. "Those common issues bond you together even when they're not all positive."
Hendrik van Eden, 20, and his girlfriend, Caitlyn Tocco, 19, travel throughout the Midwest as concessions workers for North American Midway Entertainment. Although they are based in Farmland, Indiana, van Eden hails from South Africa. "Back home, we don't have buildings like this. We might have 20 stories," he says. "But skyscrapers? We don't have those."
Lichelle Cannon, 35, remembers going to Geauga Lake every summer as a kid to escape the city. Now, it's hard for the Maple Heights resident to find a place that offers the same kind of freedom. "If you can survive in Cleveland, you can survive anywhere," she says. "I love everything I hate about Cleveland. I love the Browns even though they don't win. I'm hating the construction right now, but that's all right."
When 18-year-old Eric Reed (third from the left) was asked if he wanted his picture taken for the magazine, he responded, "How many people do you want for your photo? I'll bring everyone together." In a matter of minutes, he had 10 people from the West and the East swarming the bench. "Everybody's cool," he says. "I grew up in this city, so I love the city and coming down here every day." A student at Promise Academy who lives on the East Side, Reed's perspective on the East-West divide is tinged in testosterone. "From the East Side point of view, we love the West Side because they have all the Puerto Ricans," he says. "You feel me?"
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