Chalk Blocked: How I Went to Pleasanton and Walked Around A Block

As part of a class project, I worked for free, alongside the rest of my cohort, to promote Pleasanton’s Big Draw chalk art festival using various social media marketing techniques. That said, I don’t feel like anything I, or the rest of the class, did raised awareness or attendance to the event in any discernible way. Why I believe this to be is what I hope to explore ahead.

The East Bay Fallacy

Sometime in the recent past the Tri-Valley area has been included in geographic make up of the East Bay region. This has troubled me because the suburban environs of the Valley are so unlike the cities that actually touch the Bay. Including the Tri-Valley as part of the East Bay is like calling Aerosmith hip-hop legends because they happened to release a popular song with Run DMC. This sentiment has kept me away from the cities like Dublin and Walnut Creek, except for the occasional expedition, engagement, or errand into those suburbs over the hills. But, yesterday I was compelled to venture into Pleasanton for something other than the county fair, The Big Draw–a street art festival put on by the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council.

The Build-Up

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Pianos weren’t just for show, we caught a couple recitals that day.

My GF and I ventured out from Oakland at just the right time to reach Pleasanton’s quaint downtown by noon.  Strolling through town we noticed signs for the event on strategically placed pianos that were decorated for the occasion and invited whomever to play them.  We entered a busy farmers market that we mistook for the art festival.  Yet, despite our mistake, we felt encouraged that if the market was a regular occurrence, the Big Draw would be a blast in comparison. But, the heat of the day was starting to build and the busy local restaurants began to call to us.  So, we joined the rest of my class for lunch and decided to find the art festival after.

The Let Down

Lunch was good! Good food, good company, good times; my feelings for this tiny suburban haven were beginning to shift. But, heading back out into afternoon sun was brutal. The temperature had reached the mid-nineties and I missed the cooling stability of my beloved Bay.  Despite the oppressive heat we pressed on two blocks to the actual Big Draw, hoping the town’s charm would outweigh our discomfort.

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Part of one of the commissioned pieces.

Upon reaching the event we walked down the first side street, whetting our appetites with the chalk art emblazoned about on the road. We encountered the artists commissioned by the city and watched them work away. There were a smattering of other pieces, mostly completed, checkering the street. The crowd was small and I wondered if maybe the heat had turned people indoors, maybe it had been a busier scene that morning. In 15 minutes we reached the end of the short block and anxiously turned the corner to see what else Pleasanton had to offer!

Nothing.

No more art. Just a few vendors selling stuff and a middle school band enthusiastically playing the Mos Eisley Cantina Theme, despite the heat (which was a plus for me, it was only chance that kept me from wearing by Chewbacca tee that day).

Why I Stay by the Bay

Last Summer, I attended another chalk art celebration, in Berkeley–in the actual East Bay. The GF and I ventured from Oakland to North Berkeley and parked the car, it was a little past noon and the sun was shining bright on that mildly warm day. Within two blocks we encountered artists working on the sidewalk, they were scattered on both sides of the avenue for over a mile. Every few yards we would have to stop to take in a new piece of art or check out a restaurant or watch a street performer. We stayed for a couple hours enjoying all the sights, sounds, and tastes; it was a good day.

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Holiday appropriate and too cute.

Some Reflection

I don’t hate Pleasanton or its neighbors.  In fact, I think it is a perfectly nice small town, and I’ll probably be back someday. But, it’s not for me. The heat; the suburban homogeneity; its uncanny knack to be inviting and discomfiting at the same time; these are all reasons a city boy from Oakland tends to stay away.

It would take a major marketing campaign to build The Big Draw into an actual draw for Pleasanton. Unlike the county fair, which has a lot to do for everyone, this chalk art block party had little to do, even for the locals. The perception of the Tri-Valley as sleepy suburbs is kept intact by those that live there and will remain so no matter how its re-branded to fit in meta-scheme of the Bay Area.

A Final Thought

It being Mothers Day as I write this, I called my mom up today. She noticed all the chalk art I had posted to Facebook yesterday and wished she could have come along. “No,” I said, “You’ve seen everything there was to see.”

Things I Tell Myself

I’m full of ideas.  Everyday I take a shower and let my brain go to far away places as it processes my subconscious.  I’ve come up with plots for stories I’m writing, or plan to write; business ideas; solutions to math problems; gift ideas; the name of the girl that sat next to me during science class in 8th grade; the punchline to a joke I didn’t get at the time, but laughed at anyway because I didn’t want to look stupid.  It’s as if the steam unclogs my higher functions and lets me meditate on the things that came to mind in fleeting moments during the day and had flitted off into the ether.

During these solitary times I feel truly productive and am blessed with one more insightful tool, hindsight.  I get to take a fresh look and assess my choices with time serving as my buffer.  It is from these reflective moments that I have assembled the following pieces of advice for myself (who knows maybe I’ll listen).

Write things down

You’re not perfect, you can’t remember everything.  I have learned that I have a strong memory when it comes to certain things: remembering people, more specifically their names, histories, and preferences, I worked specialty retail so long it became an ingrained skill; trivia, knowing things is fun; and how to get back to somewhere I’ve been before.  But, I have a horrible time remembering stuff like: birthdays, anniversaries, any important or sentimental date; what is due next week; and those things I needed to take care of for that other thing I had to do, what was it again?

So, write things down.  Use that day-planner you paid $30 for and fill it with all of the tasks, assignments, and commitments that are bound to slip your mind until that last moment.  As soon as you get an idea record it for future use.  Get organized and get your life to together!

