A Very Smart Cookie

Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, has been one of my heroines since she personally emailed me back in 2007 when I sent an email to her through her website.  She appeared on The Colbert Report last week and did a terrific job -- check it out below.

In the email she sent me all those years ago, she ended it with "do not give up." I haven't yet and don't intend to.  I always like when she reappears on my radar because it reminds me of that very fact.


Listen to this.

There's more truth to this song than I could ever hope to write.


An Open Letter to JP Bryan

Dear Mr. Bryan,

First of all, I love the Gage Hotel.

If you want to talk about Texas history, you needn't look further than that little dusty strip of main street in Marathon, Texas.  I've walked around your buildings a time or two and found it to be its own story of a Texas past: brick after brick set upon a carefully tended foundation; a taxidermied mountain lion stalking its next conquest; the Mexican Elder stooping at the front gate, as if it has been laboring for years against a forceful wind.  The Gage is a beautiful symbol of a preservation of Texas's past and an investment in its future -- so thank you for sharing it with us.

Today I read your Open Letter to Citizens of Texas on the potential shuttering of the Texas Historical Commission with great interest.  Since you are an ardent supporter of the Republican Party, it seemed odd to find myself agreeing with you.  Growing up, I was never much of a history buff but one of my favorite teachers in middle school, Ms. Mary Lou Custer Heard, changed that for me.  She was from Beeville, Texas and her Texas History class was more like finishing school with a Texas twist.  She dressed in peach-colored knit dresses and played "Texas Our Texas" on the keyboard and made us learn about historic Texas trees -- trees, of all things.  "Now tell me, is there any other state that has trees with stories?" She'd ask us as she'd hand out grainy, black and white photographs of the Sam Houston and Treaty Oaks.

What could Alfred Gage have been thinking in 1878 when he headed west to build a life in the middle of Marathon basin that was really any different than what so many Americans think as they head to Texas to start a business, send their children to schools and live in good health?  Probably not much.  Part of our history is our common spirit to prosper and to grow -- but as you well know, this goes far beyond courthouse renovations and restorations of sunken ships.  This spirit runs through our schools and our teachers, our homes and our land, even our water and our air.  The stakes you speak of in the loss of the Texas Historical Commission far surpass the limits of forgetting our common history -- they threaten to erase it.

In your letter you ask, "What better answer to the question, 'Who are you?' than 'I am a Texan.'"

I can tell you that I am a Texan, but that is not where my answer ends.  I am a Texan who believes that while we may have a difference in political opinions, we could have a united interest in protecting the foundation of our State.  I am a Texan who believes we must pay homage to our past while investing in our future -- not bleeding it dry.

Finally, I am a Texan who believes another 7th grader should have a chance to learn about Texas trees.

Just being a Texan is not enough.  We must care about the next generation of Texans as well.  Otherwise, who will be left to learn the history that was made?

Rachel Farris
Texan, Democrat

You want to know what I make?



Choose Your Own Adventure: Austin Parking Meter-Style

So a few things to clear the air before we get started:

1) I support Laura Morrison and I'm glad to see she voted against the parking meter ordinance.  I think it's a pointless, irrelevant piece of policy that has no business happening right now.  Do I think her lone "no" vote had something to do with the insurgency to elect radio DJ Toby Ryan in her stead?  Absolutely.  But all that says to me is that the process of democracy is working (OMG!) and if it takes someone who normally has nothing to do with politics running against an incumbent to get them to vote the way the majority of Austin would like her to (hey, it's their survey, not mine), I don't see how this is a bad thing.

2) I support Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Martinez but I'm disappointed to see he voted for the parking meter ordinance.  I think it's a...okay, see above.  But I do appreciate the fact that Martinez has always been accessible and open with me, and I thank him for taking the time to talk with me tonight about this issue.

Ok, on to the fun stuff.  First, some ground rules:

1.  The new parking meter ordinance is scheduled to take effect in August 2011.
2.  Parking meters will remain at $1 an hour but will charge from 8 AM to midnight Monday through Saturday. 
3.  Parking at meters downtown on Sundays will remain free.

