I got stuck back stage.
At least, that’s how it seemed at first.
I had looked forward to watching the results of the 94,000 votes for Best of Rim Country cast by 1,200 Roundup readers and visitors to our Web site as they flashed up there on the big screen in front of the room of business people who have somehow survived both the housing crash four years ago — and this interminable recovery.
People just kept piling in the ballroom doors at the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino. They filled up the 300 seats at the tables — and spilled over into the 100 to 200 chairs the casino workers scurried to line up along the walls.
People just kept percolating in, greeting friends and competitors happily — turning the thing into a big block party. They bumped into one another and stuck — exchanging gossip like folks leaning on side-by-side carts in Walmart (or the dog park, or the Buffalo Bar & Grill for that matter). They encountered people they’d last seen at school events or church or over by the slot machines or working at the community garden or sitting in the bleachers at a basketball game or helping Boy Scouts tie knots or at the last chamber mixer or at a Tea Party meeting.
I wanted to sit in the crowd and watch the reactions, surprised that I knew so many of the folks trotting happily up to the front, where dapper marketing consultant Bobby Davis held sway in his tuxedo. I’ll confess: I knew more of the best bartender nominees than the nail techs and hair dressers (I get my hair cut at JJ’s — does that count?) But that’s not worrisome — is it?
Anyhow, not to get distracted, but I could only hang out up front long enough to hear Roundup publisher John Naughton provoke a standing ovation by naming Macky’s owner Greg Day the most inspiring person in town and declare that tough times eventually give up, but not tough people.
Then I had to hustle back to the little room where Roundup photographer Andy Towle was waiting to take pictures of the winners in 84 categories. This year, we decided to put a little bit of information about each of the winners in the special section. That would require Sherrie and Melinda McQuerrey to work until midnight Wednesday putting the whole thing together — so we could print the three sections on Thursday and stuff it in the Friday paper. But I knew they’d just roll their eyes and do what it takes — kind of like that roomful of award winners — and pretty much anyone else who has made it through these past four years.
I just wanted the section to offer some insight into how this diverse lineup of businesses had managed to hang on. So reporter Alexis Bechman was set up with her smart phone that takes dictation, but she needed backup and we were short-handed. Heck, who isn’t short-handed these days? So I helped Alexis tag-team the parade of winners.
I didn’t quite expect the experience.
I know that these people keep the town going. For starters, the sales tax generated by these businesses pays for the police department, the fire department, the planning department — just about everything.
Moreover, I’ve seen the same cast of characters in all the fund-raising drives and volunteer committees we’ve covered for years.
Still, I didn’t expect the lift those conversations gave my spirit.
I got to talk to a long, thoughtful, happy sequence of tough, optimistic, creative people. They all love what they do. They all love Payson. They’ve nearly all invested everything they’ve got in their businesses, whether they paint nails, tend bar, make steak sandwiches, sell hammers, shelter battered women, play country music, fill prescriptions or sell sausage.
Payson Feed owner Connie Agnes credited her granddaughter for charming customers with a rainbow smile; Maverik gas station manager Candi DeCinko said her employees are like family; Payson Florist owner Rita Jorgenson was just shaking with happiness she’d beat out the big supermarkets; Dr. Alan Michels said his patients need encouragement and love; Buffalo bartender Sal Mercado, who must know everyone in town by name, said it’s good job security; native nail tech Robin Weaver said Payson’s her “little piece of heaven”; Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart said he had to be the most surprised person in the room; Sgt. Don Garvin said he must have won the law enforcement award because folks just know him, seeing as how all the other cops in town do such a great job.
Best Business Person Mike Conklin from PostNet wasn’t born here — in fact, he just arrived in 2008. He came from Michigan — and set to work making the business work and helping out non-profit groups. Now he says: “I would never leave Payson. It’s the people. They show up to things like this. They support small businesses. The people here are just fantastic.”
I know what he means.
I’m a transplant myself.
But I’ve finally found home.
And all in all, it felt like a great chance to catch up on family.