Posted: March 02, 2009
Rundles wrap-up: The Twilight Zone
Change in attitude is economic downturn's silver liningJeff Rundles
Working on a project the other day, I had the occasion to peruse the “Vows” column – wedding announcements – in The New York Times, and I was struck by how many of the entries, while discussing the bride’s and groom’s professional lives, said things like “until recently a senior vice president …” This was particularly true of the announcements for people over 40. Who knew that unemployment was such a grand time to say “I do”?
Right in the middle of some of that research, a friend of mine at the Rocky Mountain News called, and I asked how things were going down there, what with the imminent collapse of the paper. He said that when he sees people in the corridors he nods and says, “Dead man walking.” Newspaper people always did go for black humor. Also recently, I was at a neighborhood Super Bowl party, and pretty much everyone there was discussing their own layoff, downsizing, severance, pay cut, furlough, new part-time status and the wonders of older cars. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with more “consultants,” at least not since the oil bust of 1984.
Then I was doing some Web surfing, window shopping (is there any other kind these days?) at the mall, and other connections with businesses, and I happened to search, walk by or otherwise come into contact with, in the span of a couple of days, these firms: Blockbuster, Sbarro, Six Flags, Krispy Kreme, Rite Aid, Claire’s, Dollar/Thrifty, Sirius Satellite Radio, Chrysler and Landry’s Restaurants. Not two days later I saw a news story on Yahoo titled “15 Companies That Might Not Survive 2009,” and wouldn’t you know it, all these companies were on the list.
"Twilight Zone” theme music played in my head.
Like everyone else, I suppose, I have had my moments of doubt, and once or twice I have wondered whether or not I will make it through this economic haze. But then I reminded myself that I have been through some very rough times before, that as a reporter over the years I have covered some near-depression times in certain industries (commercial real estate, oil and gas), and somehow it all worked out, for the better.
Having that perspective, I do know a few things. When we come out of this (and I use “when” on purpose), the landscape of our lives is going to look a whole lot different. Some of this will be bad; I’m heartbroken over the demise of The Wellshire Inn, for instance. (Say it ain’t so, Leo!?!) On the other hand, if giant shopping malls go the way of the dinosaur, I will look at this period of readjustment as a giant leap for mankind.
I am beginning to look on the bright side. There are a lot more smaller cars. There are more people on the light rail. The annoying, and often wholly without taste, McMansion building boom in my neighborhood seems to have ceased. Starbucks is lowering some prices. Come to think of it, lots of overpriced stuff is coming back to reality. People seem genuinely friendlier. Customer-service agents at the cable company, cell phone firm, even government agencies, seem like they all just finished refresher courses, or took courses for the first time, in, of all things, customer service. I’ve even noticed that drivers appear to be less aggressive in traffic, although that might be due to all the cameras monitoring their behavior.
Regardless, what feels different this time compared to all the other economic downturns I have been through is a broad change in attitude. The sense of entitlement that was so amazingly, and increasingly, cloying over the last several years, feels to have lifted. Why, even the slackers and the “haves” are working hard. Shared sacrifice could ultimately be a very good thing. Trouble is, I can’t get that “Twilight Zone” music out of my head.
Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.