9,500 Miles in Two Months — What I Learned About Bluefield From Circling the Nation & Visiting Small Businesses

11,500 foot altitude in Colorado is enough to keep a heavy breathing man like myself up at night, the air was so thin it felt as though my heart was skipping a beat and I couldn’t get enough air to satisfy my brain enough to let me sleep. I pondered — restless and turning I sat up and decided to just take a shower instead and I began to consider the towns I’ve visited, their commonalities, differences, uniquness, and ubiquitous niches that put them on the map, if any at all.

Over the course of my travels it has become apparent to myself and others close to me that some of my best, most energetically charged ideas come shortly after traveling long distances; something I’m affectionately addicted to. If you want a new idea, entrepenuers spirit, or something to consider, just come talk to me after I’ve driven a few thousand miles and I’m willing to bet I can fire off a list of things we can do as a business, town, state or country to improve upon this great American experiment. My most recent travels, although taking place over the course of a 2 month period, actually entirely occured within 14 total days on two separate occassions. A military veteran snowmobiling trip in Colorado which I obviously elected to gleafully drive to and from, as well as the ultimate Grand Canyon road trip, then shooting up to MOAB Utah, and back through the “middle of no where” (Kansas)until I hit Bluefield again (all in 6 total days).

With such an interest in driving, I require something to get me through to the next leg of my journey when the hours seem to be piling up. I make it a point to intentionally go out of my way to expose myself to places during my travels which get my wheels turning mentally, most especially other small businesses — with a special focus on those businesses which have a similar operation to our own at The Grind. I study them, like a student yearning to understand the complexity of something so seemingly simple, yet vastly complex all at the same time. Though it may seem “regular” at any given moment, a transaction between yourself and a business is highly complex with several variables that, in a good atmosphere, you should hardly notice. Take for example the smell when you enter the business, the psychology of the colors, the software used during the transaction, the customer service, physical processes, dispersment & flow of customers, brand identity, the flow of vehicle traffic, the signs, menu design & font, and placement of items on them, and of course the time it takes to take an order and receive it — just to name a few. I ask questions to business owners or travel guides on local government, history, and what they’re doing that’s unique. When seen in the macro, it is obvious that each state is in essence its own nation, governed by a similar yet also dramatically different cultures which bond its citizenry; something I’ve always admired observing in real time while on the road.

I had some really, really good coffee on my journey’s (shout out Love Muffin Cafe in MOAB, Utah) and it spurred some really, really in depth thoughts. As we floated down the Colorado River in MOAB, our tour guide explained that the area was once home to the largest Uranium mining operation in the United States, but once the government realized it had enough to destroy the planet 45 times over towards the end of the cold war, (it ended?!) their jobs and local economy went bust. At this point, my mind began to make distinctions and similarities to Bluefield and many other parts of Appalachia, though not in the Nuclear arms business, we are in the energy sector, and its certainly a sector that takes repeated blows on a near constant basis, certainly having been derailed in mass since the glory days.

The tour guide continued and stated that at their lowest economic point, as well as a mass exodus of nearly 30,000 residents looking for work, citizens and ranchers alike began working with the Bureau of Land Management to clean up Uranium mines, set better defined parameters on cattle hearding, open up state & federal parks as legitimate tourist destinations, protect the Colorado River, and rebrand / remarket themselves as the place where you go to get away from everywhere else, so long as you’re willing to respect the divinity of the land around you while you do. Concise parameters for this undertaking were drawn up, most evident while you’re downtown and see robust ATV traffic to the tune of hundreds in a 2 mile stretch, while just a couple blocks over — total peace and quiet as law enforcement ensure the natural tranquility of the permanent residents.

Like a blueprint unfolding before me I could see the towns vision, not just their infrastructure, I could envision the impact on the economy for locals, not just the revnue plainly generated for local or state government, and I could see how a legitimate portion of that money went towards keeping the land in prestine condition to honor their early settling ancestors and the vast millions of years of history beautifully preserved in its layered stone. I realized in that moment that a towns only true obligation outside of its constitutional ones, are to adapt in any way it must to ensure it always remains a town, and that its people are taken care of by leveraging what ever the town can offer to make it attractive for settling in, or visiting.

Recently, heated debate over the consideration of ATV & UTV vehicles passing between the two Virginias stirred up a lot of chatter, some rational considerations and frankly some very irrational ones as well. The argument against it is that it will invite noise pollution and physical pollution, and that people are likely to be in danger in their own neighborhoods by reckless partying ATV drivers, a real possibility in a world without enforcement of policy, or proper & concise language on how to implement such a thing. Yet, as I consider many of the towns which did choose this similar path before it was too late for small businesses and the local economy, I can say definitively that this is not a black and white option presented.

There exists a grey area in which we invite people to traverse the natural joys this land brings, while protecting our neighborhoods tranquility, and bolstering the local economy ten fold as we invite individuals who typically have significantly higher disposable income to spend on a good time. We codify what it means to enjoy oneself, set parameters to the allowable limits of use while choosing deliberately to enforce these parameters and take them seriously. After this is done, our job at that point is to watch as people begin to pour their life investments into abandoned buildings to renovate and create small business dreams for themselves to support their family and the community, while also adding a commodity or attraction for the unquenchable tourist population that makes its way through each year, one which we only capture a sliver of, a sliver which already makes a massive impact. The domino effect of this results in the availability of funds for the beautification of our downtown, infrastructure, and localities.

Our job is to adapt and over come, and build something out of the left overs of the glory days, and towns in similar situations to ours all over the nation will be the first to tell you that these transitions are not simple, they’re not easy, but their pain staking work and refinment is a necessary foundation for long term survival when long term survival can no longer be based solely on that of the former reliability of industrial assets. If we are going to not just exist, but grow local family income, the economy, and maintain critical infrastructure in an inviting way, we need to allow people to come here and spend money, enjoy themselves, and set clear and concise parameters on what it means to respect the area while doing all of that, only then will we be in a position to not just make ends meet as a locality, but ultimately get ahead for the first time in a long time. I sincerely hope next time you’re considering a long trip domestically, that you choose to drive and experience these areas, local small businessses, and intra-state cultures in a more intimate and intrinsic way so as to continue spurring the creative process. Until next time, The Grind Never Stops.

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The Grind

U.S Army / OEF Vet, College Football Player, Small Business Start-Up Owner, Student