Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Things I have seen

One of the things about living life in Condition Yellow is that you'll notice things that escape most people. This has both good and bad aspects. The good often comes when I notice some bit of beauty that others have missed. The bad is when you see the ugly or hateful in the world that so many simply pass by and never notice.

It also means that you simply see more than many others. For example, many folks driving to work fixate on the road and, if we're lucky, the task of driving. When I drive to work, I not only focus on both of those, but the territory I pass through. I notice the new pothole that has opened up. I see the "For Sale" sign that has appeared in front of a house.

When I take a walk down my street, I notice the yards that have been mowed, and those that need mowing. I see which houses are not being cared for as well as they once were. I see who has laid in wood for the winter, and who plans on running the heat pump full time.

I notice these details like most people notice it's light or dark. I never cease to be amazed at how many people can pass by something for weeks, and only notice it when you finally force them to see it.

So, I present these things I've seen over the last few months to you, not as a indicator of the economy or the state of our society in any meaningful way. They are simply the things that have made an impression on me for some reason. I present to them to you so that you may compare and contrast them to the goings on in your area.

The last couple of years, I've noticed many personal gardens tilled in the spring but never planted. I've also noticed that most that were planted were ill-tended. This year, I didn't notice an increase in the number of gardens tilled, but I did see a big increase in the number that were actually used in a meaningful way.

I'm noting many more empty houses. These houses have no "For Sale" signs, and none of the papers taped to the doors that mark a foreclosure. These houses are simply empty, with the yards growing up over the months. I suspect that some of these are the homes of some of our older folks who have perhaps died or been forced for health reasons to move out of their home. The others I just don't know about--perhaps in the foreclosure process? Being held off the market by a lender hoping for a better price later? Tied up in estates?

Early this spring, I saw quite a bit of home renovation work started, some of it items with rather large price tags, if I'm any judge of such things. While some of it was probably more of a maintenance nature (new roof), much of it wasn't (the paving of a stone driveway). As spring gave into summer, I saw very few such projects started, and as summer turns to autumn, I see none at all.

Homes are barely selling. Not even small "starter" homes at the bottom of the market are moving well at this point. Many homes, however, are for sale, either by the owners or through agents.

My employer uses a great deal of seasonal help each year. Normally these jobs, paying mostly minimum wage, have been the province of teenagers and college students. This year, many of the applications came from adults, many of whom were not bashful in telling the application taker that they needed work--any kind of work as long as it paid.

Charities of all sorts are suffering for a lack of donations. My employer is having a perpetual canned-goods drive for some of the local food pantries. Donations were good early in the year, but have definitely dropped off lately.

While I don't frequent gun shops as often as I did before Daughter (and much of my money) went away to The Small University in the Big City, it has never failed that each time I have been in one, someone has shown up looking to sell a gun or three. When told they can get more money for them as consignment sales, the universal answer has been that "I need the money now to pay the {whatever} bill."

The prices paid for "toys"--guns, boats, ATVs, campers, whatever--have dropped drastically. A few days ago, an acquaintance told me that he had just purchased a 5th wheel camper where the original asking price was $18,000--for $8,500.

Grocery prices have spiked. Food quality, even among name brand items, is getting a bit spotty. Availability is still good, however. Sales items go quickly, while the same item not on sale remains on the shelf. However, yesterday, 3 days into the sale of the week, I noticed that the sale items weren't selling out as they have before. If this holds up, it either indicates the stores are getting better about stocking up on items on sale (doubtful) or something darker--people can't afford them as easily, even on sale.

Going along with that, baskets at the grocery store tend not to be as full at checkout time, and if you have a full one, you will draw attention. So far nothing more than a glance wondering "How can they afford all that?", but I'm afraid that it might turn to more if things continue as they are.

I see many more members of law enforcement writing tickets for everything from expired license plates through the various types of moving violations. It seems that even minor infractions are no longer being ignored. Old-fashioned "speed traps" are springing up all over. (I've learned to watch my speed carefully on downgrades these days.) I've heard wide-spread speculation about this being used to partially replace dropping tax revenues. I'm not sure if that holds water, because in North Carolina I believe all such fines go to the school systems and the court costs to the courts, with nothing left over for the locals.

I hear more and more people openly discussing their dissatisfaction with our country and its government. Even those who I'm morally certain voted for our current Leader have been voicing their displeasure for weeks. While there are always people who aren't happy with government, I've never seen anything approaching this level of displeasure in all of my adult years. And for the first time ever, I hear people speaking out in public--though quietly as of yet--of "revolution"--and I'm pretty sure some of them aren't talking about it taking place with the assistance of a ballot box, either.

A number of new locally-owned businesses opening in recent months--everything from a concrete company to coffee shops. So far, nothing on how well any of them are faring in this economy.

I've also noticed a number of businesses closing. Most of them were either restaurants or in the "toy" business, although it is not limited to those.

I've seen exactly three regional or national chains open up locally this year. One a drug store, another a discount store and one, not open yet, selling auto parts. I can recall none that have closed.

So there you have it, one man's observations of "things", meaning thereof unsure.

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