You know my town, right? At least you know one like it, don’t you? Population right around 40,000. Nice little downtown filled with a pretty fair number of mom and pop shops and an equally (un?)fair number of empty storefronts. Big box stores and lifestyle malls creeping up around the fringes. Solid middle class population. You know the town I mean?
If you do, then maybe you’d be as surprised as I was to see a man standing on a corner near the grocery store just a block or so from my office holding up a hand-lettered cardboard sign that said “No Food.”
No food? Huh? That’s not really the kind of thing that happens in these kind of towns, is it? For a moment, I felt this dread that something terrible — something that’s only been happening on the fringes of my world — had finally arrived. I began to see him as a sort of omen of what’s surely to come.
Am I wrong? I hope so, but it’s getting harder and harder to remain optimistic these days. Every day, we’re all barraged by the bleak news — jobs lost, businesses in danger or gone under, credit markets still in chaos. And yet …
Most everyone I know gets up and goes to work every morning. Most everyone I know is paying their bills, raising their kids, finding ways to get by. That’s what my town is like … so far.
I spoke to a friend who sells cars today. His dealership has already laid off more than fifty people, and will quite likely lay off more before it’s all said and done. And, since mom and pop shops everywhere have a hard time competing with always-low-prices-always-open big box stores, towns like ours have grown accustomed to a few empty storefronts downtown. But in just the last week, two national chains — one a restaurant, one a department store — announced that they can no longer afford to do business here.
But what’s even more telling than what is is what people believe could be. Rumors have already begun taking hold in the hallways of the office buildings, in the aisles of the grocery store, in the fellowship halls of churches. This store is closing. That company is going belly-up. That division of the university — you know, the one out by the airport — is cutting half its workforce.
These rumors have no corroboration and no identifiable source, and yet, in this climate, we feel compelled to ask more questions, to see if we can confirm or refute them. And so we ask around. We discuss it with others, and they discuss it with others and so on and so on until these dark rumors swirl around our town just like the wind that rushes down from Brush Mountain, bringing cold northern air, and forcing the man on the corner to clutch his jacket more tightly around his neck with one hand while his hand-lettered sign bends and buckles in the other.
You know my town, right?