Got that?  Good, neither do I.  Let's proceed.

Scenario 1:  It's Friday night (after 6 pm) and you're on a date.  You don't want to be The Guy Who Circles Around Looking for Parking so you decide to shell out $7 bucks to park in a garage near the restaurant.  You and your date split a bottle of wine and cab it home (separately or together, I'll leave that up to the two of you).  What happens to your car?

Current rules:  Unless you parked in one of the very few garages that allows you to park overnight (I'm not telling you which ones they are -- that requires your own field research), you're pretty much asking to be towed or have a boot put on your car.  So as a reward for your environmentally-conscious, street-congestion-clearing over-zealousness, you're now The Guy Who Got His Car Towed.

New rules:  Martinez said repeatedly during our call that the ordinance voted on by the Council has several conditions which must be met before the new ordinance can take effect.  One of those conditions is that parking garages must open up their doors to more people and allow them to park overnight.  Until they do, the only place to park overnight without fear of towing on the weekends is at parking meters or the very few lots and garages that allow overnight parking.  These usually fill up quickly on the weekends, as do the meters.  Hmm, correlation?  I think yes.

Scenario 2:  It's Friday night (after 6 pm) and you score a primo street parking spot at a meter on West 6th.  At one of the 20+ local bars downtown, you have one too many (which, in this city, is reportedly two) so you take a cab home.  What happens to your car?

Current rules:  No big deal.  Go pick up your car anytime Saturday without worrying about getting towed.  Get a breakfast taco while you're at it, lush.

New rules: One of the provisions of the new parking meter ordinance will allow you to purchase up to 3 hours the following morning in case you decide to leave your car overnight.  As with many things COA-related, they really should market this better.  I think they should call it the "Walk of Shame Fee."

Scenario 3:  Your tire goes flat while you are parked at the meter.  What do you do?

Current rules:  Nothing.  You're totally screwed. A drink might be nice, since you can't drive anyway.

New rules:  You're equally screwed but you get to print out a few extra meter stickers for your windshield while you wait for AAA and I always find that time to be very satisfying.

Scenario 4:  You don't have a car or a job but you're interested in obtaining both.  Parking is kind of secondary to your concerns.

Current rules:  Um...Craigslist?

New rules:   While according to Martinez "this isn't a money grab," the City of Austin expects to make about $1.5 million a year in additional revenue.  A good portion of that has already been allocated toward hiring eleven more "meter enforcement" employees to take on additional hours. So take heart.  If you're one of the lucky ones, at this rate you could be employed by August.


Me at work, 19 years old, April 2003, 6:00 AM
Call it cliché but my favorite poem in high school was Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I clung to it, quoted it and guarded myself with it, hoping its stanzas explained why I sat alone during my lunch hour doing homework so I could spend my afternoons working at a horse stable in Austin.  Near the end of my third and final year of high school, I pasted Frost's prosody into my English IV AP Senior Scrapbook -- an insulting, antiquated project that I hope our esteemed public schools have since thrown out -- used my AP-level thinking skills to color in, actually used Crayola markers to draw two tree-lined paths diverging in a wood, and closed the book on my high school, and higher, education.

It's no wonder I became a skeptic.

When I made the decision at age fifteen to graduate a year early from high school and forgo a college degree, the teenager in me assumed that was the biggest fork in the road I’d face in my early adulthood: the decision to leave my peers, follow my passion and stumble down that less-trodden path. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I graduated high school when I was seventeen and, six months after my graduation, I moved to a small suburb of Dallas to pursue my equestrian career. My sole dream, from childhood onward, had been to ride horses professionally for a living.  I figured out early on that I had to work with horses in order to be able to afford to ride them and during high school, I was taken in as a working-student by a professional rider who helped propel me into a professional riding career of my own. When I was eighteen, I moved back to Austin to help my former mentor start a new horse stable in West Austin, and helped it grow from a burgeoning business to a successful show barn with over forty horses and clients. Like any employee of a start-up, I found myself wearing more hats than I was initially hired for -- the riding I had always dreamed of doing for a living became secondary to negotiating hay and grain prices, examining profit and loss sheets, creating operations manuals and, as the company grew, managing several employees.

