Making the most of lean times
The undercurrent or drive to come together is being fueled in large part by a need to boost foot traffic in and out of the shops. The recession has taken its toll, and while the idea to join is not new, the moment is in many ways. Revenues are down, customers are scarce and/or scarcely buying and government dollars are both appearing in abundance in certain areas and shrinking to non-existence in others. Someone needs to figure out how to make sense and – more importantly – how to make money in this economy.
As the construction vehicles continue to roll up and down the Avenue in Mt. Airy this week with the continuation of Mt. Airy USA’s streetscapes improvement project, shop owners and residents find themselves once again navigating rough terrain. I’ve heard from some of the business owners that this project was a tough pill to swallow so soon after the Avenue Reconstruction Project tied up the street two years ago. After all, there were a handful of businesses that didn’t make it through that project, and it is not as if revenues have increased since its completion.
There are a few bright spots – the Trolley Car Diner bounced back exceptionally well, the restaurants on the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue are thriving, the new Quintessence Theater company – but for the most part, the businesses are continuing to struggle. I heard someone say that the heat this summer (especially after the snow-heavy winter) was brutal for businesses. People just stayed home. So it might not surprise anyone to see people out and about on nice days. I’ve noticed a distinct difference in the amount of time people are spending outside doing the things they would normally do over the summer. It’s as if the heat, like the snow before it, made us all more aware of the simple pleasures of a nice day.
Could the same be true for the business community? Would the conversation about merging efforts in Chestnut Hill have been possible without the influence of the recession? Would the streetscapes project have gotten so much attention for proprietors and residents? In communities such as Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy, it is often the work and diligence of a few that is felt by many. Most residents appreciate the small-town feel, the simplicity of being able to walk to a nice restaurant or just to take a stroll up the Avenue with the kids to the library or coffee shop.
When the trucks are gone and the sidewalks restored, when the Avenue is lined with benches and new “old fashioned” street lamps, when the trees are in bloom and the flowers growing over the sides of barrels dotting the Avenue, when new businesses open, the hope is that the people will come. It may be old fashioned, and it may even seem hokey, given the darkness of the past few years, but like the heat and the snow, the dust and the rubble, the empty parking lots and the empty storefronts, I’d like to think our collective perseverance has instilled in each of us a greater appreciation for what we have and a better understanding for how to preserve what we value about our community – its vibrancy, diversity and charm.
Thoughts arising from a small blow to the head
A pitiful cry from the fern garden
Lots of catching up to do when you return from a late summer vacation. Nearly two beautiful weeks in Maine, breathing clean air, and peeking under the carapace of large crustaceans with melted butter at hand. Just great. Every day in every way. Only to return, as always, to a long list of “Things That Must Be Done.” We roll up our sleeves the following morning and get busy.
But then, a late-morning yelp from the front garden makes me fling open the door and ask my wife, Janet, “What’s the matter?”
“A giant acorn fell on my head.”
I looked up into the oak tree. A pair of the demon squirrels that had ravished my tomato garden in early August looked down from where they’d been busily dropping acorn bombs. Bigger every year, I swear this year’s acorns are nearly the size of small plums.
“Oh,” I said, “maybe a pith helmet would help. We had one one Halloween.”
“No, I’ll be alright. I was just surprised. I thought someone threw it at me.” She looked at me inquiringly. Janet has never recovered from what she remembers as the “fun” of junior high school. Her first reflex in moments like these is to assume that someone (myself) is trying to play a trick on her.
“Okay, well then, stay alert. Good thing we didn’t order those coconut trees from L.L. Bean.”
“What coconut trees?” she said, always on guard.
It must be autumn
I went back in the house, thinking: My driveway is covered with crunched acorns … what else is different? Yes, this morning, when I opened the windows, I was surprised by the silence. No birdsong. The resident robins and cardinals are still here, but quiet in the morning now. Also, as the evenings grow cooler, the stinkbugs are starting to come inside again, buzzing their heavy, clumsy flights around my head until they find a lamp to settle on. Fall is beginning. But how? When? How did summer vanish?
I think back. My most vivid memories are of the record-breaking heat we endured, the complete failure of my tomato garden, and the paltry number of books I read. What happened?
The Heat Wave
Winter is the season of silence. The windows are closed and insulated. Doors are shut tight. Drafts are sealed. The outside world is shut off and the only sounds we hear, other than our own voices, are produced by the machines in our houses—television, radio, recorded music, appliances, and so on. The hardy go out walking and skiing or skating, but most people run from home to car, car to store (office/school, etc). We live through winter in a bound and muffled world.
That’s why one of the joys of summer arises from throwing open the windows and doors and letting the world enter our homes. Even the sounds of cars driving by or lawnmowers and weed-whackers, annoying as they can be, bring us out of ourselves and remind us that we live in a world populated by other people. I have a neighbor who has hay fever that sets him sneezing all day long, and even that sound is part of the daily joy of feeling the neighborhood come alive again.
And getting outside! Breakfast, lunch and dinner on the deck. Reading out there till it’s too dark to see the page. The running joke in our family is (said in the nasally, high-pitched voice of my Aunt Anna, as though we’re quoting her): “Oh that, Hugh … if ever a man loved his patio, that was our Hugh.” But it’s true. Especially when it comes to having friends and family over. I’ve never had enough.
But this summer. All those brutal days with the heat in the 90s. Awful. Driven inside to become prisoners of air conditioning. Cut off, as in winter, from the sounds and smells and feel of sweet summer. And then, an all-too-brief vacation to mid-coastal Maine, back again, and giant acorns are falling. The patio’s ours again, but the clock has run out, it seems, even before the game has begun.
At the word ‘tomato’: Slowly I turned …
I swear: I did everything right this year-compost, watering, tending-and my seven tomato plants were tall and beautiful with stalks as thick as babies’ wrists. And then the critters invaded.
What amazed me about the squirrels was how immaculately selfish they were. They took everything.
I thought we had an agreement to share and I did nothing to stop them from being rapacious. I learned a hard lesson. And the obvious parallels to questions about international relations, Big Business regulations, Mafia and drug cartel prosecution, pesticides, critter management and so on, were waiting to enter my mind every time I tried to generalize from what I’d learned.
I’ll spare you those thoughts, this not being a thinking-man’s column, and simply reiterate what I learned: squirrels do not calculate human needs, wants, and desires when they pursue their personal goals. In effect, they have much better “Life Coaching” than I. The result: tomato-wise, I feel cheated of my summer’s work.
The Man who ignored The Girl Who
I read about 10 books this summer, a small number for me. And read hardly at all on the patio, another pursuit that says summer’s here. Nearly all my reading was nighttime, in-bed-before-sleeping-reading.
Nearly every time I socialized this summer, someone in the group said he or she was reading one, or all, of the very popular “Girl Who” Stieg Larsson books. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a book mentioned so frequently. Those who were reading Larsson normally read serious books. His “Millennium” series walks the line between literary fiction and “mere entertainment” so closely that his readers never offer sheepish apologies for reading escapist literature.
“It’s just so well written, it draws you in,” they say.
Sounds tempting, but I resisted. I saw the “Played with Fire” movie in early August and thought it was terrific, just the kind of action-adventure film I sometimes yearn to see. But I passed on the books because I don’t enjoy fiction that is “merely entertaining.” Do you think I’m cheating myself of an important experience?
All these thoughts inspired by a yelp from “The Girl Who Stood Under the Acorn-dropping Oak.”