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Our Valley Home: Virtual Life in the Valley

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
December 2, 2013 Deadline
January 2014 Issue

Our Valley Home: Virtual Life in the Valley

Mornings begin with a check of the local headlines, a glance at the weather and a skim of Valley-related Facebook group updates. The top of my Google News page features “Fresno-Visalia” regional alerts. I try to be an informed, engaged resident of the Central Valley… except for the minor detail that my wife and I now live 2521 miles away.  

We are “virtual” Valley residents, with friends, family and clients in Tulare County. Thanks to the Internet, cell phones and wireless data plans, we maintain some connections more actively than we did when living in the Valley. Even our cell phone numbers begin with the 559 area code, something that helps us remain connected to the region. 

Being virtual residents of the Valley has drawbacks. We can read about the Blossom Trail and see the photos, but that’s not the same as driving through the foothills. We follow Yelp reviews, but nothing is the same as eating at any of the great Central Valley family-owned restaurants. It is hard to find great Southwest and Mexican dining in the northern states. The thing we miss most, though, is fresh produce sold at stands throughout Tulare County. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a treasure.

When my wife and I visit friends and family, we try to support local, family-owned businesses. We read reviews and listen to recommendations.

Promoting the Valley begins at home. Too many Valley residents forget the great things about living in the region. From Bakersfield to Sacramento, there are some wonderful restaurants, great local shops, entertainment venues and more. When someone tells me there’s “nothing to do” in the Valley, I offer to help find something interesting.

I encourage readers of this column to share news, photos and videos from the Valley. Post items to Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, YouTube and other social media. Including city and region names as hashtags helps people find the latest posts. For those of us currently far away from home, the updates help us stay connected. For Valley residents, sharing might remind others of places they should visit, businesses they should support and ways to make the Valley a better home.

Search Facebook for local communities, social groups, non-profit organizations and businesses. Join the Facebook groups, like the pages and get involved in strengthening our community.

For example, consider joining the “Central Valley Creatives” group on Facebook, which is open to all artists and supporters of the arts. Joining one group on Facebook leads to discovering others. I’ve “liked” Arts Visalia, Three Rivers Arts, The Enchanted Playhouse, The Visalia Players, and many local artists on Facebook. When there is an event that might interest my Valley friends, I share it to my personal timeline.

If you aren’t yet a member of Yelp and FourSquare, join those online communities and start endorsing local businesses. I consult Yelp frequently, searching for affordable, good, local dining options when I travel. It seems likely that visitors to the Valley might also consult Yelp and FourSquare for suggestions.

Traveling throughout the nation, I’ve come to appreciate that our little hometown is a city. Like many Valley residents, we tend to think of Los Angeles or San Francisco as “cities” and our communities as something different. Then you discover that major cities in most states are smaller than Fresno.

But being a tight-knit community is about more than census data.

Even in the Virtual Valley, Visalia feels more like a small town than a city. The Facebook nostalgia groups remind many of us of the great Valley places and events, whether you still live in the region or not. Visalia’s Main Street has evolved, like in many other cities, but it is fun to recall the red slide, shopping at Link’s or Shelling’s, and buying a copy of MAD magazine downtown. Online, those memories exist as shared photographs and scanned newspaper articles.

Thanks to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr, we can see what’s happening back home. I’ve taken the Google Street View drives along Mooney Blvd. and Main Street in Visalia, noticing the vacant buildings and empty lots between new strip centers. Familiar names are gone, while new businesses have arrived. When you live somewhere, you forget how much it changes from year to year.

A student asked me why I left California after he noticed my Facebook banner featuring rows of young orange trees near Woodlake. He asked to see other photos, because he hadn’t realized that the Central Valley was breadbasket to the world. Then I showed him photos from the national parks.

“I have to go there!”

It would be wonderful if he did visit our national parks, stopping to visit our communities. Some of my former students have written to me after trips to California. It is a wonderful place, and I do all I can to promote it. 

Moving away was not easy. The Valley is home, and always will be.

While it would be fantastic if you could pursue any dream in any location, the reality remains that some career paths run through a handful of places. As a colleague tells her students, you can’t be on Broadway if you’re not in New York. I’m not living in New York City, but my career goals and creative interests have led me to one of the best universities in the world, in a city with 37 active theater companies. As a playwright, there’s an undeniable benefit to having the support of such an active stage community.

Because Visalians supported community theater, I was encouraged to pursue this dream. Our high schools, the College of the Sequoias and community groups introduced me to live theater. That is why I am dedicated to promoting local artists and organizations.

As I told the student impressed by orange trees, the Valley also exported William Saroyan and Audra McDonald.

A successful writer can live anywhere, and I would like to return to California. No matter where I must be until I achieve my goals, I will try to be a good virtual resident of the Valley. 


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