From City to Country: Secrets Your Realtor Can’t and Won’t Tell You

My name is Jim. I am a grandfather many times over, and recently (in 2012) upgraded my status to great-grandfather, and I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.

A true city-boy, I was born in Baltimore in 1957 and raised in the neighborhood of Hampden until 1973 when I was “volunteered” for military service at the ripe age of 16. A Christian child, I was in the same church every Sunday from infancy until a bout of family violence cut those roots free. This experience would make a few future transitions much easier, but there was no way for me to see that silver lining at the time.

As one of the many disposable kids in Baltimore I first experienced homelessness at the age of 14, and quickly became a trouble magnet.  Soon subjected to the city’s “three strikes” rule, local authorities decided that training this angry child to properly kill strangers would be far more beneficial than high school, and that the then-current “Clean Slate” program would be the platform on which I could build a new life as a productive adult, assuming that I were to survive this incarceration option, that is.  Despite the flawed logic, the end result of dropping said child into that meat grinder was indeed a responsible and rather productive adult with a solid work ethic, none the less. Go figure.

After the service I bummed around Miami for a year or so; homeless once again, but this time on warm beaches instead of cold city benches. When this vacation was over, I returned to Baltimore to find work and settle down, to begin that adult life.  Veterans had a tough time finding great jobs at the time, but I was lucky enough to eventually land a decent local manufacturing job, and I remained in Baltimore where my wife and I bought two houses and raised 6 children, mostly in the same neighborhood where we began, until 1999 that is.   That was the year that we, after playing with the idea for far too long, decided to pull up our lifelong city roots and move to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia, just an hour-or-so away via I-70, but truly worlds apart socially.

“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out”    -John Wooden

Being a trucker at the time gave us the flexibility to move to another state without leaving all sources of income behind, and where we chose to start hanging our hats is Martinsburg, in the eastern panhandle. The unique location is within minutes of four states, and only 15 minutes from one of my company’s local drop-yards, where loads moving up and down the east coast are exchanged.

We had visited the area a few times past for the fishing and mountain views, and the small town feel had charmed us from the start.  Martinsburg is loaded with history and friendly folks, most of whom are the result of generations of hard-working farming families who had enjoyed a simple and fulfilling life in the same small town. Unlike Baltimore, houses were not sold but instead property was handed down through the generations. People were raising their family in the same inherited house that their great-grandfathers had built, which is a romantic concept of personal security that a city-boy can barely imagine. By the second Summer visit we were in love with the idea of maybe moving there one day, and in september of 1999 that one day came.

  “Your best days are waiting just outside of your comfort zone”    -Reverend JB Stran

Now, despite the vast amount of respect that I feel for the majority of the local life-long residents of Martinsburg for their work ethic and simple country roots, there are a few things that most city folks will need to prepare for and hopefully adjust to. Like I said: Socially they are worlds apart, and what most natives consider normal behavior many others could consider quite rude and even hostile, albeit unintentionally.

First and foremost is the Staring.  I was warned by a friend that I wouldn’t last a month in Martinsburg before I was locked up because, as he put it, “a redneck will watch paint dry”. I admit, this one does stir my blood on occasion, but mainly because where I come from, staring at someone is how you pick a fight. It’s widely considered a hostile gesture that will inevitably cause a violent reaction more often than not, and many a dumbfounded person has been beaten and even stabbed over this misunderstanding.

Around here however, that is simply not the case. Quite the opposite, actually…but it took me years to finally realise this.  For many locals, staring at someone is part of the social handshake. Being rather lacking in the art of greeting strangers in a genuine manner and starting a real conversation, many local residents simply stare at you and wait for you to initiate contact. They don’t mean anything hostile by this method, it is simply the way it has always been done. The lack of a smile when we make eye contact is the biggest hurdle to getting comfortable with this.

In a place of low population where everyone knows everyone else, any outsider is a potential threat to their family and stability. This is part of the small town mentality that thrives in thousands of wonderful little places throughout America, and for the most part it’s part of the charm. In many of these communities, there will inevitably be a group who are overly defensive and therefore unstable, when faced with “outsiders” who think or live differently than the local norm.  Much like the cavemen who climbed the nearest hill to throw rocks at the moon, these few will perceive a threat regardless of your intentions, and you can only hope to eventually warm them to you…but to these few, you will never be a local. Better to just accept it and move on.

