Eric's Heroes: 'Mayor of Ballard' a Seattle neighborhood takes care of one of their own

Joel Abel is deaf and non-verbal. Joel has had no contact with any family since the 1980s. In his quiet world, Joel is very much alone. Except for Ballard. (KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- It's a Tuesday morning and the sun is shining in Ballard. A guy named Joel Abel is out and about, heading off to see friends.

He pauses long enough to light up a smoke and continues on his way.

To spend a morning with Joel is to understand decency, community and how good the world can be sometimes, to some people.

First stop is Cupcake Royale, and Joel is happy.

Emily Scully is working today.

"Oh, Joel's a part of Ballard. From day one, Joel is a part of Ballard, Ballard is Joel. He's just synonymous with Ballard," Scully said.

Joel gets a free taste and eventually settles on a cupcake lollipop, on the house.

And Joel is happy.

He is deaf and he is non-verbal. Joel has had no contact with any family since the 1980s. In his quiet world, Joel is very much alone. Except for Ballard.

"You see Joel and he's just the sweetest human. Even though he can't speak to you, he'll draw you pictures and he's always smiling," Scully said. "He operates on a different level from the rest of us but we can learn a lot from him I think."

Joel pops into Sonic Boom Records because even though he is deaf, he loves rock 'n roll.

His foot starts bouncing to some imaginary hard-driving beat...and Joel is happy.

Back on the streets, he makes a beeline for his next stop.

Hattie's Hat, like Joel, is an institution.

Once inside, he always stops to see what movie they're playing. On that Tuesday, it was "Raising Arizona."

And when you are a man about town, you run into friends. And so it was on this day.

Maggie works at Hattie's and when Joel saddles up to the bar, she knows to have a big root beer waiting.

"When I started working here I was told Joel's just part of our family," Maggie said. "So we take care of him."

Then comes some toast, on the house, of course. And he crosses his legs and slathers on some jam.

And Joel is happy.

Joel walks home through old Ballard.

His friend from Hattie's, who had left to look for something, gave him a present. And Joel thought about it for a moment and looked at the present...and he was happy.

And on his way he went, and his friend was happy too.

The State helps Joel out. There is a man who takes him shopping on Tuesdays and helps him with the details of life.

Joel lives on his own in a small apartment near Ballard. He has a thing about feet, he loves them. He makes casts of his friend's feet and keeps them on a shelf.

He likes to draw little pictures and he's happy to show you if you ask.

He plays records that he can't hear, but his favorite place is Bop Street Records, you can find him there most evenings.

"I sort of wonder, what's going on? What's he thinking about? What's making him so happy?" said Dave Voorhees, the owner of Bop Street.

But his best buddy is Max Wallace.

Wallace gives Joel little jobs, and he keeps drawings of albums that Joel has made.

A couple of times a month, Wallace takes his buddy out on the town. They go to the Rickshaw Restaurant for some karaoke.

Joel, who can't hear music, but loves it anyway, stands up with Wallace, who belts out some Black Sabbath.

And during a break in the song, Joel took a solo. Then he worked the room, making friends at a table.

It was a performance. It was also an act of kindness. One man helping another to feel less alone in the world, and more alive.

Joel is in his 60s now. In spite of profound challenges, he navigates his world fearlessly. And he has two very important things working in his favor: he has friends, and he has Ballard.

And when the song was over, they weren't singers anymore, they were just a couple of guys out for a beer and some good company.

And Joel was very happy.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to

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