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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Small Isn't So Small (Rural Social Media)

The conversation went something like this:

"Did you hear about Jimmy Smith?"

"Oh, my Lord, yes.  He has been in trouble his whole life."

"And can you believe that his sister is actually defending him?"

"Not surprising...she's piece of work."

"Well, I'm going to be keeping an eye on this one - everyone is talking about it."

This conversation takes place, not at the town square or even the local coffee shop or grocery store aisle.  Much like big cities, these conversations take place in living rooms, dining rooms, front porches throughout rural America while the participants are glued to their mobile devices or computers.  Technology has changed how we communicate with one another and this blog is but one of many examples of how rural communities stay in touch...when there's Internet, of course.

Through the use of social media, families can stay in contact with loved ones, watch the news and see what's happening around town.  Even local papers have created an Internet presence in the smallest of towns in the hopes of maintaining cultural relevance they once held.  Gone are the days of the local diner being the focal point of town gossip, trends and interactivity.  Rather, even these diners and coffee shops have wireless Internet and the person-to-person conversations are typically relegated to the exchange of money at the cash register for a beverage.

Recently, a horrific fire ravaged much of an area of White Salmon and it was the use of technology - the Internet largely - that kept surrounding residents abreast of what was taking place.  It was an excellent example of the positive aspects of both social media and the use of smart technology to keep people aware and safe.  Ultimately, it saved lives. 

Facebook has become much larger than even its founder imagined.  Ignoring the drop in stock value, Facebook has served to reconnect family members and loved ones, friends from youth and is now a pivotal aspect of rural life.  In some cases, Facebook serves as a town crier, a bulletin board of sorts where events are posted, videos are watched and conversations about hunting, fishing, jobs, politics and illness are learned of and resources shared.  Say what you will about social media, one thing is certain:  It works well in big cities as well as rural communities and the argument can be made that the impact is greater in rural communities than in areas with heavy population density.

It's exciting to see the changes in attitudes toward the use of social media, technology and how rural communities stay in touch.  At a recent Goldendale High School football game, the opposing team had set up a webcam, was broadcasting the football game via the Internet and providing play-by-play commentary.  While the negative side can be a downturn of real human interaction, residents of rural communities who perhaps were unable to attend could participate in their own way - from the comfort of their homes as they rest from a long day at work.  

Change can be a good thing and the growth of technology and the increased use of social media to communicate will serve to grow communities, to enhance the quality of life for many in rural America and as a consultant to the same, this development of technology has been an enormous blessing. I've had the opportunity to help others use social media to their advantage, to increase name recognition and give some insight as to who they are.  Businesses, candidates for elected office as well as folks like you and me can use technology to our advantage to share ideas, thoughts, promote business and communicate effectively and quickly.

We live in a great country.  That's all there is to it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Journey to WA (Part Deux)

We traveled through what was left of Utah, enjoying the sights, talking endlessly about the family who had been so unmistakably kind in helping us out.  That brand of kindness truly is rare in our society today, but welcomed nonetheless.  

The sun was bright, not even a hint of rain was to be found anywhere, and we were determined to make it to Goldendale that evening.  When we hit the Oregon border, we called Uncle Cliff and let him know that we were well on our way, excited about reuniting with him and his wife Patty and the chance to see Matt, Paige and Rylan made us absolutely giddy with excitement.

Stop Two
Oregon is not known for being a flat state, rather mountainous in areas and the Explorer's legendary engineering flaws came to bear not long past the border.  As we were driving up one of the rather steep hills, the "O/D" light began to flash on the instrument panel and the transmission started to sleep.  Yes, we had awakened the demon that possessed generations of Ford Explorers previously.  Somehow, however, we were close to an exit and exit we did.  We found a little town where the mechanic put his computer module on it and explained that it was a shift solenoid in need of replacing - and no, not something they have lying around.

Mindful that we all three were pretty rough looking, Shawn looked up the problem on the Internet from her phone (finally had cell coverage enough to do that) and we determined that the problem with the Explorer was one that could be dealt with once we arrived in Washington - as long as we didn't get the speed beyond 60mph, adding at least an hour to our drive time.

Those of you who know me, know that at times, I can be somewhat "anxious."  I had gripped the steering wheel with such force during this leg of the trip that the steering wheel cover had begun to rub off on my hands, making the palms black.  To say that I was uptight and nervous would be the understatement of the century - knowing that we were not only on a tight budget, but that nothing would be worse than to be stuck in Oregon somewhere or worse yet, to have the transmission simply fall out of the legendary Ford Explorer.

