Anyway, I kept my ears open. This tends to be a frustrating exercise in small towns like mine, because one of our big problems, in terms of making businesses pay enough to stay open, is that national and world news stories have to be huge before people are likely to be talking about them rather than boring local gossip. "Who was that young man I saw going into that young woman's house? I don't think her parents were there? You know her parents...were you there? Was she alone with..." And I'm like, "Just turn it off. I don't know, and I don't care. Maybe we need another certifiable lunatic just to give boring people something to gossip about."
But in my town, which is still Gate City even though once again I'm online from scenic Big Stone Gap, gossip is literally bleeding money out of our town. Revenues are down. The mayor is hassling people with idiot citations for things like storing merchandise or even porch furniture on their porches. The police are writing tickets when they catch someone driving 48 miles per hour in a 45-mile zone, not that I personally couldn't show them where to find some real reckless driving. Why are otherwise decent people doing this? Because people are not earning as much money as they expected to, are not sponsoring their friendly local blogger as reliably as they wanted to, are not buying as many things as they planned to, and naturally are not paying as much in taxes as the city and the county counted on them to, either. Without that anticipated revenue, how can we finance another summer of weekly free concerts in the alley?
So what's happened to all that money? If nothing else, we have the usual number of people "on a fixed income" who buy small amounts of gas, groceries, and occasionally other things. But they don't buy any more of it than they can help in Gate City, and when they do buy gas and food in Gate City they gravitate toward places they can drive through; the rest of the time they drive to Kingsport or Duffield or somewhere even farther away.
"People in Kingsport laugh at'em," says a mostly quiet member of this web site who's worked on both sides of the state line. This is true. The way Gate City fails to support our own business community is ludicrous.
And here I stand to testify that it's our own business community's very own fault. Our business community does not take a consistently adult, professional attitude toward customers. Oh, naturally we have tiny struggling start-up businesses run by people who do understand that their business life depends on their ability to please the customers...but unfortunately we also have just a few big-chain stores and too-secure government service places run by people who prefer to imagine that the customers are supposed to please them.
As a result, people even in the rest of Scott County talk about "the Gate City clique" whom they don't want to encourage by doing business with them. The county library, meant to be a magnet for the rest of the county, discourages even patrons who live within walking distance by continuing to employ the Nefarious Librarian; I've used my HSP hearing to listen to some of the things the more competent librarians whisper, and overheard perfectly legitimate librarian-type conversations like "Let's move this display to this corner and put these things..." but I can see why so many people agree that the library is a "cliquish" place where they suspect they'll be gossipped about. I know for a fact that the big-chain supermarket that dominates our only real shopping plaza is a cliquish place where people will be gossipped about, that ever since her promotion to manager "Crazy Kate" Blair has proclaimed that she dislikes and disrespects regular customers (and has gossipped about them in harmful ways; I asked two business associates what-all she was saying about me, one refused to answer, and one said "Let's just say that you're hated"). At least one of our little fast-food restaurants has actually admitted to having an official Gossip Club.
There are businesses in Gate City where customers can reasonably expect to be answered civilly if they choose to speak to an employee, not to be badgered or bullied into a conversation if they don't choose to start one, and to be thanked civilly when they hand money to employees. However, considering that the library, Food Lion, and Hardee's are three of our most popular and visible businesses, and considering how much the employees (and the handful of remaining loyal patrons) in those businesses act like a sixth grade social clique, who's going to take the time to look for the businesses where patrons are respected and appreciated?
We could, seriously, try a system of substantial fines for businesses that discourage customers by obvious offenses like:
* Whispering, or carrying on conversations in which anyone in the building is not included, while in the public part of the building
* Saying anything about any private citizen who is not part of the conversation, while in the public part of the building
* Calling a customer anything other than "Sir," "Ma'am," or "Valued Customer" (in most of the world these days people understand that it could be dangerous to have their names, relationships, or other personal information blurted out in a public place, and if anyone really is so insignificant that that kind of information is safe, it would be cruel to call attention to it!)
* Taking a customer's money without saying "Thank you"
* Ringing up a price higher than the price shown in an ad, on the shelf, or on a tag or package, without saying "I humbly beg your pardon. Please accept the item free of charge with our apologies." (And when Chatty Cathy "accidentally" rings up three of the 99-cent items and two of the 59-cent items, while placing two 99-cent items and three 59-cent items in the customer's shopping bag, the whole dang bag should be free of charge with her apologies, and let that teach her to watch what she's doing the next time.)
That would replenish the coffers of local government fast. And it wouldn't hurt local enterprise, either.
