As you may recall back in March the organization California Motorized Recreation Council (CMRC) sent a call out for all members in our community to participate in OHV Lobby days and make contact with our local congressmen and educate them on the 29 Palms Marine Base expansion and what it might do to all of us who recreate on public land if this expansion takes place.  I’m writing this story to share my experience in this process as it turned out to be such a positive thing for all of us at Poison Spyder.

After the initial postings for the call to action hit my computer via Facebook, I was interested in helping but nervous about what it was exactly that I needed to do.  I mean after all, my husband Larry and myself are business owners of a company that participates heavily off-road and specifically in Johnson Valley where this Marie Base expansion would not only affect our recreational interests, but our business interests as well.  Not only do we four-wheel there many times a year for fun, but Poison Spyder maintains a large presence in several of the major events held there and even has an entire product line named “Built for the Hammers.” So absolutely I needed to DO SOMETHING!  First, I helped spread the word and shared the information with my network of friends as well as the more than 20,0000 fans of the Poison Spyder Customs Facebook Page.  I watched the video that was created and read online all the talking points that were laid out.  The combined efforts of each of those involved in this campaign had made it as easy as possible to completely educate the off-road community.  I felt like I was well armed with the tools I need in order to feel comfortable about making contact with our congressman.  But I still felt hesitant to do it…

Several days went by, but I still had not contacted my Congresswoman who happens to be Rep. Mary Bono Mack.  You know, the widower of entertainer,past Mayor of Palm Springs, and U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono.  I was just intimidated to make the contact and worried whether or not I would sound like I knew what I was talking about.  When I think of someone in Congress I think of someone super intelligent and powerful.  Maybe I was worried about being judged or was going to feel like a small fish in a big pond.  Or maybe it was the fact she is a celebrity so to speak–and I watched the Sonny and Cher show as a kid.  So whether I was feeling intimidated, star-struck, or a combination of both, Larry encouraged me to make the call for an appointment.  Together we would meet with her office as we made our way through the desert to the Sidewinders 4×4 event in Lake Havasu.

I made the call and an appointment was set with Rep. Mary BonoMack’s District Director, Mark Troast.  I had no idea whether the Congresswoman would be there but had a pretty good feeling she wouldn’t.  Regardless, Larry and I both wanted to make a good impression on Mr. Troast.  With truck and Poison Spyder enclosed trailer in tow we pulled into the office building space complex on March 15th.  We had our talking points rehearsed and had our color printout of important information[as provided by the Off Road Business Association (ORBA)] in hand.  We were Mr Troast’s first appointment that day and we arrived early to make sure we could find his office and not be late.   In fact we arrived before the office had even opened, and I secretly hoped Mr. Troast made his way to his office he would see our trailer with the Jeep graphics on it, hopefully sparking curiosity about what it is we do for a living.   When Mr. Troast arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find him probably in his early 30’s and very easy to talk to.  Larry and I wanted to make our time with him productive as we knew he had another engagement to get to after us.  Larry was personable, knowledgeable and jumped right in with the conversion on the issue of the expansion.  I don’t believe Mark was completely familiar with the issue, so it was great that we were able to share it with him.  We both talked about how long we’ve been 4 wheeling, why our jeep and taking trips off-road are important to us not only as recreationists but also asbusiness owners.  We talked specifically about the recreational usesof Johnson Valley and how it would result insuch a huge recreational and economic impactto thousands of families and businesses should the area no longer be available to the public.  We also shared the fact that we support the military, have had family that served in the military and many of our customers are military and recognize that this issue could be controversial.   The conversation was comfortable and productive.  Mark, shared with us that Mrs. Mack is also a Jeep owner and that she would probably be interested in hearing about ourJeeps and adventures.  He assured us that he would speak to the Congresswoman about our concerns as he did not think she had made any kind of a decision about the issue.  Larry and I both left the office that day feeling good that we got the word out, we were listened to and our feelings on the issue were recognized.  I even had hope that since the Congresswoman was a “Jeeper,” maybe that would work in our favor.

Two months later, Mark Troast called the shop and spoke with Larry. Congresswoman Bono Mack wanted to set up a time the following week to have a meet and greet with small businesses in the area and wondered if it could be done at our facility!  Could she?  I was over the top excited about it!  A Congresswoman was going to be at our business and we were actually going to meet her in person this time–on our turf.  I couldn’t wait…and I couldn’t wait to show her myJeep.

While she was in our town of Banning, she was the guest speaker at the San Gorgonio Pass Republican Women Federated.  I attended the event and thoroughly enjoyed her talk.  She was poised yet casual, she was intelligent and spoke directly.  She was personable and seemed completely approachable.  She didn’t just bring up political talking points over and over.  She took 20 -30 minutes of questions and she thoroughly impressed me with her no-nonsense approach.  She was a representative of the people and it was in this moment I felt honored and lucky that she was my representative. I had voted for her in past elections and read her mailings, but had never seen her publicly speak.  I couldn’t wait for her to come to the shop and see first hand a thriving business that depends on public access to recreation lands.

The Congresswoman arrived with her District Director Mark Troast and Legislative Assistant from Washington DC Jon-Marc Blalock.  Larry and I greeted the Congresswoman at the front door and after a few short moments she commented on a big picture poster we have on the wall of Larry and the Spyder JK.  She asked if the picture was taken in Moab, Ut.  She was close as it was taken in St. George at an event we attended there.  She was genuinely interested in all the posters and pictures on the walls.  We welcomed the open conversation and pointing out which ones were taken in Johnson Valley.  What a thrill!  We walked with her through the manufacturing area of the shop to the new race prep shop where the meet and greet was already taking place with various other local business owners and community members.  Congresswoman Mack had an opportunity to speak with all who were in attendance, and Larry and I got to spend extra time with her.  I loved showing her my jeep and the parts we manufacture.  I learned that she owns a 2 door JK, which she keeps at her home here in the California desert, and she also has a TJ she keeps in Colorado.  She absolutely made a connection and impression on Larry and I, and I hope we did the same for her.  We hugged her when she was leaving and we thanked her for choosing to visit us.  She in turn invited us for a beer at the Sand Trap in Beaumont for later that evening when she finished a meeting she needed to attend in the Hemet San Jacinto area.  I thought to myself, “Really, how is this possible?  How was I so intimidated when she is just one of us?”

Within days after this fun, there was time sensitive notice to contact Congress once again about the Bartlett Amendment 243 to Bill 4310 that was on the floor that day.  Larry and I were on the road and away from our computers.  You know what?  I sent Congresswoman’s District Director Mark a TEXT message asking him to let the Congresswoman know that we supported the Bartlett Amendment!

I guess the most important reason for me sharing this experience with everyone, is the true and simple fact that when there is a call to action to help our off-road community when we can, don’t be intimidated to do it.  You never know where it might lead and the relationship you might possibly make.

Respectfully submitted,
Cheri McRae
Poison Spyder Customs

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