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The world according to cicadas

03 IMG 7268 cicadaStart your day with a misquote from Pete Seeger: “Where have all the Cicadas gone? Long time passing? Long time ago?” The rest of America is crawling with lovelorn Cicadas of Brood X. As of the delivering of this column to Up & Coming Weekly for deposit into the dust bin of literary history, eastern North Carolina seems to be a Cicada-free zone. Cicadas ignoring the Sandhills is yet another unwarranted indignity visited upon Fayetteville. One can only hope that when this column appears, we will be enjoying the return of the 17-year locusts. Perhaps if we face the rising sun, bend the knee to them, and address them by their official name Pharaoh Cicada they will grace us with their presence and sing us a happy tune.

Until the Cicadas return, let us ponder the world their parents left in 2004 and their grandparents left in 1987. Hop on board Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine. It’s time to see what the world looked like when the Cicada’s parents visited us by in 2004. George W. Bush was President. The first major infestation of the internet occurred in February when Mark Zuckerberg’s cyber version of “Rosemary’s Baby” was born as Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. Ever since Facebook’s birth, all has been sweetness and light as the polite and reasoned discussions on Facebook have brought Americans closer together. Facebook has his father’s eyes.

The last episode of the TV show “Friends” aired on NBC in 2004. The fact a reunion show of “Friends” is airing on HBO Max 17 years after the series finale leads me to believe that the stars of “Friends” are not human. They are very large Cicadas wearing human shells. Expect to see Jennifer Anniston shed her exoskeleton on national TV revealing a large but very attractive insect selling beauty products.

Ken Jennings won 74 straight Jeopardy games in 2004. His return as a possible host to replace Alex Trebek 17 years later means Ken also is a giant Cicada in human form.

In 2004, the Russian tanker Tropical Brilliance got stuck in the Suez Canal for 3 days. Seventeen years later in 2021, the tanker Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal. The Ever Given is yet another giant aquatic Mother Bug Cicada teeming with pupae.

The year 2004 saw Yasser Arafat fading out ultimately crossing the Great Divide into the land of 70 virgins. These virgins turned out to be Catholic Nuns armed with rulers. Yasser was condemned to fail to learn his multiplication tables resulting in his knuckles being rapped for eternity.

In an attempt to jump start a fading career, Janet Jackson experienced a half time wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl between New England and the Carolina Panthers.
From the 2004 Crime Desk, Martha Stewart was sentenced to 5 months in prison for lying to the Feds. Lance Armstrong won the Tour De France but was disqualified later for doping.

Edvard Munch’s most famous painting “The Scream” was stolen from an Oslo Museum. It was recovered and went on to appear on coffee cups, key chains, tee shirts and pillowcases to enlighten art lovers everywhere.

What did the grandparents of Brood X see when they were riding the “Love Boat” of insect ecstasy back in 1987? Let us count the ways. All kinds of colorful stuff was happening. President Ronald Reagan dared Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. The Dow Jones average closed above 2000 for the first time. Michael Jordan scored a Chicago Bulls record of 58 points in a single game. Mike Tyson beat James “Bonecrusher” Smith in 12 rounds for the Heavyweight Championship. The Teflon Don John Gotti was found not guilty of racketeering. Jim Bakker resigned from PTL over accusations from his secretary Jessica Hahn.

Austrian Chancellor Kurt Waldheim forgot he was a Nazi. The U.S. Justice Department remembered and barred him from the U.S.

Gary Hart dropped out of the race for President after sailing on the good ship Monkey Business with Donna Rice. Michael Jackson tried unsuccessfully to buy the skeleton of the Elephant Man. The movie “Fatal Attraction” is released setting off a rush for boiled bunny recipes. Out west in Midland, Texas, Baby Jessica fell into a well and was rescued in a rare feel-good moment for America. Unwilling to allow the good feeling to last, 3 days later the Dow Jones average fell into a financial well, dropping 22% in one day.

Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court fell into a legal well never to be seen again. His replacement nominee Douglas Ginsburg admitted to smoking pot and withdrew his nomination. Third choice Anthony Kennedy got the consolation appointment to the Supreme Court.

Sonny & Cher performed with each other for the last time singing “I Got You Babe” on Letterman proving irony was dead. In December, Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, escaped from prison and was captured 2 days later, proving it’s always something.

So Brood X, if you are out there, we need you. Make your parents and Grand Daddy Pharaoh Cicada proud of you.

Don’t leave us waiting at the Cicada Alter. All is forgiven. Please come home.

Will hybrids drive the economy?

02 group work from homePlenty of politicians, planners and business folks think they know what North Carolina’s post-pandemic economy will look like. But few seem entirely sure. They are noticeably hedging their predictions, which I consider to be a wise precaution. They ought to be hedging their bets, as well.