Anyway, last week I did hear some talk in town about actual news. Specifically, it was about the news that once again the county court record, as printed in the newspaper, was showing a lot of cases where visitors had been fined for offenses like "excessive window tint." Y'know, in sunnier climates, like Texas and California, there's a huge demand for thin films of black on the insides of car windows. Some cars actually come from the factory with this "tint" installed, because it's the option most customers prefer in some states. Virginia happens to have particularly strict laws about how dark car windows may legally be tinted. Some restrictions on window-blackening are legitimate, because traffic officers do need to have some idea how many people are inside a car they approach. This web site has no objection whatsoever to police officers asking visitors to peel off their excessive window tint.
Nevertheless, this web site has ears to the ground, and we're hearing:
"Gate City spent more than they can afford, and they are taking it out of the tourists."
"What tourists? Who goes there? Gate City objected for years to the four-lane highway bypass around the town because they thought it would discourage people from shopping in town...but whenever anybody tries to shop in that town, they get a ticket!"
"I don't even visit my relatives in Gate City any more. They can visit me."
And we have to admit that imposing a fine on some clueless college kid from Kentucky just for driving a "cool-looking" car, that's legal in Kentucky, is pretty mean. Cops who need something to do on a quiet weekday morning when everyone in Gate City is being mature and law-abiding should educate visitors about excessive window tint. Funds raised by writing traffic tickets could more helpfully be raised in rural Scott County, especially between about 9 and 11 p.m., when the expectation of "wide-open road" (plus, in some cases, a feeling that "I know Deputy John Doe won't write me a ticket") lulls some people into a false sense of security.
On Monday night, once again, the student who ought to have taken me directly home chose not to come to class. Once again, wind and rain prevented any cell phone calls being made. I got a safe lift with a neighbor, part of the way. I walked enough of the way to see and hear how much closer some vehicles were to 90 miles per hour than to 60, how much oil and water were filming the road, and how loose and slippery the shoulder was...a good bit of my walking was done on the outsides of guard rails. And I saw some stranded vehicles that did not have the option of getting outside the guard rails instead of functioning as obstacles in a high-speed precision driving test, too. I walked about four miles thinking, "I have to post something about how our police could actually save a few lives. Not only my life, which obviously nobody cares much about, and not the lives of the speed fiends, who certainly would not be missed by me, but potentially the lives of little children."
I don't want to say it, it's mean, and I don't know that its implications are even true--I know Sheriff Puckett has shown physical courage--but you know people are saying: Writing tickets to kids from Kentucky or grandpas from Tennessee, for "excessive window tint," is a much less hazardous form of police work than interfering with people who choose to test their precision driving skills on long downgrades, in the rain, across that bridge over the place where the road washed out and the two feet of gravel "shoulder" won't even support a guard rail. I mean, as a pedestrian I can make sure nothing else is on the road before I sprint across that bridge, and that makes me a lot safer than a lot of people who were on the road on Monday night. If I were a traffic cop I believe I would have the fortitude to watch that bridge and make sure drivers knew it was there.
So then I came in to the computer center, and I found a video that really deserves to go viral. It's not been heavily edited. For the first minute or two, all you see is a talking head (with bare shoulders, and more cleavage than I'd want to show myself), as the blogger known as "Bubby's Mommy" talks about a sun shade to press onto the car window. Then you see her actually unfold and display the sun shade, and right away the baby grabs it and takes over the job of showing the product while the mother talks about it. It's still far too long for a TV commercial, but...you have never seen a cuter homemade commercial.
If your computer is not wired for sound (mine's not either) you can find out what's being said about the product on Amazon here, or at its very own web site:
Are you seeing the link here, Gentle Readers? This precious baby is advertising a product that could potentially save Virginia tourism! Visitors can peel off the plastic, press on a few of these cute little translucent screens where they'll do the most good, be protected from the heat and insulated from the cold and screened from the radiation, and be legal. Because, of course, in any situation that could involve rolling down the window, you pop the screen off again, and if the situation involves being approached by a police officer, s/he can see in through the window. Everybody is safe. And if you're travelling with a baby, you could even hand the screen to the baby to keep him/her amused while you're talking through the window.
And if you never travel with babies and don't want your car to look as if you did, why don't you just buy a pair of sunshades, for only $15 they're cheap enough to give as presents to a friend who has a baby, and include with your order a suggestion that Jomolly make some plain black ones whenever she's sold enough of the cartoon-enhanced ones to have more money to invest in Product Development. You know she will.
If I were Rush Limbaugh, I would actually lend Jomolly the money to design a pair of car window shades for adults, with a little map of Virginia's major highways on one and a little list of Virginia's more specific traffic rules on the other. However it may seem, by and large people in Virginia do like visitors. We do of course like for visitors to leave money behind them. But most of us prefer that they enjoy it.