Fort Bragg Rolls Out the Red Carpet (with me in it)

I thought you might be interested in my experience visiting Fort Bragg, Monday March 26th. It was a day trip for me but I was on my own for three hours while a friend fulfilled a contract.

My first stop was Headlands Coffee where I ate cookies and drank coffee while flipping through a book catalogue. There was time after to window shop. The bookstore had a used copy of Season of the Witch in their window. I considered buying a second one to lend out. Maybe after lunch.

Since it had been awhile since I was in Fort Bragg I thought I’d check out the mini mall in the old Union Lumber Company building. Final destination here was the Mendocino Cookie Company but first, a tour of the shops, slowing down to glance at the historical photos plastering the walls.

As I turned the last corner before the Cookie Company, someone vacuuming the carpet quickly turned off the machine and says to me “Let me ask you something” and proceeded to make accusations about me hanging out and not being there to buy anything. The phrase “You can’t hang out here” was repeated several times. My only response was “I’m heading to Mendocino Cookie Company. I’m a tourist.” He didn’t believe me. “Just remember, you can’t hang out here.”

I ate enough cookies earlier so I bought a Cappuccino to drink while making some notes in my catalog. I still had some time to cruise Main before lunch. On the way out I stop at the shared rest room. Someone was using it. So I’m waiting in the hall when the homeless patrol guy walks up to me and says sarcastically, “Still being a tourist?” I needed to find out what the problem was.

I go into serious conversation mode. “Look, what is the problem? Tell me what it is I’m doing and I won’t do it.” I hold up my cappuccino cup. “Look, I’m a customer.” Hallway police: “You can’t hang out here.” “What is hanging out?” “You can’t be here for over an hour hanging out.” Finally, a piece of information. “When you stopped me on the way to the Cookie Company I hadn’t been here for more than a half hour looking at the pictures on the wall so I was well within this range. Aren’t we supposed to look at the pictures?”

He acted like he never heard me but he didn’t ask me to leave either, which I was planning to do after the pit stop. Struggling to make sense of his behavior I do an analysis of my appearance – clean shave, clean clothes, no stuff except an Air Mac computer on my shoulder and a convention tote bag for a few papers. My best guess is, it must be the army raincoat. I grab the lapel of my coat in a final desperate attempt to break through to this guy. “Its been raining. I’m from Clearlake so I had no idea what the weather was going to be like here. THAT’s why I’m wearing THIS (pointing to the coat) which makes me look like a homeless person.”

I feel satisfied that I’ve solved the mystery but he just shakes his head and stalks off. During the whole encounter someone who was obviously the building’s manager passed by twice showing a new employee what had to be done to shut down the building at the end of the day. Nothing I described seemed out of the ordinary to him. I pop in and out of the rest room and leave – probably forever.

I meet my lunch date at the pizza pub across the street. I talk about the new Fort Bragg hospitality. I say “Fort Bragg” because there had to be significant public involvement to bring in all the historical artifacts to the mini mall. During my brief stay I spent $53.35. Obviously chump change for a classy place like Fort Bragg. I forget all about going back for the book on the way out of town.

I feel I should help your businesses keep lowlifes like me out of town by publicizing my recent visit. So who am I? I am 64, educated, and retired, currently on a mere $14,229 per year but I own my own place. I travel a lot on a budget within 150 miles of home. Someone still working would have to gross another thousand to clear this amount. Add another thousand to beat the hanging out threshold and we get a minimum gross income of $16,229 to keep Fort Bragg from jerking the welcome mat out from under you. I still don’t know what nuance I projected to throw retail personnel into homeless alert mode so probably no one else would either.

Feel free to use my picture of exactly what I was wearing and carrying for a poster captioned: “If you look like this, keep moving.” I’ll send it to you. I want to help.

Letter to Mendocino’s Ad Hoc Committee on Public Access

I am the Secretary for Cache Creek Performance, a non-profit created by some former TV8 volunteers.  The purpose of Cache Creek Performance is to create a structure to contract for non-traditional public and private venues. Our focus area is Lake County and Ukiah Valley. I believe the Board of Supervisors may be interested in our idea for a relevant internet platform for all Mendo-Lake community media.

 Twenty years ago, cable TV was still in it’s prime. For rural California, it seemed that almost every home was hooked into cable TV. 

Behind the scenes, many government and volunteer hours were spent obtaining contracts for public access funding, putting broadcast studios in place, and keeping the channels operational.  Having a public access channel was the only community controlled media.  It was a boon for local businesses and community groups, while allowing local governments to educate and engage their citizens. It was the only public platform for local performers, producers and videographers. 

 But now, many customers are switching from cable to satellite for their television viewing.  Other customers are giving up their television sets altogether, using the internet to provide them with both information and entertainment. The internet doesn’t require people to schedule their lives around someone else’s schedule. We enjoy an explosion of choices that we can use at our convenience.

Local businesses, organizations and governments are less dependent on Public Access, preferring to rely on their websites to get their information out.   Budgets are tightening, and the cost of running brick and mortar operations keeps rising.   And with the loss of cable customers, Public Access viewership is dropping.   Now would seem like a good time to say ‘good-bye’ to Public Access. 

 But the internet has not been able to fully replace public access. There is no one place on the internet where someone can learn about the full range of local culture, local issues, and local activities.  Without some kind of filter, the community gets lost in the cyberspace noise.  And it is that very cyber roar that puts our community identities at risk. 

  Perhaps as important as our community identity, is our right to a public forum.  Unlike satellite TV and internet, Public Access holds a special place as a legal “designated public forum.”  It cannot be overridden by commercial or political considerations.  And, since the enactment of DIVCA, we can be pretty sure that if we allow these unique Public Access forums to fall off of our radar, we can never get them back.

 How do we keep these assets alive in this changing climate?  First, we need to rethink the type of local government contributions that would best support the transition of our public access channels to the internet.  Second, we need to work with the new technology. 

 Viable public access requires: a place for the live cable jack (ensuring a legal free speech entity for all the public); protected storage for valuable equipment; and an inclusion under the County insurance umbrella.  This way, the County could support the transformation of a vital resource by replacing PEG line items with in-kind support.  Other examples are increased municipal wi-fi locations (remember, the shift to more internet incorporation) and better access to public spaces for “on-the-fly” shooting spaces as well.  But no scary budget item for a declining technology.

 Technically, the cable links need to be nodes on an internet platform, which is essentially a beefed up blog site. WordPress Premium at $8.25 per month should be adequate. The $5 per month Vimeo option seems to be working well as the preferred video upload site for Willits. Notice I said links, plural. Each access channel and community radio in the region would need to have their own pages on the platform for basic info and links which they would administer themselves. Live streaming and podcasts should be platform centered. There are plans available for under $20 per month.

Cache Creek Performance would like to help create a relevant internet platform, including cable public access, for all Mendo-Lake community media.