The sight of the Columbia River was a welcomed one.  Majestic and soothing, the sun setting in the West glistened along the river.  The highway travels east and west along the river, providing some of the most beautiful scenery in the Pacific Northwest.  Shawn and Anna took pictures furiously, enjoying what was a first time experience for them.

Stop Three:
Biggs, Oregon is due south of Goldendale on the Oregon side and the bridge across the Columbia River marks the final leg of the trip.  A mere 15 miles from Goldendale, on the map it seems an easy enough trip, but the grade is exceptionally steep.  Not wanting to cause too much panic for the ladies in the vehicle, I simply gunned it, ready for the hill.

We made it 2/3 of the way up the massive grade when the transmission decided to not only slip, but virtually stop propelling the vehicle.   Fortunately, there was a little driveway we could pull into to let the vehicle rest long enough to try one last time to make it up the last 400 yards of the grade.  You see, from there on, it would be an easy trip to Goldendale and a little jog down Cliff and Patty's driveway.

We gave it our all and yes, we made it (three hours late).  The Explorer intact, we unloaded and was greeted by the open arms and warm smile of Uncle Cliff.  We had reached our destination after what was a trip never to be forgotten and certainly something to tell the grandkids about.  

The Explorer still limps around, and if you're real quiet, you can actually hear the vehicle chuckling under its breath...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Journey to Washington State

Living in Oklahoma was an incredible experience.  Working in radio, working with folks in the medical supply industry, consulting on numerous campaigns, working with the Oklahoma Rifle Association on legislation...the list goes on and on.  Which is why moving back to my home state of Washington was a tough decision to make, but after long hours of discussing the move with my wife and my kids, it had become clear that now was the time.

My uncle Cliff has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terribly debilitating disease wherein a lung transplant is necessary to ensure a long, productive life.  Being in Goldendale, Washington with him and his family is important at this stage of both our lives and will also give my children the opportunity to see where I grew up and to experience a little of what I did "back in the day."  My oldest son, Matt, lives in Washington as well and being closer to him and my grandson is a joy.

Of course, the journey was an eventful one - a trip that will go down in history as one of the funniest and dramatic travels of my lifetime.

We worked on the Explorer for about two weeks prior to leaving, fighting with the "blower motor control" unit which was expensive and a classic pain in the rear.  Fortunately, we got the thing going and yes, the AC was working just fine...until we loaded the vehicle with essentials and hit the road.  Suddenly, the air was just air and driving in the Oklahoma heat was rather like cruising down the highway in a fully loaded sauna.  But, undeterred, we were on a mission to get to Goldendale, Washington and there wasn't a whole lot that was going to stop us.
Shawnnessy and my daughter, Anna, had packed all of the necessary road trip snacks and were surprisingly upbeat (a couple pounds of beef jerky tend to make one smile), though saddened about leaving Mason, Madison and Samantha behind - knowing that eventually, they would be coming to visit and that Samantha would be moving out to Washington after the school year.

Stop 1
We drove through the evening, finally exhausted, we stopped in Hays, Kansas for the night.  The next morning (Tuesday), we had some breakfast, feeling confident that we could make it through Colorado, perhaps even drive through the night and hit Goldendale in the morning Wednesday.  The AC still not working, we headed out, showered and fresh, anticipating some amazing scenery.  Then, later that night as we hit the middle of Utah, orange barrels (a familiar sight in Oklahoma) crowded the darkened highway.  Suddenly, when the brakes were applied, a terrible sound came from the right front wheel - initially, I thought it was a flat tire...but it is never that easy.  One of the bolts that holds the brake pads onto the rotor busted and the whole darned thing was smacking up against the wheel.

Stuck for the night along the side of the road, we were fortunate to be at an off-ramp and away from the highway.  The following morning, we made calls to little towns nearby for the replacement bolt and the auto parts dealers weren't really sure if they had one.  The Ford dealership had one, but of course, it would take a couple days to arrive as it was located in a warehouse somewhere in Siberia.  A kind gentleman came by, asked if we needed some help, and we were still calling around to see if there was a part somewhere.  A little while later, the gentleman returned - he happened to live just about a quarter mile away.  We limped the vehicle to his house and he and I went off to the auto parts store, Anna and Shawnnessy stayed behind speaking to his wife and daughter.

Since we were in Utah, he told me all about the history of the area, shared that he was LDS.  I learned about the town, the community, his faith and to be perfectly honest, it was immeasurably enjoyable.  We got the bolt, headed back and repaired the vehicle.  Before long, we were back on the road.  We won't soon forget that incredible family in Utah who helped us out in a very tough patch.

More to follow...

*Transmission issues and the long hill up from Maryhill.