There are unanswered questions across multiple economic sectors and time frames. For many decisionmakers, however, perhaps the single most important questions involve the fate of hybrids.

I’m not talking about motor vehicles. I’m talking about work schedules. With so many North Carolinians having experienced months of doing their jobs from home, will they want to come back to the office full-time? If so, there won’t be meaningful changes in traffic patterns, consumer behavior, and the market for commercial and residential real estate.

However, if a significant share asks employers to stay remote indefinitely — or, more likely, to split their workweeks between office and home — the result could be disruptive. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. But even net-positive innovations have transition and transaction costs.

The early signals are noisy. Some workers are clearly desperate to get back to the office. They found being at home distracting, even without school-aged children needing frequent attention, and embrace the rigid separation of worktime and personal time that a physical commute can reinforce. Others quite enjoyed doing their jobs remotely. It saved them the time and expense of commuting, and of dressing up. They embrace the intersection of work and home for its flexibility.

As for employers, some found remote work fairly easy to inspire, manage and evaluate. Others felt their teams, dispersed by geography and otherwise out of sync, became less productive. This sentiment appears to be widespread in occupations such as banking, finance and law. American Enterprise Institute analyst Brent Orrell calls it “a move that appears to be driven by a mix of tradition and a concern for new hires who need regular coaching on work practices and expectations.”

Of course the smart money will be wagered on some kind of midpoint. Many workers will resume a regular schedule. But not all. One recent academic paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research projects that home-based work will account for 20% of full workdays in the United States, up from 5% before the COVID crisis. Amanda Mull, a staff writer for The Atlantic, predicts that many professionals will ask for hybrid schedules: three days a week in the office, two at home.

Such developments would have major consequences. The NBER paper estimated that if a fifth of workdays happened at home, consumer spending in major city centers would decline by as much as 10%. Think fewer workers parking their cars in decks, eating out for lunch, or running errands on the way home. Think major employers shrinking their footprints the next time they renew their leases.

Now consider what’s happening with urban transit across the country. Ridership across all categories fell dramatically during the crisis, but declines in rail use were especially large, in part because the very professionals most likely to be able to do their jobs from home also make up a disproportionate share of rail users.

The only relevant case in North Carolina is Charlotte — and it’s a revealing one. Bus ridership in the Queen City is down by about 49% year-to-year. Light rail ridership is down 71%, and isn’t bouncing back as fast as bus usage is.

I confess that I’ve been a rail-transit skeptic for a long time. I already thought the Triangle area was wise not to pursue a long-proposed rail line. That decision looks even better in retrospect.

If more jobs move to hybrid schedules, many North Carolinians will likely move further away from central cities, to exurbs and low-density counties. They’ll consume public services, of course, but not the same ones, from the same jurisdictions. And they’ll likely vote differently than their rural neighbors do.

Hybrids could be the wave of the future.
Who knew?

The more things change, the more we're reminded of the story of God

14 N1707P32006HI was sitting at a stoplight on a calm Sunday morning near the end of May. It was 7:30 in the morning, and traffic was light because not much is open is that time of morning. As I waited for the light to turn, a couple pulled up next to me. I looked over, and they were both wearing masks. Suddenly all the craziness of the last 15-months came flooding back in. The shut downs, the lines, new terms like social distancing, essential worker, and North Carolina's own Wait, Wash and ... whatever the other W was.

Then my mind casually wandered over to the social games of follow the leader we played. I think toilet paper was first. The object was to buy and store as much toilet paper as you could. Bonus points if you could balance a stack 4-feet higher than the top of your shopping cart on the way to the checkout.

It started to look like a late snow was predicted when bottled water came in as a close second in the game. Disinfecting wipes changed my mind. Those were not traditionally a weather-related buyout item. Nor were hand sanitizer, webcams or 2x4's.

As America settled into her 'new normal' though, a new series of shortages began to emerge: used cars. Then houses. Followed by jobs for blue collar and food service workers and recreational vehicles for remote-working urban couples.

I could have gone on, but the light turned green. As I drove, my gas gauge reading near-full, I was reminded of the actions of friends and neighbors during the recent and short-lived gas shortage. That's when it all came full circle. The shortages, the anger, the frustration and even desperation were all driven by the same things: greed and discontent.

I'm reminded of a Bible passage written by the Apostle Paul from 1 Timothy 6 which begins, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

As we were clearing store shelves of one item and then the next, following the lead of neighbors, friends and family, we made even the most nonsensical items our top purchase priority and getting our share before it was gone.

The Bible passage continues at 1 Timothy 6:9 saying, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”

That brings me back around to today. And I wonder about our collective tomorrow. Many think the Bible is an archaic document filled with idealistic stories, but look around. There's an amazing wealth of knowledge and understanding of what drives people hundreds of generations and later. When the Bible is as close as it is on humans and their behavior, it makes it that much easier to believe when it talks about God.