For most places that are subject to the small town mentality, there is a wide undercurrent of social insecurity that affects many of the residents and makes them suspicious of strangers. They tend to hold back, and wait for you to show your intentions before they extend a hand. Maybe this comes from their farming roots, and has simply been extended to people as well as strange animals, but the final result is something that we in the city consider to be extremely rude behavior. So, try to be a bit more patient with this than I have been.

There are always exceptions, and hopefully you will find a few of this type of new friend to make your transition easier. I have come to know a few who stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, and whom I consider a genuine friend.

Conversation, or more to the point the lack of it, is the second thing that will require an adjustment from most city folks. You know how it is: We spend a lifetime being real, and have no problem just speaking right up with a total stranger at a bus stop about local events, a recent news story, or whatever is on your mind at the moment. We know better than most people that communication is the easiest thing people can do: You just open your mouth and tell the truth.  This type of honest communication was something that I was known best for, and while a few expected me to choose kind words for their benefit, my friends and family have always counted on me to tell them the truth.

At least for the first few years as a stranger in a small town, this aspect of city life will likely be put on hold.  The real truth isn’t very popular in small towns, because being nice will always take priority.  For my first few years here, when I started opening up and speaking honestly with local folks, they just stared at me like I was growing a second head before their eyes. I was told, “We don’t do that around here”, meaning that I was only expected to drop some generic statement and keep moving. Another person that I was becoming familiar with told me, after a brief chat that included some honesty on my part, that I was “the meanest person he had ever met”. Clearly, a lifetime surrounded by too much niceness for the sake of nice has left many locals with virgin ears.  After a period of adjustment, I’ve put most attempts at conversation and getting to know my neighbors on hold until one of us has evolved.

When seeking new conversation friends, the first thing to watch for is those people who don’t employ “bar speak” as their primary conversational tool. Bar speak is far too common around here, and frankly I find it both rude and annoying after the second instance. Unfortunately, there are still many who are only able to not communicate with me in this form after ten years of association, which is quite sad to say the least. Truth be told, I tend to avoid anyone who chooses to hold me at bay with this tactic, since that seems to be what they are after.

Bar speak is that generic, rather pointless communication tool that one uses as they pass through a bar on the way to a seat. When you make eye contact with a stranger, you offer up some empty nugget like “some weather, huh?” or “How you doing?” as a form of social handshake. Here in Martinsburg however, this is unfortunately the primary conversational tool of way too many folks. Like superheros with a favorite catchphrase, they walk around all day throwing out the same 3-word/3-syllable nonsensical phrase such as, “Whaya think?”, “Whaya know”, “Gotta Love it”, and “Havin fun yet?” , apparently in the hope of a response of similar mindless repetition. I honestly have no idea how to respond kindly to something so impersonal and outright rude, that most of the time I just wait for them to say what’s really on their mind, or just walk away.  This is mainly because what I actually heard was “I don’t want to talk to you, but I felt obligated to speak, and now I don’t have to.”  In the interest of peace, I generally ignore this type of nonversation and respect their wish to avoid getting to know me.

“When you have nothing genuine to add to the conversation, it is always best to say nothing until you do.”    -Emily Post, the Good Manners Handbook

Should you be lucky enough to be a people person, then a third adjustment will not be required. For the rest of us however, there is one final difference that will cause some discomfort and eventually force you to alter your social methodology.  Another big part of the small town mentality is the lack of social boundaries you will see in many locals. Because everyone knows everyone else, they also know the families, and a few secrets that they protect because “that’s just the way it’s done ’round here”.

That old saying that keeps the peace in most cities, “Tend your own garden” simply doesn’t seem to apply to most small town folks, and they have no problem asking for the details of your personal life without regard for personal privacy. Privacy in fact is an illusion in most small towns.  Everything is personal, and they take everything personally, including your need for privacy. If you answer their personal questions, you violate your own code of conduct, and if you don’t answer then you have offended their way of life. It’s a bit of a no-win for a lot of city folks who are seeking the space and freedom of movement that country life is offering.

In the city, if you go to the bathroom at 2AM, you can bet that someone knows about it. Personal privacy simply doesn’t exist when the houses are mere inches apart, which is why it becomes so vital when changing to a rural location. Now again, if you happen to be a people person then you may enjoy this aspect of rural life and consider it just another of the local charms.

In summary: I have met some fine and respectable people here in Martinsburg, and they have been more than patient with my extended period of adjustment. There are still many adjustments waiting to be made, just as there are a few that I will simply refuse to make, because tolerance has to go both ways otherwise it’s little more than me being molded, and I simply don’t accept the idea that I was socially broken, and that becoming more Martinsburg will fix me.  You will likely come to a similar conclusion.

≈ Postscript ≈

Your Mileage May Vary.  Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear.  Batteries Not Included.

The above piece is based on personal experiences, and is in no way intended to become your template for a transition to country or city life.

I’ve included the first 2 paragraphs of personal data to clarify that in some ways, I am not your typical American adult, and it should be clear that  my background and personality will inevitably alter the final results of this transition to a different social setting, as will yours.

Never prejudge any group of people before taking a reasonable amount of time and effort to get to know them as individuals. Some of the finest people I have ever known started as seemingly hostile strangers, as it was just part of their defense mechanism. The kindest people are often hurt the deepest, and must therefore develop an effective defense system in order to maintain their personality.  So, be kind to your new neighbors. Nice is an option…but always be kind.

2015  JB “Pop” Stran  All Copyrights apply. No reprint without full link intact.

Social Marketing for Photographers: Branded Quotes



As part of the never-ending process of brand marketing that every photographer must practice, I’ve reached that point when it is imperative that I employ the social sites that will push said branding to the next level.

This form of Social Marketing is vital to your growth if you plan to compete with the hundreds of shooters who have already learned to embrace the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram trends that your potential clients prefer.

Starting with my favorite watermarking program, a few dozen of my favorite ‘catchy yet generic’  images are converted to Web-friendly lightweights with a prominent watermark both low and easy to read, while at the same time faded to 50% so as to not distract from the impending messages to be added later.  These then become my templates for the quotes and statements that will serve as the actual message of the shared image.

The template shown here is 650 x 750 pixels wide to comply with the standard format of most Facebook and Instagram image preferences.genius

In truth, Facebook users seem to prefer their images of this type, commonly known as “memes” to be 650×650 pxls, because it displays best with the new ad features that FB is cramming into their mobile screens.   However, I chose to stand out just a bit by adding the width that I think displays better on tablets and computer screens, because my target audience is a bit older and prone to browse more casually on the tablet.


As you can see, the basic message has a rather wide appeal among adults of all ages, and you can target your audience even more closely by selecting quotes that will tap into their individual perspectives.

As with all other forms of promotion, you also want to keep the basic principles of marketing in mind that will apply here, especially the K.I.S.S. rule:  Keep It Simple, Stupid.

These branded quote images are exploding on all the big social sites, and while the vast majority of your clients and competitors continue to call them memes, should you take the time to market them right (sparingly, maybe 1 per week, per site) you will soon see them as Me!Me! s that tend to scream your brand as they are shared hundreds, or even thousands of times.

As with nearly everything else on social sites, you can reasonably expect the lifespan of your new meme to sputter after 30 days, and to fall to the wayside after 60 days.  This is why you are launching a new meme every week.

You will soon realize that you have created a constantly evolving web of branded images, being shared by your friends, your page fans, and their friends as each image cycles down to make room for the next. This social promotion cycle is the 21st century equivalent of the affiliate marketing phase that swept the Web in the 90s.


2015  J.B. Stran

Humans Are Not Originally From Earth

Excerpted from an article on Newswire by  Sean Adl-Tabatabai  and originally posted in  :

“Lizards can sunbathe for as long as they like – and many of them do. We can just about get away with it for a week or two. But day after day in the sun? Forget it. You might as well just lie down on the freeway and wait for a bus to hit you.” We are dazzled by the sun, which is also odd, says Silver – most animals are not.

Silver claims that some chronic illnesses that plague the human race – such as bad backs – could be a sign we evolved on a world with lower gravity. Silver points to other unique human traits – such as the fact that babies’ heads are so large that women have trouble giving birth – in earlier eras, this was often fatal for mother, child or both.

“No other truly native species on this planet has this problem,” he says. Silver also points out to the “extra” 223 genes in human beings, which are not found in any other species, and to the lack of a fossil “missing link”.

Silver chose not to publish in a scientific imprint, wanting to inspire open debate. Reviewers have compared Silver to other space-gazing theorists such as Erich von Däniken, while others have said, “it is possible to drive a coach and horses through several of his arguments.”

Silver also claims that the human race has defects that mark us out as being possibly “not of this world”.

“We are all chronically ill,” says Silver. “Indeed, if you can find a single person who is 100% fit and healthy and not suffering from some (perhaps hidden or unstated) condition or disorder (there’s an extensive list in the book) I would be extremely surprised – I have not been able to find anyone.”

“I believe that many of our problems stem from the simple fact that our internal body clocks have evolved to expect a 25 hour day (this has been proven by sleep researchers), but the Earth’s day is only 24 hours. This is not a modern condition – the same factors can be traced all the way back through mankind’s history on Earth.”

– See more at:

I Think Therefore I Am – Descartes

Since I’ve been pondering Rene Descartes lately, and before reassigning him to the dusty storage bins of my mind, I would like to poke at his famous quote, “I think therefore I am”. Easily one of my favorites.

Descartes began his philosophy by doubting everything in order to figure out what he could know with absolute certainty.

Although he could be wrong about what he was thinking, it was undeniable that he was thinking.

Upon the recognition that “I Think”, Descartes concluded that “I Am”.

On the heels of believing in himself, Descartes asked, “What am I?”  His answer: A thinking thing (res cogitans) as opposed to a physical thing extended in three-dimensional space (res extensa).

So, based on this line of reasoning, Descartes knew that he existed, though he wasn’t sure if he had a body.

It’s a philosophical cliff-hanger; You’ll have to read his ‘Meditations’ to see how it ends.


Waking Up Early Killed Descartes

They say Waking up early never killed anyone, but that may not be true.

Rene Descartes never really had an actual job.

After college he traveled Europe, spending much of the time as a gentleman volunteer in the army, a rather cushy gig that required no actual combat.

He retired to the Netherlands in his thirties, but not for the pot and hookers as much as for peace and toleration.

He spent mornings in his bed, philosophizing a little and sleeping a lot.

Descartes enjoyed some successes as a philosopher, scientist, and mathematician. In fact, his works drew the attention of the powerful and the intelligent of his day.

One of these powerful admirers was Queen Christina of Sweden, who often invited him to join her court and instruct her in philosophy, and offer that he repeatedly declined calling Sweden “the land of ice and bears”.

In 1649 however, finding himself flat broke, he grudgingly accepted the queen’s offer.

Upon arriving, Descartes discovered that Queen Christina (who could stand barefoot in the snow) insisted on having her lessons at 5 AM.

Rising at this ungodly hour and trudging through the elements soon killed Descartes.

The formal cause of death was pneumonia, but we all know it was that early wakeup that did him in.

Feels Check: The *(Real Secret)* History of Your United States of America

Just tossing out this tester, if you will, to get a feel for any interest in this subject.

Many of you are unaware of the fact that in a past life, I was qualified as a homeschooling teacher by the Baltimore BOE.

This qualification included booster-courses in English, Math, Science, and History.

This is not a big deal, and many parents have undergone such training and testing…but the reason that I mention it is because in the process of these crash-courses in high school-level teacher training, I found a subject that continued to fascinate me for many years: The true history of this United States. The one we were never told about in public school.

The history of ourselves that, for various reasons, was kept a secret because we simply couldn’t handle the truth.

I’m recently feeling the desire to start posting some of this info, in bite-sized pieces of course, for your casual consumption.  Mainly, I think I just need to get some of it down in print before Alzheimers begins taking it back.

Naturally, if it turns out that I’m the only “truth geek” around these parts, then the whole idea is naught.

If you would be so kind, please leave a brief comment to indicate any interest on your part in the above subject matter…and at the end of 30 days or 30 comments (whichever comes first), I will either begin posting or simply move on to another idea.

Thank you for taking the time to read this small announcement.

BOA Class Action Payout

Having (formerly) been customers of Bank of America and using, on a daily basis, their online checking service, we were automatically included in the recent Class Action suit that addressed their often-shady overdraft fees.

On first notice, we were elated.
Seriously; We may get some of the thousand-or-so dollars back that they had scammed us out of by juggling deposit dates and Visa charges to put our account in the red all those countless times over the 5 years that we used them for direct deposit?

We had lost track of the number of times that they had held back a deposited check, and allowed a tiny ($20 or less) charge to cost us $70 in fees.

So, today I got our settlement check…drumroll…$14.
Holy toasted turds, we’re rich!

BOA collected Billion$ in illegally-crafted overdraft fees.
One month that sticks in my mind we had paid over $220 in fees for a $40 overdraft.

Our share of the windfall and fair reimbursement? $14.
Score one for the little guys. (that’s sarcasm, BTW)

The system truly Sucks.