And so while my peers I left behind in 2001 were entering college, rushing and studying abroad, I was generating invoices in QuickBooks and learning to carry myself in a professional manner -- no easy feat for a nineteen year-old thrust into the business world arguably a bit too soon.  They were not easy days and, in fact, some of the worst of my life.  I was, more often than not, cold, lonely, poor and sad.  But this time gave me something I think most people entering college at eighteen don't often have the chance to experience:  a very good, long look at my capacity for work and my inconceivable ability to endure that which seemed unendurable.

Over the five years after I left high school, I found myself coming to a stark realization: Horses were my love, but my work was not meant to be done on the back of a horse. I found myself wondering what road I would take if I decided to get out of the horse business, trying to decide whether I should abandon the one dream I’d chased after my entire life.  But in early 2006, the decision was made for me: I hurt my back and had to find a new career.

The first and only job I interviewed for was at another start-up that I found in an advertisement on Craigslist. It was for a company called PetRelocation.com and I decided to go interview for the position just to experience it -- after all, interviews weren’t exactly something the horse world prepared you for. The company was started in Austin by a husband-and-wife team and they were hiring their second full-time employee after two years of putting together a service that handled worldwide, door-to-door pet travel arrangements for people moving with their pets.

While I had very little experience working in an office (my CEO likes to joke that I came in with mud on my jeans for my second interview), I did have a strong selling point: I’d helped grow another pet-related business and I’d handled all of the logistics of deliveries, scheduling and travel to horse shows during the nearly five years I’d been working at the stables. They offered me the position as a “PetRelocation Specialist," I put in my two weeks’ notice at the horse stable and walked away from a business that I’d help grow from its inception.  I also walked away from a family, thirty-seven four-legged creatures who might as well have been my own.

My favorite argument in high school, when people would ask me why I wasn’t going to college, was that “You don’t need a college degree to learn.” After nearly ten years of being out of high school, I still feel that way. In my free time, I’ve written this little blog and marketed my own personal brand, albeit one with a terrible name.  A quick glance at how I used to write can tell you that, over the last five and a half years, I've honed my writing ability every time I put up a new post.  At PetRelocation.com, I’ve gone from working in sales and customer service to directing the company’s marketing and public relations strategy. I’ve combined my penchant for writing with my interest in online communications to develop and build a brand.  More importantly, I've learned how to communicate with my coworkers, and I'd like to think, occasionally lead them.  And, with this blog post, I'm excited to share that I am moving on to a new role within PetRelocation.com as the Director of Operations.   I will continue to oversee communications but will also get to pursue new challenges and strategies as we continue growing.

However, I’ve also learned where my blind spots are. I’ve learned that while I may have a strong skill set in online communications, I only have my own view of how a business structure should work.  I know what I've learned by doing but I have very little frame of reference of what others have done.  So I'm also excited to share another big announcement:  Starting this week, I will begin classes at St. Edward's University New College, an undergraduate degree program for working adults. New College interested me because its name implies a “new” way of looking at college. It means that not everyone’s life fits a particular mold or timeline. It means that new ideas and new ways of looking at life and business are what help us build and improve upon the foundations we already have.  And I have no words for how lucky I am to be employed by someone who believes in me enough to support me in this endeavor.

The best thing I've come to learn and believe in since high school is this:  My education has never stopped since I finished that Senior Scrapbook.  And no matter what anyone says or thinks of you or your qualifications at any point in time, the one thing we each still have left is our ability to learn.  A few weeks ago I told an acquaintance I was going to college and he said "Good...I really do think that's your missing piece."

He was well-meaning, but completely wrong.  That decision remains the biggest piece of who I am today and, no matter how many buckets of horse manure I had to shovel to get here, I am who I am because I took that road, and "because it was grassy and wanted wear."  

Now I'm ready to walk down another one.