And that's the story in a nutshell — the story of God and the human race. Open it. Read it. When you see yourself, look closer and you'll see the God who has been trying to reach us since the dawn of time.

Get out and enjoy festivals, music and dinosaurs

01 DW 3It’s time to shed the gloom, the doom and the masks! Fayetteville is emerging from the restraints and restrictions of COVID and coming alive again with the traditional summer sights and sounds of our diverse All America City. Truly international in scope, Cumberland County is home to people and organizations dedicated to supporting and nurturing the local traditions that define and enhance our unique community. Spring and summer are when Fayetteville comes alive with activities and events to entertain and excite the entire family. There is something for everyone.

The Dogwood Festival is one familiar venue to bring the family outdoors to enjoy local music, food and artists. It’s finally back with a Mini Festival scheduled for June 11-12 at Festival Park. Smaller in scale this year, but just the beginning of returning our community back into the vibrant entertainment hub we’ve come to
appreciate.

What would summer be without music? Our local residents don’t have to answer that because there are multiple concert series already in full swing in our area. The Rock’n On The River series returns to Deep Creek on June 16 with Reflections II and Trial By Fire — two bands that are sure to have you singing along, dancing and enjoying time with friends.

The new music venue, the Pavilion at Gates Four Golf & Country Club, hosts Beatlemania on June 26. With concerts lined up through September, there’s sure to be something to please fans of all music genres.

The newest and most exciting outdoor family entertainment attraction developing in eastern North Carolina is right here in Fayetteville east of the river on Sapona Road — Sweet Valley Ranch.

If you haven't heard about it by now, you will in the near future. Sweet Valley Ranch opened last year to over 17 thousand visitors who came to view and enjoy their drive-thru Christmas light display, the Festival of Lights. Beginning today, June 9, Sweet Valley Ranch is opening Dinosaur World.

Dinosaur World is the latest attraction on the 300 acre working farm that takes visitors on an adventure through a nature trail inhabited by the prehistoric creatures. Visitors of all ages are in for a unique experience.

It is only the beginning of what we predict will become Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s #1 family fun, educational and entertainment destination. Up & Coming Weekly will be showcasing this multi-dimensional enterprise and it's entrepreneurial owners, Fred and Anita Surgeon, and the major economic impact it will have on our community.

Stay tuned and be careful: the Dinosaurs are coming!

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

For those who serve

flag on fenceline 01We Americans just marked a special day in our nation’s official calendar.

On Memorial Day we honor those who have sacrificed in military service to our country, particularly those who have given their lives to protect the rest of us. It is and should be a day of reflection and remembrance for those of us fortunate enough to live in our free nation.

While we are a great nation, we are not a perfect nation, and among our imperfections is that we seem to have lost the concept of service to others in many areas of our common lives. We talk the talk about service to our country, but we do not walk the walk with respect to members of our armed services. Some of them live in actual poverty as many in our Cumberland County community know well. I cringe when I see public service announcements begging for funding for various veterans’ projects, not because the projects are not worthy but because caring for our veterans is a public responsibility to be borne by their follow Americans, not only those who choose and are able to donate.

Public service workers, government employees and others who jobs are to serve the American public are routinely both overworked and underpaid at the same time they are denigrated as “bureaucrats” and people who feed at the public trough. Elected officials are considered impotent and incompetent, sometimes outright corrupt, and competent, capable and honest people decline to run for critical elective offices because of it. Important civil service jobs in both federal and state governments go unfilled because of low pay and low public esteem.

It is hard to know when public service became a negative, even dangerous, calling. Ronald Reagan, an icon to many, gave voice to the sentiment when he said in an August 1986, press conference, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It would be an amusing remark if it were not so insulting. Yes, government is cumbersome, slow and frustrating, but it tackles problems, issues and emergencies that the private sector does not. The private sector does not fund the highway system, educate the vast majority of Americans, or provide health care for people who cannot afford our outstanding but wildly expensive medical system.

We all see where public service ranks on the career status ladder — almost the bottom rung. It has been camped out there for decades. What has also become apparent relatively recently is that public service is actually dangerous. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a medical doctor who has devoted his entire professional life to American public health has personal security. Members of Congress are escorted around the U.S. Capitol by armed National Guard troops and Capitol Police. Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head 10 years ago, and Reagan’s own press secretary James Brady was disabled for the rest of his life by a bullet intended for his boss, the President.

John Kennedy’s take on government service was the opposite of Reagan’s. In his inaugural address, Kennedy famously called for Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We have come a long way since then but in the wrong direction.

In an autocratic government, one person or a small group is in charge, and the people have little or no input. In a democracy, we the people are the government.

It is time that we both respect and reward those among us who keep the wheels of government turning for all the rest of us. This includes all who serve from the highest to the lowest, and especially those who serve us in the U.S. military.

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