Monday, April 13, 2009

Signs of the Times: For Better and for Worse

HALLIE: Signs of economic downturn are everywhere:
- I call a stone mason about getting a chimney repaired. He comes that day to give me an estimate and does the
work the next.
- The lights have gone out on the Zakim bridge.
- “Cash for gold” ads are popping up everywhere.
- Worst of all, my newspaper is shrinking and threatening to disappear entirely.

I shudder to imagine life without my daily Boston Globe. We call it “the paper” (not “the screen”) for a reason. I love the whole unwieldy thing, from front page to editorials to local news, from sports to crossword puzzle. What would I do without local arts coverage (including my very own On Crime column)? I save the comics to read last, like I saved the cherry in fruit cocktail to eat last. Like visits with old friends I read “For Better or for Worse,” “Rhymes with Orange,” and catch up with the hilarious Alice and her jaundiced take on the world in “Cul de Sac.” I like it that my fingers are stained black by the time I rinse my cereal bowl.

More horrifying, what will the world be without reporters? Okay, they didn’t do such a great job sussing out those nonexistent Iraqi WMDs, but our local pols would have a lot more cover without the Globe reporters’ probing and poking.

I just hope we hit bottom before it’s too late to rebound.

RHYS: Hallie, I agree. Somehow the news on the computer and TV can never replace the newspaper. However, I think that newspapers are digging their own graves at the moment. As they cut back they are letting reporters go, so that they are manned by a skeleton staff and most of their news stories come in on the wire. I can get those stories online. I want the personal take on the mayor's misbehavior, the quirky local story, the blistering editorial--and the great reviews. I want the paper to reflect my community and that has almost gone, I'm afraid.

ROBERTA: One scary sign of the times seems to be an increase in robberies. My sister reports that in her Florida (nice but not fancy middle-class folks) neighborhood, they are experiencing 3 to 4 break-ins PER WEEK! Wow, that's scary. My town too, is reporting more crime. It scares me that the common law of do not steal is becoming less common as people lose jobs and get desperate.

RO: I'm cutting back on diet red bull. Those babies go for $5 a can at the airport. Seriously...personally, I did my tour differently this year..I've embraced my La Quinta Rewards status. I ate at a Big Boy (once.) I remember to ask for the AAA rate. I've turned down the thermostat in my house (which is a big deal since the house is mostly glass.) In my neighborhood, I haven't seen too many changes except some of the For Sale signs which have been there forever.

I read the NYTimes Book Review today and it was frighteningly slim because so few publishers were advertising. I'd be very bummed if the Globe or the New York Times went away. First of all where would I get the ideas for my books ;-) but really...the news online just doesn't feel like the real news to me. And what about all those great articles you read that you never would have known about if some editor hadn't decided to put them in the paper?

I worry that the news will be all Octomom, all the time.

HALLIE: Now that's a nightmare.

JAN: The worst part about losing any local paper, but especially the Boston Globe, will be the loss of the Investigative AdTeam. In a one-party state like Massachusetts, the investigative team is incredibly important in keeping a check on political corruption.

But I refuse to be completely negative. Some positive signs of the time may be the flourishing of energy and fuel conservation -- the end of suburban Hummers and the non-stop summer buzz of air conditioning units!

HANK: Transition is always difficult, huh? We live in interesting times, right in the middle of such enormous changes. Tumultuous. And who's to say what's "good"?. Remember when there were only 3 tv stations, sometimes a fuzzy fourth? Now there are 900. Is that good? Bad? I can't believe all the closed stores.

I think people a being a bit nicer to each other. There's not such a sense of greed. Yes, the shocking economy--which might be getting better?--has caused immense harm to people's lives. Some way,we'll all have to regroup and then maybe come out better.

My second grandson, Josh!, was born Friday! He's great, and his mom is fine. And his dad. We all just have to make sure the world is the best possible one for him. And Hallie, thanks for the kind words about reporters.

HALLIE: Well, our kids having kids is absolutely a 'sign of the times' - Congratulations Hank! And let's hear it for fertility, which I hear is trending downward.

On another up-note, Saturday I got my hair cut (Yay, Salon Capri in Hyde Park) and the owner Gina was saying customers no longer complain if there's a wait...they're just so pleased to see the place doing such a brisk business.

So, good and not so good, what signs are you seeing of these transitional times?


  1. The local malls are like ghost towns--boarded-up stores, no patrons, empty parking lots. And try to find a sales clerk! I was in a double-wide Victoria's Secret store last week and there was one salesperson. One.

    And everything is on sale--stores are almost begging you to buy something, anything, please.

  2. I hear you..I went into a Radio Shack last week and three people practically pounced on me. They were like my dog when I come home..all over me. BTW I was looking for a bluetooth dongle which costs less than $2 and they didn't have it.

  3. Love the image of a "double-wide Victoria's Secret."

    Plus sizes??


