How to drive away visitors to a town
I recently found myself in the middle of a small town celebration in Utah County and learned that I never wanted to return to that event again.
It all happened when I was on my way to Salt Lake to attend to some family business and decided to stop at a northern Utah County library to leave some brochures advertising the Helper Literary Fest.
As I pulled up Main Street I noticed that a carnival had taken up the road by the building I was going to, so I swung around the block and parked in a lot I normally don't use when I head to that library. As I got out of my car someone called to me from a nearby trailer.
"Hey how about a hot dog?" the guy said to me.
I looked up at him and having only eaten breakfast less than an hour before (it was afterall 10 a.m.) I said I didn't. But nonetheless he persevered.
"Hey they're free," he urged. "How can you pass that up."
"I can, because I'm not hungry," I said without relating to him the fact that I am on an unsuccessfully maintained low fat diet into which hot dogs fit at the far end of the scale.
"I just can't believe you don't want a free hot dog," said the guy in a somewhat sarcastic tone.
I walked away wondering how long he had been off his medication.
As I approached the library a sign on the door notified me that the library was closed for usual business, but was being used for an art and photography show. The notification also said that the librarians were doing inventory as well. Rather than a setback I thought that this was a good thing; not only would the brochures lay on a library counter but they would also be seen by dozens of artists and others during the two day show.
As I walked in I looked for the counter where I put some advertising last year only to find it covered with sculptures. As I walked around toward the front where I remembered there was another place my brochures could be placed a woman approached me. She stuck a small yellow piece of paper in my face.
"If you're in here looking at the art and photos you need to cast a ballot as to which is the best," she said determinedly.
As much as I love art and photography I wasn't in that mode because I needed to get to Salt Lake.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I came to visit the library, but I see it is closed. I just came to...."
Just then my cell phone buzzed because I had it on etiquette mode. I picked it up out of my holster. Now I know that libraries discourage cell phone use, but I wasn't actually in the library, I was in the foyer and besides it was being used for a very noisy display and not for official business.
"You can't use your cell phone in here," said another woman rather quickly and rudely as well. She was obviously in some kind of partnership with the ballot monger. "The librarians are doing inventory and the signals from the phone could affect that."
I looked at her like she was crazy. I wasn't flying United, so I knew the plane would crash if I spoke with whoever was calling me. But on the other hand trying to be a good doobie, I went to go outside before answering the phone. As I walked toward the front door (I had come in a side door) I saw it was blocked by multiple displays and banners.
"Can't you see you can't go out that door," said the cell phone police who had accosted me before. "You'll just have to go somewhere else to talk."
Meanwhile the balloter was following me around trying to shove a one of the yellow slips in my hand. I obviously looked upset, because I was just trying to do one simple thing and it seemed everyone I ran into was trying to get me to do something else.
"Look I don't want a ballot, but I would like to leave these somewhere around here for people to see," I said as my cell phone continued to buzz. "The librarian has allowed me to do that in past years."
"Well we don't know if we can allow you to do that," said the woman with a ballot still held out to me in her hand. "But you could still look around and fill out a ballot."
I just looked at her. The cell phone monitor continued to watch me, like a falcon ready to drop on its prey, just to make sure I didn't answer my phone in the middle of their art display.
I left via the entry I had come in, answered my phone and walked back toward my car, deciding the fight wasn't worth it. As I did a woman from the free hot dog trailer approached me.
"How about a hot dog?" she almost yelled at me. "It won't cost you a thing. It's free."
It was then I noticed that the trailer had to do with a blood drive and my thoughts went through what I had experienced in the last 10 minutes. I looked at her.
"Sure it is," I said. "All you want is a pint of my blood."
Just like everyone else here, I thought to myself.
It was lessoned learned as I got on I-15 and headed north. Actually a lesson for all of us. How we connect with people who come into our town can make a big difference about how they feel about our area. If we always place our needs first, maybe we are turning people off, even if we are counting them as a body at an event.
It is something we all need to consider.