Hope – This Exit
( Redemption – Next Exit )
In the last 72 hours the world has witnessed the Cinderella story of Ted Williams, a homeless guy known as “Radio Man” holding the standard cardboard sign begging for help at an off ramp of I-71 in Columbus, Ohio. The scene is something we witness daily during our commutes. How many times have we all cringed and felt a bit awkward at the familiar site of our own local off-ramps? Wayne and Keowee being one. We all ask ourselves the same questions and have the same thoughts that last the duration of a red light. I won’t go into them here, but we all have the same basic thoughts and pangs of emotion. Sometimes those feelings are so strong we don’t make eye contact, let alone read the sign in hand. It was Ted Williams’ sign that took him on this journey, “I have a God given gift of voice. I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times.”
God granted a slow news day and the rest is history.
The story takes off when a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch took an interest and not only read the sign and gave him some change, but actually got out of his comfort zone and spoke to him. The voice that came back was shocking to say the least. The reporter returned a few days later to video tape Mr. Williams, then shelved it waiting for a slow news day. While that tape sat on the shelf Mr. Williams remained in his hovel in the brush by the interstate as winter set in.
God granted a slow news day and the rest is history. If you don’t know this story already, you are probably living in a hovel in the brush by the interstate. (or in a van down by the river.) What took place in the few hours after that video went viral via YouTube was no less an act of God. Over 5 million views in the first 24 hours. I remember viewing it on my laptop from the comfort of my bed one very cold morning this week and was moved to tears. I can’t say what exactly resonated with me but it was instant and personal.
Obviously I was not the only one to have the “OMG” moment because by the end of the day Mr. Williams was being sought out by those who had something to offer and he literally over night was being courted by corporations and networks, flooded with job offers and even a house in one case.What he wanted most, to see his 90 year old mother. His mother. The one who prayed for his redemption and recovery from the painful pit of alcohol and drugs. She prayed for a rescue from his self imposed prison. He was the first to admit this is what took him to the street and that his voice, 2 years of sobriety, the clothes on his back and a newly developed faith in God was the only thing he owned in life. (and a pre-paid cell phone.)
Now, this story in itself is amazing and wonderful and I’m sure Will Smith has probably started voice training while his people buy the rights to the story. (If he can beat Oprah to it.) The REAL story here is the sense of community that developed during those few days. In the midst of greedy networks scratching and clawing for first dibs on this story for their ratings, a heart changing Grinch moment happened between rival network morning shows, The Early Show and The Today Show.
The usual production tricks kick off this event with Early Show delivering Mr. Williams elderly mother to LaGuardia to tape the end of their 20 year separation only for Today Show to make a power play and whisk Mr. Williams away when he landed staling the event as the jockey for position. Call it Karma or God or some kind of voice from the universe, something historic happened when the two networks brokered a deal to show the reunion between Ted Williams and his mother at the same time on Thursday morning. The prodigal son televised on a morning show. The world cheers and cries as he runs “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy….” a 53 year old man with a fresh haircut falls into his elderly mothers arms.
“What if that man was a famous painter?”
Community made this happen. This mother and child reunion resonates with us all. The redemption story resonates with us all. The realization that this could happen to any one of us as a parent or as a child should help us connect on some level. Ted Williams took his family through hell. He was far from perfect. We all want a second chance and a happy ending, if not for ourselves but for others. Imagine this being your child. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. I myself have stood in a church food pantry feeling like I’ve just had a TSA screening of my pride and dignity and asking myself “WHY? We work hard, we have good morals, we are good people, how can this happen to US?”
On another level we all have the same desire to be heard. “Deep down inside, many of us long to have our own inner greatness discovered by the world,” says Los Angles author and speaker BJ Gallagher. (“It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been.”) Homelessness is not sexy and less dramatic journeys back from the edge happen every day.
I saw a mini documentary once on Independent Lens about a homeless choir at Saint Patrick Parish in Lawernce, MA, and how the chance to sing and play an instrument gave dignity back to those on Skid Row. Since seeing that film I look at homeless people differently. “What if she was opera trained in voice?” “What if he was an amazing jazz drummer?” “What if that man was a famous painter?”
We can all relate to the hell of not having food or a warm bed, or at least we can imagine it. I for one cannot imagine not having access to music. No computer or radio. No MP3 player or even a cd player. What about films? What about just basic information? What a hell that would be. Mr. Williams didn’t even see this video of himself until he was plucked off the street. He knew nothing until the celebrity tsunami hit him.
It isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of fame in the last few years. The film “The Soloist” about a real-life classical musician, Nathaniel Ayers, who became homeless and was re-discovered is a beautiful story.
For those of you like me who delight in the cheesier side of things, what of accidental singer Antoine Dodson whose spot on local news shot to fame after being altered by popular site Auto-Tune The News made his “Bed Intruder Song” a hit world wide. He got his family out of the projects and is now on every D-list broadcast event you can imagine. (not counting Dick Clarks Rockin’ New Years Eve, which I still don’t understand the connection, but it happened.)
The beauty of Antoine Dodsons’ story holds the same element of Mr. Williams, they are using this new lease on life to help others. Spending celebrity wisely is a rare thing these days. Dodson, a victim of childhood rape, now has a phone app to help rape victims and endangered children. Ted Williams just recorded a commercial spot yesterday for Kraft Mac & Cheese that will air on ESPN Sunday during the “Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl” game. On the theme of internet sensations, “Double Rainbow Guy”, nothing happening on that front, which is a good thing. Maybe he can help the legalization of pot effort, but I digress.
So, what does this have to do with Dayton or you or the world? Why write about this on DaytonMostMetro.com? I found it ironic that as I was following Mr. Williams story I was busy promoting an upcoming event here in Dayton to benefit one of our own off-ramp fixtures, Mr. Rick Sowa. Mr. Sowa has been the flower vendor at the Main Street / I-75 ramp downtown for over 20 years. He was shot in the arm and robbed last October as he was selling flowers like he has done every day. He was hospitalized for his injuries and is now back out on his beat. As a community many of us rallied around him. Many of us have never bought even one flower from him, but he belongs to our community, that’s what matters most. Local artist, musician and author “Drexel” Dave Sparks put out the call for area musicians and venue owners to help raise money for Mr. Sowa. I am one that chimed in early on and am assisting Dave in organizing the event.
So, you might ask yourself, “Why help the flower guy? Lot’s of people need help.”Well, you are right. And if you know someone who needs help, do something. Whatever you can. Or ask others to pitch in. You don’t have to feed the world, just feed one. (I wish that was MY saying but it’s a quote I heard somewhere.)
I’ve never bought a flower from Mr. Sowa. I’ve never met him and do not know him. But when I drive by I ask myself those set of questions “What’s his story?” As a contributing writer here at DaytonMostMetro.com that is my goal, to find those in the community who are invisible or don’t have a place to be heard and tell their stories. Who knows, maybe the next Ted Williams is you, or someone you recognize. Everyone deserves to be heard. Meanwhile, stop by the benefit show for Mr. Rick Sowa at Blind Bobs on January 15. Hear some great music from bands that are donating their pay for the night. Drexel – Akillis Green – Oxymoronatron – Team Void – Okay Lindon – Chuck Cleaver
Speaking of community and being good hearted for the benefit of others, BIG PROPS to the band “Human Reunion” who endured a scheduling issue with the same date / venue and graciously moved their show to Jimmy’s Cornerstone Bar, the last show of that venues location before Miami Valley Hospital tears it down. Please buy a “Human Reunion” record and support them as well. Or, if you are ambitious that night, go to both shows! You can never get too much good Dayton music!