Experience has taught me not to come out of many government meetings with a positive feeling, but darned if I didn't leave the Louisburg Town Council's annual "wish list" meeting this year with a touch of optimism.
Much of that optimism centered around a sense of strong commitment behind the completion of the long-awaited Depot Hill project that, until last Thursday evening, I feared was languishing.
But after listening to town council members extoll the virtues of the project -- and talking to Town Administrator Jonathan Franklin after that meeting, I'm encouraged.
In case you're not familiar with the Depot Hill project, it centers around the old train depot property that was generously donated to the town of Louisburg some time ago by the Dickens family.
The goal is to take that large building and convert it into a meeting space, a kitchen area and probably a food truck commissary area where food truck operators can prepare food before loading their trucks. More about that in a minute.
The project, as you might imagine, is a big one and Franklin, using town crews mostly so far, has cleaned up both the building and the property and installed utility hookups necessary for bathrooms and kitchen areas, so the project hasn't exactly been dormant.
But like everyone who has ever been involved with restoration or remodeling of a house could have predicted, the project is taking longer than everyone hoped.
Honestly, I had begun to fear that it might wither on the vine.
But the town council revealed in no uncertain terms during their meeting last Thursday that they want the project completed -- and the sooner the better.
Later I learned that Franklin is the de facto "president" of the "Depot Hill Get 'er Done" group, too. It's safe to say he's tired of talking about it and is ready to see it happen!
This project, which eventually will serve as a link between North and South Louisburg as well as a connector between River Bend and Joyner parks, means a great deal to the future of this town.
It sits in a highly visible spot and will help draw people to the downtown area that is undergoing revival at the moment.
Originally, part of the plan was to use one end of the building as a farmers' market but that idea just hasn't yet taken root, if you'll pardon the pun!
Since no one in authority with the county has stepped up as a proponent of a farmers' market on the hill, town officials have decided to take another direction.
Food trucks are popular and a growing business in this area as anyone who has been to downtown events or festivals in the last couple of years will attest.
But food truck operators need a good space to prepare all that food, an area often called a commissary.
After talking with some food truck operators, the town has pretty much decided to go that direction and, frankly, there may be some significant benefits to local farmers.
Many operators of food trucks love to tout their local food options -- and if the commissary is right here in the center of the county, perhaps it can become an important market for farmers who are seeking new customers.
Sounds like a win-win to me!
Given what I heard Thursday evening, we should expect to hear a lot more about the Depot Hill project in the very near term -- and see construction work beginning in a few weeks.
It was really good to learn that this project, which can mean so much for Louisburg, is moving ahead nicely -- and has such widespread support.
Now, when is the ground-breaking ceremony to start construction?
A great idea
As you may have already read in another story, it was Mark Russell, the newest member of the Louisburg Town Council, who came up with an idea that deserves exploring.
He suggested creating a day to enlist the help of high school and college age students to tackle projects around town, especially helping some older folks clean up their yards and also cleaning up public spaces around the community.
The idea, if it happens, would help bring people together and allow the young folks a chance to feel more a part of the community.
It occurs to me that it would also drag a lot of them away from their computers, games and cell phones for a day -- but we'd better not talk about that or none of 'em will show up.
One of the frustrating facts of life today is that many of us older folks like to complain and gripe about the younger generation, even though we may not interact with them very often. It's easier to think the worst of a stranger, especially one with baggy britches and ear buds, if you don't actually know them.
Russell's idea would help introduce various generations -- and who knows what bonds might come from simple association.
Then Council member Betty Wright jumped in and spread a little "icing" on Russell's "cake."
She asked, why not end such a day with a hot dog and hamburger cookout for young and old alike?
Good question -- even better idea!
What came to mind immediately was the annual Relay for Life event where many young people participate -- and which draws everyone from the very young to those much, much more experienced.
The same thing could work for the town and help create relationships that would go far beyond a one day event.
And here's another thought.
Instead of a one day event, why not make something like this happen three or four times a year, say in spring, a couple in summer and one in late fall to spruce up the community for the holiday season.