Put yourself out there

Remember that interview opportunity you missed for that big project because you waited too long to contact that one person?  That happened because you let your own anxiety about imposing upon that person’s time get to you, instead of remembering that they had already agreed to talk to you.  Imagine what would have happened if you’d made that call sooner; maybe that’s hard to imagine, but consider that you got nothing for acting too late.

Networking, putting yourself out there, is hard,  but it needs to be done all the time.  Just, last weekend I met with a friend who wanted advice about how to proceed with her schooling.  She’s quite shy and I know it wasn’t easy for her to ask for help, but she did it anyway.  The last thought I left her with was that she should take advantage of her network more, it was larger than she thought and eager to give her a hand–I need to tell myself that.

Always try to see things differently

Perspective gives old ideas new life.  Many years ago I was a high school student attending the Young Entrepreneurs at Berkeley (which has since re-branded itself) and I was assigned to a young MBA candidate at Haas.  David was his name and he seemed amused to be mentoring a kid from Oakland that dreamed of being in his shoes one day.  On one outing I mentioned Volkswagen’s relaunch of the Beetle and how exciting it was that the model was coming back.

David asked me, “Who do you think will buy the new Beetle?”

“People looking to relive the nostalgia of the older versions, people that love the classic style,” I responded eagerly.

David took a sip of his coffee and said, “I don’t think it will be enthusiasts.  I think it will be a secretary car; it’s cute and compact, it’ll do well with younger professional women.”

I sat there stunned. David’s answer made no sense to me, I couldn’t separate the Beetle from its colorful past; I wasn’t able to see from another perspective.

Hindsight finally gave me the angle I needed to get what my mentor was talking about.  But, you can’t always rely on hindsight, it often comes too late.  You’ll need to push yourself outside your comfort zones to gain new points of view, to achieve better understanding of yourself and others.

The Connection Effect

I first heard about the bombing in Boston on Facebook.  I was browsing my news feed and came across an odd post by one of my cousins.  I initially overlooked it; the comment was trying to be witty, but it came off as crass and definitely failed on the wit front.  He mentioned gun control and bomb control as if those are equivalent issues, so I was just confused.  In hindsight, I can tell that my cousin was attempting to make a point about the recent gun control debates in relation to the explosions in Boston.  But, his statement was vague and the #BOSTON didn’t offer me any insight into what he was talking about.  I closed Facebook on my phone and returned my focus to the the last few minutes of class, yet the #BOSTON kept nagging me in the back of my head.

Thirty minutes later I was waiting for the elevator to descend to my building’s garage and I whipped out my phone.  I hopped on to The Huffington Post and was officially introduced to the “Boston Bombing”.  By the time I had reached the apartment I had gotten the gist of the story; I turned on the news as soon as I walked through the door. 

It feels natural to get the jump on news and current events via my social network.  I don’t even stop to reflect on the role of technology in situations like this anymore, I just expect it to be part of the conversation that takes place on my wall.

That being said, I did consider why I didn’t get a flood of information on my network that Monday and was underwhelmed with an uninformative comment.  After considering my network I realized that I don’t have any connections to the East Coast and only two to Boston.  Of the two people I know from Boston both live in the Bay Area and only one is regularly active within my network, so the initial silence makes more sense to me now.

Also, my one active friend from Boston showcased how Web 2.0 platforms could be used to help put peoples’ minds at ease that their loved ones were safe.  He posted an emotional plea on Facebook that his family and friends back home get in touch with him.  At first, I wished I had some way to comfort him, to reassure him that his people were fine, but then something interesting happened;  others on my network started to post and link to the Google Person Finder. Soon, people were mentioning Google’s service more than the actual attack and I began to feel relieved.  And, I think I wasn’t alone.

As technology moves forward, alongside society, it is going to be defined not by what can be done with it, but by how we use it.  If we share trivial quips and shallow thinking, like my cousin did, we will be bringing no new light into the world: no hope, no peace, no joy, no meaning.  Yet, if we can share something more, something that challenges ourselves–that brings light–then we will be truly connected.

The Silent One

Social media is not something I’ve used to grow as a student, individual, citizen, or professional.

That being said, I’ve been using social media since I was in high school, after I got my first email address—an old Hotmail account that was comprised of my last name, first initial, and the year (my teacher told me to make it something meaningful).  From there I jumped into various social platforms:  Bolt.com, my first online community and youth hangout site; chat rooms, on various sites; and instant messengers, the big three of the time.  During this early time I learned something about my online-self that is true to this day: I am a lurker.

When I join a new site I of course fill out my various profiles and I even made a couple friends, although they never grew past instant message buddies.  But, I would usually stay in the background; following other peoples’ stories; analyzing interesting threads; never truly engaging, rarely joining conversations.  I lurked, learned, and sometimes laughed.

So when it came to using social media for school or work I’ve followed my same pattern.  I stay quiet and only assert myself when I am exceedingly moved, by emotion or obligation—usually obligation, I’m not too emotional.  But, despite my lurker genes that shape my online persona I noticed a change occur when I joined Myspace years ago.

Now Myspace wasn’t what changed me, rather it was what Myspace was that brought about the difference; Myspace was a social network.  In this new online experience I was connecting to people I actually knew, family, friends, and schoolmates, were all easily accessible.  I felt less of a barrier to engage and I became less of a lurker.  This phenomenon has carried over to my experience with Facebook as well (no to mention the couple other networks I used before resigning myself to inevitability of Facebook).

But, I am still just a lurker at heart.  I just trick myself into feeling connected through sporadic use of the Like button.  The biggest things I used my social network for are reconnecting with people I’ve lost phone numbers for (only if I need to call them urgently) and coordinating small family gatherings.

Maybe I’ll figure this social media thing out or maybe I’ll just keep lurking.