  4. Congrats on your new grandson, Hank!

  5. See and I Sheila's going to Victoria's Secret and I'm going to Radio Shack...I'm such a loser!

  6. Many students have shifted from Starbuck's (a block away from the college) to their own portable coffee mugs -- in hand every morning when they walk into class.

    We've got more bikes in the parking lot and more small cars.

    The general sense of entitlement seems to be down, attendance somewhat higher than is typical for this time of the year. That said, I notice more students having to go to school part-time and work (if they can get it) fulltime because their parents have lost jobs. This is very similar to the post 9/11 period, when our Telecomm corridor pretty much collapsed.

  7. Congratulations, Hank!

    Hallie, that graph sadly resembles my portfolio.

    I've been embracing my Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn points for some time. It's why I'll be staying at a nearby HI this weekend instead of the Murder 203 hotel. And, when I know absolutely I'll make the trip, I book the advance hotel rate. And it's always AAA.

    I've changed my cell phone plan; bundled my TV/phone/Internet; and eat out a lot less. My husband, fortunately for all, enjoys cooking.


  8. Congratulations on the new grandson, Hank. Truly grandkids give one hope for the future in these depressing times.
    The only business that seems to be flourishing is Goodwill. I noticed a steady trade to and from when I was parking the other day. How sensible to embrace recycling clothing.

    And the news is so depressing I rarely turn on the TV.

  9. Here in NYC there are stores closing all over the place, and half-built buildings just sitting there waiting. Will they ever be finished? But young people are packing the bars at Happy Hour and I see them carrying shopping bags full of merchandise. It's weird.

  10. I was visiting relatives just outside of Washington, D.C. Not much seems to have slowed there, but we did see a huge mall parking lot entirely full. Then we realized it was full of brand-new cars that couldn't be sold.

    Us? We've always planned to drive our cars until they rolled over an kicked their wheels. One is closing in on a decade, the other six years. We're more than happy to do without the car payments. I've turned the heat down, made sure leftovers are consumed, and just generally become more careful about spending money.

  11. I've been living frugally for so long I can't remember so there isn't much to change there (make my own coffee, bring my own lunch, wear simple durable clothes, make maximal use of leftovers, and so on), although I did recently cut my losses on the 9-year old car and bought a Prius for my new, longer commute into Boston. But I have upped my contributions to the local food pantry, getting extra stuff to donate almost every time I go to the market, and feel so fortunate that everybody in the family has a job. It's a tough time.

  12. Lorrie, we have a half-torn-down building right in the middle of Boston's Downtown Crossing. It's surreal, a twenty-story building with the side torn off. Makes it look like a war zone.

    I was happy to see in today's paper (that we STILL have), the architect of the Zakim Bridge offered Boston $15K to pay for 3 months of blue lights on the bridge.

    Like Maxwriter we already live on the cheap. My prepay cell phone plan costs just $15 a month. But explain to me why we were fine with one phone a few years back and now we HAVE to have three?

  13. Here's another sign of the times from this morning. Literally.

    A neighbor a few blocks away had a visit from the police because she stole three ADT alarm system signs from the empty house for sale two doors down.

    Burglaries are up in our area, and even though she doesn't have an alarm system, she thought the prominent signs would help deter. Meanwhile, the owner of the empty house (that *does* have an alarm system) wasn't happy.

    I would have thought the case was a miracle of forensic evidence (Ma'am, the dirt on the spikes of the signs clearly includes cocoa mulch from the flowerbeds of the victim's house, while your dirt is common prairie articulate plus a little kitty litter). But no such luck. The victim had a look down the street, noticed the signs at a house with a neighbor she knew had no system, pointed a finger, and the neighbor 'fessed up.

  14. Susannah, that's hilarious/weird.

    If find myself gauging the economy in all kinds of ways. I wish CNN didn't show the Dow and the NASDAQ all the time. It's hypnotic, and makes me feel like something real is happening. I keep rooting for green numbers.

    I was at a shopping center the other day. It was outside, and it was pouring. But it was thronged with people, and they all were carrying purchases.

    And yes, Lorrie. People in American Eagle were opening charge acounts.

    I was so...relieved! Which is so weird.

    Thanks, Paula, Jan and Rhys! We'll see him Sunday! And of course I can already hear the clamor from you all for baby-Josh pictures.

  15. Congrats on the new grandchild. Nothing like it for making life better.

    About newspapers. Which way do you want it? I switched to "treeless editions" years ago, in order to be a more responsible, greener-minded person. Am I to blame for the oft-reported demise of the mighty newspaper? Or is it just a sign of the Times, the Clarion, The Sun.

    I guess people had a hard time of it when stone tablets began to be replaced by papyrus and vellum. grin.

    The last economic downturn was when I traded my Oldsmobile for a Honda. Motorcycle. Zoom!