Speaking out of turn here -- which is what this column is mostly about -- I'll bet the Scouts, girls and boys, could be enticed to get involved, too.
And having more than one day would mean that a kid who was busy or away on one day could still volunteer for other days.
Plus, having multiple day events would help keep up momentum and nurture those friendships.
All this wouldn't cost much -- and I'll also bet that some of our local businesses would be willing to get involved in helping our youngsters and sprucing up our community a little.
It'll take a little effort to organize and the town will have to provide some trucks to help haul brush, debris and litter away -- but that shouldn't come at a huge expense.
Surely there is a civic club or maybe a church or two that would help with hot dogs and burgers, perhaps some of our off-duty firemen would be willing to jump in like they usually do, the police, of course, will keep a watchful eye on everything and everyone will likely get a good night's sleep at day's end.
Of course, the local newspaper will provide lots of advance notice -- and some pictures of the eventual event.
The possibilities here are great -- let's hope it all comes together!
But if we're hoping all of that comes together, here's hoping that this whole COVID-19 mess doesn't gain the momentum in this country that it has elsewhere in the world.
For a country that's as developed and as scientifically advanced as we like to think we are, this nation seems to have been woefully unprepared for this pandemic.
Even though we saw it coming -- it emerged weeks ago in China -- the American response so far has been, well ... less than ideal or inspiring.
Worse, the response from those people who are supposed to be responsible for directing and organizing the response has been confused, contradictory and ineffective.
Instead of speaking with one unified voice backed up by science, we've had a disjointed, confused and contradictory response depending on who was speaking and what their motives appear to be.
But this disease is nothing to take lightly.
As of this writing, at least 111,000 cases have been reported around the globe and there had been at least 3,800 deaths as of Monday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
Yet we still don't know much about this virus and how it operates.
There is no vaccine to prevent it or lessen its effects.
There is no anti-viral medicine that is clinically proven to work.
Sadly, about all we are left with is the simple advice to wash our hands with warm soap and water, clean off all devices, especially cell phones, and try to avoid crowds and people who appear to be sick.
The good news is that children don't appear to be the main victims of this disease. But, they can be "vectors" of this virus, meaning they can have the disease while showing few symptoms but can spread the disease on to others.
That means kids can bring the virus home, unknowingly infecting adults around them -- and becoming a special danger to older adults, like grandparents, that seem much less resilient to the virus than younger people.
And even though the official government response to the pandemic has been confused, ineffective and self-serving, there is some good information finally getting out.
The Centers for Disease Control -- which failed miserably at the challenge of having tests for the disease ready and distributed in large-enough numbers nationally -- is finally pumping out some good information.
I suppose better late than never is their new motto.
Here in Franklin County, the Health Department is working with the school system and between them -- with a little help from us -- there is good, accurate and potentially life-saving information and advice easily available.
For a quick check about this disease, see a large advertisement elsewhere in this edition that provides some accurate background information.
And as the superintendent of schools said this week, this isn't time to panic but it is time to be vigilant and be ready to follow the advice of the health professionals who are struggling to minimize this pandemic although this increasingly looks like it's shaping up to be a long, difficult struggle.
Then there is karma
But there usually a bright side in these situations and there is at least one in this one, although I'd never wish an ailment like this virus on anyone.
But karma can be brutal.
Last week U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz -- yes, he's from Florida, obviously -- pulled a stupid political stunt by wearing a gas mask on the floor of the House, making a joke of the signing of an emergency $8.3 billion appropriations bill to research and battle the virus.
Sadly, a person in Gaetz's district died of the disease a short time later.
And then, karma caught Gaetz again.
He apparently came in contact with someone suffering from the disease and his doctor ordered that he be tested for COVID-19.
Gaetz also was ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.
That'll teach him to tempt karma -- but, again, he is from Florida, so who knows?
Meanwhile, lets hope for the best, not panic and use common sense methods like hand washing, avoiding crowds and being vigilant.
And above all, get your information from respected, reliable sources and certainly not from politicians who have ulterior motives!
Be safe! And keep your family safe!