March 24, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: High degree of friendly people here

Stefanie Pettit
 

There’s an interesting phenomenon in Spokane with the six degrees of separation theory – you really don’t need all six degrees. Usually two or maybe three will do.

The theory itself is based on the concept of the human web, that everybody on earth is just six steps away from being connected to everybody else on the planet. You know how it goes – you meet someone at an event and in talking discover that your aunt comes from the same town in the Midwest as his mother does and that the two women were in Girl Scouts together and are now unknowingly both retired in the same city in Arizona – or something like that.

There’s a film with the six degrees title and, of course, the popular Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon trivia game, in which you are challenged to connect a selected actor to Kevin Bacon in as few steps as possible through his or her film roles. It’s kind of an intriguing thing, this finding out how connected we all are.

The most far-flung example I know of happened to my husband, who grew up in Alaska. There he was in the 1960s, thousands of miles from home, a young man riding his motorcycle down a country road in central Florida, when he came across two middle-aged women standing by their car. He stopped to help. The sisters were out of gas, so Bruce went to get some for them. In chatting with him, they asked his name. They mentioned that early in World War II they had worked at an aircraft plant in Baltimore with a man with the same last name. Turns out that was Bruce’s father.

You can’t make this stuff up. And I am positive that everyone reading these words has a similar story to tell.

I have come to learn that in Spokane we seem to be connected by fewer steps, even though many of us are not native to this region. I find it all the time. For example, I’ve written here a few times about a free range chicken who lived in our neighborhood for nearly a year, and a photo of my neighbor Marilyn accompanied one of those stories. A friend of mine, when seeing Marilyn’s photo in the paper, inquired about Marilyn’s husband’s first name. Turns out my friend and he are cousins who long ago lost contact with one another.

So how many degrees would that be?

I have written any number of stories that yielded personal connections as I got into them. For the Landmarks column that runs on alternating Thursdays in the Voice section, I try to tell little history-lite stories centered around a physical place or thing in Spokane. In writing about the headstone of Spokane pioneer Peter Barrow, I discovered he was the grandfather of Spokane’s former first lady Eleanor Chase, who was a friend of my mother’s.

In other stories, I find unexpected connections to other people I know – like when I wrote about the arch at the entryway at West Valley High School. While at the school, I was looking at some photos on display and came across one of a childhood friend of one of my sons, for whom my son served as best man at his wedding. I didn’t even know he had attended that school.

It just takes few minutes to find some connection, no matter how improbable, in any situation. Another example, in talking with a man I knew at Eastern Washington University, we learned that we are both graduates of the University of Florida and both took classes from the same faculty member.

To see if it’s just me, I did an informal poll among friends. The consensus is that in Spokane, it’s two degrees of separation to make the connection. So why is that?

I don’t think it’s because we’re small town or insular. As I said, many of us didn’t start out or grow up here. I think, personally, it’s because we’re friendly, because we talk openly to one another and because we get out there and do stuff and hence have many more opportunities to connect with people, wherever in the world they might be.

Or maybe it’s getting to be the same everywhere. As we email, tweet and Facebook, our small world is getting smaller. We hardly need many degrees at all any more to find out how much we all have in common.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@comcast. net.


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