Hearing Aaron Draplin talk about his favorite signs, you can’t help but look at “old crappy things” a little differently. And here in Indiana, there are plenty of old crappy things to look at.
But there’s beauty here, too.
There's just no way you can spend any significant amount of time in Fort Wayne without noticing this blue beacon in the night sky, for instance.
The GE sign is practically a second moon for parts of this city, hanging out up there while you’re waiting in line for a Bravas dog outside The Rail. It’s a relic left over from the last generation’s Fort Wayne, a reminder of the city that was built out of bolts and grease long before anyone thought about “merging layers.” The sign’s brilliant at night, but it still shines during the day—just these bold white lines against a blue sky, held up by a grid of scaffolding, all of it resting on these giant brick buildings. If you’re looking for a metaphor for the Fort’s transition from where we were to where we’re going, you could do a lot worse.
Like so many things in a city in transition, the future of the sign (and those big brick buildings) is up in the air. Maybe someone will come along and turn it into something awesome. Maybe it’ll just sit there. We’ve heard a lot of people dream about what they might do with such a space. But if it ever does transform into something awesome, one thing is clear—it's “not going to do anything on its own.”
Nothing happens without at least a little risk. And maybe that risk will involve time, pride, reputation, or money, but for big things to happen, someone's got to put something on the line and get their hands a little dirty.
A few weeks ago, Ron Myers took a risk and emailed Aaron Draplin to figure out what it would take to get him to Fort Wayne. There’s a ton of risk there, most of it pride-related, but Ron said Draplin was awesome, there was a date that would work, and DDC vs. FTW was penciled in. So, now Ron’s got this question: How does the money part of this work? He and some friends were ready to foot the bill themselves if necessary, but first they threw a Kickstarter together and reached out to the community.
And then we all got to take a risk.
Of the types of risks you can take, money is often the easiest one. If you’ve got it, spending it is pretty easy, and as pye’s dad used to say “you can always make more.” So, we saw the Kickstarter, had a quick Gchat, decided the adventure was worth the risk, and did what we could to make sure this awesome thing happens. The hard work on the event was already done. Someone else already had the idea, had already figured out how to make it happen, and had done the prep work.
Good ideas are easy, and finding the money might be easier than you think, but money only matters if you’ve already done the asking and the planning—if you’ve done the work.
In Draplin’s “50 Point Plan to Wreck Your Career (or Save It),” he notes that “as a good Midwesterner you’re told you’re gonna hate your job.” That's not a Midwest thing randomly, it's a Midwest thing because this area was built on farming and manufacturing, hard and boring work that's probably not hard to hate.
It's easy to feel like we're past that, like our degrees and our non-profit backgrounds have earned us a lifetime full of easy days with our asses in comfortable chairs in air-conditioned rooms. We don't have to hate our jobs, not at all, but we're being naive if we think they're not going to be hard work. It’s not all glowing blue signs—we've got to have a building to put that scaffolding on.
And sure, maybe the hard work won’t be washing dishes, or plowing fields, or working on an assembly line, but then again, maybe it will. We can’t keep waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting, to transform this space. And it’s not going to do anything on its own.
Ron, his friends Josh and Kryste and his wife Carly, carried most of the load this time around. We jumped in at the fun part, and you should, too. Get in on the Kickstarter to make sure you’ve got a seat when Draplin rolls into town and to show a little support for good, Midwestern work.
If you’re thinking “But I’m not interested in signs or design or Futura Bold,” well, we think it’s about a lot more than that. For example, while standing about “seven feet away from dangerous-ass trains,” Draplin has this to say:
Yeah, he’s talking about a logo, but when we start to think about what that old blue sign says about us, about our city, it doesn't seem so crazy to think that maybe he’s talking to us, too.
Maybe it’s time to get close to those rails. Maybe we need a reminder of this city’s past, a reminder of what that sort of work feels like.
Maybe we gotta get dirty.
Awesome photo at the top stolen from Maxine Denver's Vimeo.