I missed the Economic Development Conference in havre last week, but I was there in spirit.
I’ve been thinking about how all along the Hi-line small towns are shrinking and how we need to give serious thought to economic development. Actually, I was giving serious thought to my next vacation when this problem and its perfect solution popped into my brain. What started this thought process was my fingernails.
After this long and bitterly cold winter, my fingernails are fragile, almost brittle. Contemplating my nails led me to memories of my last vacation in Mazatlan , along the west coast of Mexico , with my friend Kathy. Time-share hawkers are a plague in this lovely city. Kathy and I have resisted a boatload of these bamboozlers. We have simple rules; don’t make eye contact, keep moving, say no, gracias. Say it a lot.
Maybe we were mushy-headed that day. Or perhaps it was Fate, planting a germ of brilliance in my mind. Or perhaps we felt sorry for the desperate young man setting up the pitch. For incentive we were offered free breakfast, a thousand pesos and a bottle of tequila. Early the next morning, the pulminia (think jeepy-kind of open vehicle made by Volkswagon and used in WWII, now used to shuttle tourists) driver picked us up outside our hotel and drove us a resort. Toothpick met us and immediately swept us along on a tour of exclusive, lease-to-own, I-don’t-remember-the-details, condos.
Toothpick was a long, tall drink of water, a former Texan, retired to Mazatlan . We pegged him for a used-car salesman and an ex-smoker. When he met us, he had a toothpick in his mouth. He talked around the toothpick. He drank coffee around the toothpick. He had a pocket full of toothpicks, and when he’d shredded one, he discarded it and began chewing on another, like a chain-smoker lighting his next cigarette with his last.
The first thing Toothpick said to us, as he ticked off the reasons he lived in Mazatlan, was how healthful the ocean air was for his skin, his hair, and yes, even his fingernails, holding out veined hands for us to admire his manicure. During the tour, the breakfast, and the sales spiel, Toothpick repeated the healthy benefits of ocean air for hair, skin, and, yes, especially fingernails. We snickered but felt the “two hours, guaranteed,” sales talk was worth the four hours in actual time, just to put Toothpick and his fingernails on our list of people we will never forget. But I digress.
All of which circles me back to my idea for economic development. Let’s sell Time-Shares on the Hi-line. Harlem could be the pilot project. From there we would branch out—Dodson, Saco, Hinsdale , Kremlin, Gildford, Rudyard. The world is our Rocky Mountain Oyster, so to speak.
Oh, we’d have to start out small, of course. In Mazatlan, when a development group is new, or is under-funded, or otherwise is unable to build a thirty-story high-rise resort surrounding eighteen swimming pools with twenty in-house restaurants, they build Phase I. This might be a humble thirty units on the beach with a waterfall pool. They call it a “boutique resort.” So, being likewise under-funded, we would start small. Phase I, Prairie Boutique Resort, might consist of several modest single-wide trailer houses, each one with a rusted out car husk on blocks, sitting next to a plastic wading pool. Then, as sales escalated, we would quickly expand to double-wide mobile homes. And in that fashion, we eventually would reach the ultimate resort status, with mansions and condos worth billions of dollars, just like in western Montana .
Here’s how it works. Graphic artists would design rustic resort homes in a prairie setting, sort of a ghost town look, but with all the amenities. Better yet, we might steal pictures directly from real estate ads in those glossy Montana magazines. We could call the photos “previews of coming attractions.” We may be watching re-runs today, but watch us smoke!
Wait. Wait. I know what you’re going to say. We have to have a sales gimmick, something to create appeal. Otherwise, why would anyone buy a time-share in Harlem ? No problem. What we lack in ocean beaches or mountain lakes, we make up for in Isolation and Solitude: what better place to go to Totally Get Away From It All.
Otherwise-sane people spend millions annually on yoga, meditation, trips to ashrams in India, to seminars all over the world, searching for inner peace, a mind emptied of all chatter, a place of nirvana. We have it here for free! Walk out onto the prairie in any direction, sit on a rock for five minutes, and you too, can reach that state of empty mind others seek so hard to find.
We’ll “Build it and they will come.” For incentive to take our sales tour, we’ll offer a free cowboy breakfast of brains and eggs, ten bucks and a six-pack of Bud.
HDN: Looking out my back door
March 25, 2010