Peggy Noonan had an intriguing column Saturday, about what she was seeing in Manhattan in terms of real, street-level effects of the recession. Here's an excerpt:
This is New York five months into hard times.
One senses it, for the first time: a shift in energy. Something new has taken hold, a new air of peace, perhaps, or tentativeness. The old hustle and bustle, the wild and daily assertion of dynamism, is calmed.
And now Washington becomes the financial capital of the country, of the world. Oh, what a status shift. Oh, what a fact.
Here's what struck me about that: She implies that — because of the stimulus, the TARP, etc. (I guess) – the hustle-and-bustle that's missing from the not-so-mean streets near Central Park has somehow been transferred to Washington.
And yet, weirdly enough, I had been talking to someone else last week who had made a similar observation about a loss of activity in Washington. It was USC President Harris Pastides. When he came to see us with Mayor Bob and the gang last Monday, he had just stepped off the plane coming back from D.C., and his impression was that it felt dead, deserted. Of course, he acknowledged that the contrast was particularly sharp because he had last been there for the Obama inauguration just weeks earlier, but he seemed to be suggesting that he was seeing was a loss of activity from the norm, not just from the inaugural excitement.
(I heard that with particular interest because one thing that had always struck me when I visited D.C. — and mind you, I haven't been there in years and years — was something that my libertarian friends can identify with. I thought, crowded onto a metro platform with well-dressed commuters, or walking past swanky shops, "There's too much money in this town." Of course, part of that is the sheer size of the gummint, a good bit of which should be devolved. But part of it is the amount that the private sector freely spends on lobbying. I have no idea how to separate it out. But I know that in my limited experience, the lobbyists are snappier dressers.)
I haven't been to New York in almost a year, and I last went to D.C. in 1998 (yes, more than a decade). I don't know what impression I'd have if I visited either today (although I'm pretty sure NYC won't be as busy as when I made this video). Come to think of it, I don't know what impression I have of right here in the Midlands. For instance:
About three weeks ago, I went to the Lowe's out on Garners Ferry for the first time since before Christmas. It was late on a Sunday afternoon. And I was shocked, because when I walked in, there were about a dozen or more of those carts you use to stack your lumber on — the kind that when it's busy, you've got to hunt around for — lined up in a neat row in the lumber aisle before me. So there were at least that many carts free, and an employee had had time to gather them and make that neat row. Then after I left and got to thinking about it, I thought I had seen about as many employees as customers.
I've mentioned that several times since then, and sometimes people nod their heads and sometimes they dispute it. For instance, Cindi said she's been to Lowe's (including that particular store) maybe six times in the last few weeks, and it's always been busy.
Then when she said that, I suddenly remembered that I went out to Harbison Saturday, and the traffic was the worst I'd seen in several years. I thought I'd never get there, or get home. And the stores I went into were at LEAST as busy as the norm, if not more so, so I don't think it was just a matter of my having hit the traffic at a bad time.
From where I sit, there's plenty of evidence of our economy tanking in the aggregate, from the state unemployment figures to the horrific effect that reduction in advertising has on newspapers and TV. We can quantify the cuts that have occurred already and are coming in state government, or local school districts. And I know of quite a few specific cases of people close to me — personally and professionally — who have lost their jobs or are facing the high probability of such losses.
But then we still see the anomalous things, such as all that activity out at Harbison. And not just there. Over the weekend I thought, not for the first time, that the Vista is just TOO successful. Yes, I'm being ironic, but it's frustrating when that district has become so popular that you can't park within a block of Starbuck's.
So I'm wondering — what are YOU seeing out there, as a worker, as a businessperson, as a consumer? What's the true picture of what's happening thus far in the Midlands? Maybe we can get a snapshot — or better yet, a panorama — of that right here on the blog. So how about it? What are you seeing?