Don't Outsource Your BS: Senator Kirk Watson at the Austin Social Media Breakfast

Today I had the great fortune of getting to interview one of the brighter bulbs at the Capitol, State Senator and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson (here's a map of Senate District 14 which he represents), for the Austin Social Media Breakfast.  I presented at SMBAustin about a year ago (Why Your Pet is a Social Media Expert) but this time the organizers, Bryan Person (@BryanPerson) and Maura Thomas (@MNThomas), asked my alter ego (the mean one, not the tail-wagging one) to get involved.

When they first approached me about the event and asked me who would be a good elected official to interview about his or her use of social media, I knew immediately I wanted to interview Senator Watson.  As I explained this morning, Sen. Watson's journey into the social media sphere has been relatively recent (he signed up for Twitter in January 2010) but it's been an enthusiastic one from the get-go.  He organized the impressive Monopoly Buster social media contest last election cycle, writes his own blog/e-newsletter the Watson Wire, and has a large following on both his political and personal Facebook pages.  Not only does Senator Watson "get it" when it comes to the importance of social media as a communication tool, he also understands the arguably more important element of social media as a reflection of a politician's approach to governing.  (Ed. Note: Rick Perry, are you listening?  Oh, wait, you're not.  You're blocking me.)

One of the questions I asked the Senator was what parts of his social media strategy he chooses to outsource and how he manages the process in order to ensure the message doesn't get diluted or, worse yet, misrepresented.  The question is one that many organizations struggle with when facing the task of implementing a social media strategy, and when I spoke at the Texas Democratic Women's state convention last weekend on this subject, this was one of the topics we spent the most time on.

Without missing a beat, Watson, in an enviable turn of a phrase that I'm guessing a lot of us social media nerds will steal, said "I don't outsource my BS."  His implication was clear:  when it comes to building a personal brand and appearance online, politicians all too often think that their 19 year-old intern can just send out tweets about how beautiful the American flag looks waving in the wind and become the next Barack Obama.  The audience immediately latched onto this gem, making it one of the most re-tweeted quotes of the day.  While the quote was humorous and candid, what speaks even more was the reaction of the people in the room -- we are all well aware of who outsources whose BS, we aren't stupid, and we see through it.  In other words:  Your BS isn't fooling anyone.

I've curated some of my favorite tweets from the event below -- you can catch up on all of them at the #SMBAustin hashtag here.   Thanks very much to Senator Watson for coming out and talking with us.

Subscribe to the Watson Wire
Like Kirk Watson on Facebook
Follow Kirk Watson on Twitter

Rachel Farris

Senator Kirk Watson - Austin Social Media Breakfast

Mar 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm
Selected tweets/quotes from Austin Social Media Breakfast featuring Texas State Senator Kirk Watson.
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"I don't outsource my BS." @kirkpwatson #smbaustin
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm
#SMBAustin @KirkPWatson: "Follow other thinkers whether you agree with them or not to get a broader view of the world."
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm
RT @SMBAustin: #SMBAustin @KirkPWatson: I was able to increase my opt-in email list by 40% using social media. #socialmediaroi
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm
"If you don't want it in a headline, don't put it on twitter" @kirkpwatson #smbaustin
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm
#SMBAustin @KirkPWatson: Technology is moving quickly and (policy) needs to catch up (on what is appropriate).
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm
#SMBAustin @KirkPWatson: We may see some discussion this session about officials tweeting during session and meetings.
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm
#SMBAustin @KirkPWatson: Twitter brings "a lot more heads into the room" and increases attention to detail during testimonies.
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:56 pm
Gr8 question to @kirkpwatson "access to social media is for the privileged: ppl w/ phones, Internet, etc. How do u create access? #smbaustin
Mar 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm
From @kirkpwatson #smbaustin access with new technology is decades old problem-Saw similar issue with Internet-and put access In libraries
Mar 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm
Senator @KirkPWatson not afraid to speak his mind. Accountability, consistency, & transparency leads to authenticity & trust. #smbaustin
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm
Every time I see @KirkPWatson in public, he's winning people over with his charm and wit. #SMBAustin
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm
great #smbaustin this morning - @kirkpwatson has renewed my interest in local politics
Mar 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm
@kirkpwatson is #winning the social media communication game #smbaustin
Mar 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm