“…Listening sessions can’t be all politicians and business leaders…Power comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.
Mike Frazier, Customer Service Agent, Amazon; Rush, Kentucky:
I lived next to a country road. We had a yard, but I didn’t really go across the road. My grandmother lived about a minute up the hill for me, a place up the hill with more room to roam around. I played in the woods there and there’s ridges so I ran around there. My grandparents lived in Fallsburg, Kentucky, which is about a thirty-minute drive up State Route 3. They had more woods of course, so it (my childhood) was mostly just kind of running around and being wild in the woods.
I was lucky. My grandmother on my Dad’s side lived to be 97. My grandmother on my Mom’s side is 99 and my grandpa, her husband, passed away at 90. I was happy to get a lot of years with my grandparents.
I did a lot of reading. One of my fond memories of childhood, I think it was eighth grade, the local community college brought a bunch of half-cut Penguin classics. They were like, y’know, just take two or three. I filled my bag up with twenty. We had a Christian school across the street from my house as a kid and they got the same thing. I was like; if you’re not really using these can I have some? They gave me a whole boatload of books, too. I spent a lot of time reading. TV-wise, we only had one channel and I watched maybe two shows. Mostly I listened to music.
I was in high school band for all those years and I continued playing in the band at Morehead State, so I got eight years of combined marching band experience. I played tuba. Well, not anymore. I don’t have ten thousand dollars to buy a tuba (laughs), [but] I wish I still had one. And [again] books were a big part of my high school years. I’m still reading. It’s changed, I’ve kind of moved into the e-book thing now. Right now, I have probably thirty books on my book shelf, and I’m picking through all thirty of them. My wife [tells me] I can’t bring more books in!
(Appalachian culture) is not what people think. I think it is more of a melting pot than a lot of people give it credit for. People are like, oh yeah, it’s old-timey or quaint or whatever as a culture. But I think it’s a mixture of immigrant, Black, White, Native American. It’s not a homogeneous region. It is not a homogenous culture. I point people to the music. Yeah, it’s old-timey, but there’s all different kinds of “old timey.” Don’t paint Appalachia with the brush of Scots-Irish, Presbyterian settlers. Maybe it was that at one time, but it’s not now.
It’s a mix [how the media portrays Appalachia]. A person was up in arms about the whole “Buckwild” show, [saying], ‘oh it’s not what Appalachia is all about!’ It is Appalachian youth culture for that certain area. I sat down and watched the whole series, and a lot of it rang true. I was like, these are kids I work with, people I know. But a lot of times, they go overboard. Especially the whole Kevin Costner “Hatfields and McCoys” thing. That was drawn on outdated stereotypes - poor mountaineers. One of the people I think is doing good things in regards to Appalachia is Morgan Spurlock, the guy who did Super Size Me. He’s from Beckley, West Virginia and he gets a lot of stuff about the region, like working in the coal mines and interacting with everyday people. There are people who do it good, do it right. And there are people who don’t. It’s a mix.
Technology can help the Appalachian economy. There are three main call centers in a thirty-minute drive of Grayson. There’s AT&T ten minutes up the road, even less than that, I used to work there, too. My wife worked at Direct TV and then I work at Amazon. Companies are looking at places in Appalachia for locating customer service centers. Now, customer service centers are kind of like fast food, where you start out at ten dollars an hour, entry level. But, if you couple that with a drive for unionization, which I was a big part of when I worked for AT&T, if you can push the hourly rate up to 15 or 20 dollars an hour... great! I like it [at Amazon]. There are a lot of opportunities to move up.
High-tech is the way to go for Appalachia, especially if you increase broadband access and get people more into computers. When training in call centers, you learn more programs, you learn the Internet. It’s more knowledge. Most of my friends work at call centers because it’s a good way to move up in the world. You can get a management job and make fifty, sixty thousand dollars a year. But, [the economy’s] got to be more diversified. I have a lot of friends who are into renewable energy. West Virginia’s doing a lot of good stuff with that, especially with windmills and solar power.
My grandpa was a coal miner, my grandma worked in a factory; a lot of heavy industry back in those days. But with coal, we’re past the point of no return. It might fill in in a couple hundred years, way past the point of no return (laughs). Water power, hydro-electric, even all that stuff runs on coal. There’s going to have to be a dramatic shift in human consumption worldwide. We’re powering the needs of China, the needs of India. There’s increased need.
We need to have an actual game plan. All these listening sessions happening around the region are good, but listening sessions can’t be all politicians and business leaders. You got to have a cross-section. Power comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Listening to people to find out what they want is the way to go. There’s a lot of antagonism because of the whole coal thing, like, well you’re going to take my job. But, if I offer you another job with the same rate of pay, wouldn’t you like to have that?
You’ve got to have a way to switch the economy, but maintain the level of pay, especially the upper level, like union jobs for coal at twenty or thirty dollars an hours, we’ve got to maintain that so people can maintain their lives.
About three years ago, my wife and me moved back to my parent’s house where I grew up. My Dad got diagnosed with Parkinson’s; he actually passed away in May. Starting in January, those last few months, we had to take care of him, had to do everything. My dad was a mechanic all his life, this was before OSHA regulations, and he was inhaling and breathing chemicals and fumes in closed spaces. [The Parkinson’s] had to be related to that. I was doing research and I found out that mostly Parkinson’s is like magnesium poisoning. It happens to people who work changing oil, fuel injection stuff. His working forty years as a mechanic hurt. He retired in 2003 and was diagnosed 2012. It was in his body and just wore him down. My dad was seventy-six when he passed away.
My most triumphant time was when my daughter was born. My wife and I have been married eleven years this year, been together fourteen or fifteen years. She just came along after thirteen years. We’re expecting another child in April. I’m excited. We’re like six weeks along now, and we’re still kind of waiting it out, trying to get through that first trimester.
[My wife and I] met at Morehead, we had Philosophy class together, and just kind of hit it off. It was environmental philosophy, environmental ethics. We’ve been together ever since. We worked with KFTC [Kentuckians For The Commonwealth] a lot in grad school, [and] did a lot of fundraisers and stuff for them. Environmental philosophy was interesting. Mostly, we addressed ethics of creation, like which is more important humans or animals? Also, what kind of ethics do you have...we studied Christian philosophies, Buddhist philosophies, all kinds of different ethics. I’m a Thomas Merton Catholic/Buddhist kind of person. I lean toward more Buddhist ethics, taking care of creation and all the sentient beings.
I think I’ll live in Appalachia my whole life. I have a Masters in Library Science from UK, so I’ve been trying to find a library job, which can be hard. I’m targeting Appalachia. I don’t think I’ve applied for any jobs outside the region. The farthest I would probably go is Columbus, but that’s it. I’ve got family in Columbus and they grew up around here, that whole migration thing. I applied in Tennessee, North Carolina, still in Appalachia. My wife, and me don’t want to move to Florida or anything. The only other place I would think about moving to might be like, Seattle, but only if it was a great job. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I lived in Morehead for twelve years, from ‘96 to ‘08. But that’s about the only place I’ve ever lived outside of my parents’ house.
I’d like to be remembered as a genuine person, not the kind of person who’s putting on airs, and getting above their raising. Someone who was genuine, true and faithful to his wife and family, did a good job at work and also was respected by his peers.
[Traditions I want to pass down to my daughter are] Mainly, just treating your neighbor as a friend. That’s probably some of the best advice I ever got from my grandparents. Also, civic engagement. My grandmother voted for every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt’s second term. So, being engaged civically in the community. My Grandpa had a hat; I wish I still had it, which said, ‘A poor man voting Republican, is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.’ Which I just love. I’d wear it if I still had it. My grandma did a lot of things (laughs) before election laws were in effect widespread. Like, ‘Oh you want a bottle of whiskey to vote Democrat?’ Well, okay!”