Toasting the New Year with Andy, Bob and Carl
Dec. 31, 2000
The new year is upon us. Is it time to make resolutions or predictions? Resolutions tend to require behavior change. Predictions require information and insight. Consequently, I'll be engaging in neither exercise.
No resolutions. Unless you count my need to reaffirm my weight loss drill. No predictions. Not even the passage of McCain-Feingold and its subsequent veto. Beyond those disclaimers, I did feel some need to fiddle around with the promise and peril of 2001.
My perch in the northeast corner of The Meridian Star newsroom is a great vantage point to peer into the mists of the new year. As the late Red Barber might say, "I'm sittin' in the catbird seat." An excellent place to catch a passing parade of local perspectives.
Not wishing to rely on my moss-backed bias about our community I sought counsel from several characters who periodically pass through the newsroom or at least by the front or back doors.
I picked three topics to test with my subjects. The Grand Opera House and related downtown redevelopment. The new industrial park. And the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. And I did resolve to keep my opinions to myself.
My first interview was with Blue-Sky Bob. As you might expect, the first 15 minutes were devoted to a gushing monologue about the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. "It will attract people from all over the country."
He even said, "If we build it, they will come."
Bob is a good guy. Not simply positive but absolutely enthusiastic. And Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell and Paul Ott had won his heart. When there was a brief secession in the flow of superlatives, I said, "What about the industrial park?"
Yes, gentle reader, can you guess why we call him "Blue-Sky?"
And the Grand Opera House?
One of my friends calls him "Break-through Bob."
The best is about to be. Not a cloud. Not even a single bad vibe. Bob prepared me well for my next encounter.
You may know my second subject. Some of us call him "Ain't it awful" Andy. When a rainbow appears in the sky, it is "nice" but is a reminder of the flood. He enjoys reports of rain. And somehow disasters never measure up. He is a real whiner, first class.
In total character, Andy began, "Ain't all this negativity awful. And you guys at The Meridian Star lead the way. And then there are those radio guys. Real progress blockers. What Meridian needs to grow is a better image. I don't know why they' don't do something."
You may know Andy, he likes to point toward the ubiquitous "they." His conversation is sprinkled with references to what "they" have or have not done. "We" is seldom part of his conversation.
The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center? "Sounds nice but they didn't put any money in. Who's going pay for this? Our overtaxed citizens. The state doesn't have any funds left. Mississippi needs more prisons not stuff like entertainment centers and teacher pay raises. Ain't it awful?"
One of the neat things about Andy is that he requires no affirmation of his perspectives. The down side is that additional information, better data, expert opinion or perspectives different from his own do not impact him either. Like Popeye, "he yam what he yam."
The industrial park? The relevant phrases included "There's good land available all over Lauderdale County," "a real sweetheart deal," "they're wasting my tax dollars," "we'll pay for it and they will give it away," and of course, "ain't it awful?"
I pressed forward to the Grand Opera House and related downtown projects. "Look at what they have poured into that train station. Now they are going to waste tax money on a parking garage. I can't believe The Riley Foundation would put $10 million into a dead building in a dead downtown in a dying community."
Andy sighed, shrugged and drew a deep breath. "I've got to get this Christmas gift returned. Fight all that mall traffic. Why don't they keep a list of color and size preferences at the mall. And ain't this cold rain …," you guessed it, "… awful?"
As you might suspect, I was pleased to see Carl. He is a person of few illusions. In fact, we refer to him as "Clear-Eyed Carl."
Of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, he went to the core. "Great location. Good concept. A tough management challenge. No visible development or business plan. Expect some tourism tax program to pick up part of the tab. It'll be awhile."
I took that as a yellow signal light but could not discern if Carl thought a green or a red light would follow. So I pressed toward the industrial park. Carl likes brevity. He did not disappoint.
And that's effusive praise from Carl.
And what of the new year? Depends on which voice you choose to hear.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.