Heck of a summer.
Hot weather in August can be expected out here, but where did that pervasive humidity come from?
For some of us who are no longer amazed by the change of seasons, it seemed like blasts from the past gave the summer a retro feel, not unlike getting into one’s air-conditioned, feature-filled vehicle to drive away from a vintage “car cruise” of Edsels, Packards and DeSotos. We saw a Katrina-like hurricane, and while the newly-built levees held in New Orleans, the power grid didn’t. Louisiana saw ruin while New York and New Jersey each had more deaths than the target state. We saw the sloppy conclusion of another overly long war, the western states on fire and the return of vigilante justice to Texas.
Those who thought there’d be a conclusion to the 18-month national malaise caused by the pandemic are still cadging masks and preparing for a booster shot, if they’ve enjoyed a vaccination at all.
I’ll tell ya: television news, with its reliance on “file footage” to fill the screen — all those pharmaceutical bottles rolling down a conveyor line, for example — could swap out video from a month ago, a year ago, back from the other century, and I would not notice. It is why I rely, these days, on websites for news and newspapers for the depth I require to deduce the news.
Yeah, depth. We cannot ponder the upcoming debut of the Buffalo Bills without thinking about a new stadium. Incidentally, when the Bills began in 1960, the stadium they inhabited was already 23 years old. They remained there for 13 years. That stadium itself was demolished and repurposed beginning in 1989, giving that Depression-era project 52 years of useful life. The team has been in its current home for 48 years.
We cannot ponder the pandemic without arguing over whether school children can, will or should be protected with masks and social distancing. If you consider the Sabres at all, it’s all about the future of one player, Mr. Eichel — yes, no, surgery yes, surgery no, when, where and for what it return.
It would seem that prospective employees have an upper hand in the job market. Signage all over the area attests to opportunities at higher than minimum wage pay rates, with no suggestion that working conditions are improved. This consumer has noticed, without even walking in, that those conditions have worsened, with a reduction in personnel likely equal to the pay raises. Order something at a fast food outlet and note how much longer it takes; it’s all being done with fewer employees, by employees with relatively less training.
I sense something of a holding pattern in society, one that began when the pandemic overwhelmed the world, but has spread in surprising ways. A slowdown in the global pipeline leading to a shortage of computer hardware has roiled the automotive sector of the economy, to the point of a temporary layoff of 400 people at General Motors’ Tonawanda facility, the longstanding Rock of Gibraltar in GM’s system. Everyone — notably stockholders — assumes this will end eventually. Yeah, but when? There was a time when Rome, Italy, offered “Dial-a-Strike,” a phone number a resident or tourist could call to find out who was on strike on that day, and where. The newspapers these days can tell you what shortage — over-the-road truckers, restaurant personnel, certified gym trainers — can be expected.
This amounts to the opening salvos in the unraveling of society. I long assumed that in my life I’d have a front-row seat for the decline of the American Way, and this summer’s adventures may be the overture, when historians, if there’s anything left to sit on in a few generations, look back and begin analyzing. Part of my gloom, of course, is my advanced age and the assumed right of people like me to observe that this country’s going to hell. I suspect, though, that some of it has more validity.
The Great Depression, circa roughly 1929-1940, was not a bump in the road in the cause of Manifest Destiny. It was a wrenching inquiry into whether we were all wrong about America, capitalism and the value of government. It took massive federal deficits to fund projects to get people working again, and it was followed by more deficits to fight World War II, but this country discovered that government was actually good for something. Good at a few things.
Needless to say, the government is unlikely to intervene in the matter of Eichel v. Sabres, nor should it, but this summer had something of a Rip Van Winkle feel to it. An old joke about newspapers called their stories “the same thing, just happening to different people.”