For a minute last week, walking into a face-to-face meeting of the Louisburg town council was like barging into a movie audition for actors wanting to play the parts of bank robbers.
It's a little disconcerting, at first anyway, to suddenly confront about 50 people wearing masks.
It was reminiscent of those 1950s cowboy movies when the bad guys simply pulled a bandana up over their mouth and nose and robbed a bank, confident that no one could identify them.
Most of us have gotten pretty good at recognizing masked people in recent weeks, thanks to this COVID-19 pandemic that has made masks not only commonplace but as necessary as pants and shoes when you're out in public.
Of course, there are some who still whine that masks violate their perceived "Constitutional rights" but manage to forget that they've been complying with those "no shirt, no shoes, no service signs" at restaurants for decades.
And yes, breathing while wearing a mask isn't as comfortable as breathing without one but, as one doctor quipped recently, if you think breathing with a mask is tough, try breathing with a ventilator.
Or, as one true cynic suggested, it's either having a little trouble breathing with a mask or not breathing at all, which sounds like a really bad alternative to me.
This virus which none of us can see and few of us even begin to understand, has turned our lives upside down in ways none of us imagined just a year ago.
Businesses have been hammered, schools are in a tizzy trying to find ways to educate kids while keeping them safe, activities that we used to take for granted are now off limits for the foreseeable future.
It's just strange -- and as summer winds down and fall and winter loom, it's likely to become downright depressing.
Of all the things I miss being able to run out and do, I think I miss most the various chicken, pork and fish dinners that are staple fundraising activities for various groups, from fire departments to bands to civic clubs.
I didn't realize how much I enjoyed them until they virtually disappeared over the spring and summer.
As a reporter, those events were often good places to catch a tip on news events or get a different perspective on local events.
Besides, helping out a worthy organization -- and snagging a good meal in the process -- made them a win-win in my book.
By the way, if you're of a like mind, there is a win-win-win opportunity coming up this Saturday, Aug. 1.
Two groups -- A Blessing, Inc., and Happy Camper -- are teaming up to offer barbecue chicken dinners from 11 a.m. until the food runs out. They will be set up in the parking lot at the corner of NC 56 Highway West and U.S. 401 (formerly the D&J car dealership).
They aren't pricing these dinners -- but are asking for donations to help these two worthy organizations.
A Blessing, Inc., operates soup kitchens here in Franklin County which help feed those in need -- and I have to imagine this virus has caused more people to be food insecure, so the demand is great.
Happy Camper raises money to send local children to summer camp -- and every dime they raise goes to help children because nothing is taken out for administrative costs.
So, if you like, you can help two groups -- and yourself! -- which is a triple win in my book.
Just don't wait too long.
This is the first barbecue chicken dinner fundraiser in a while and I'd bet those chickens are going to fly!
Recently, we had to report some very bad news for those of us who believe that pork barbecue is an essential food group.
We were really looking forward to the BBQ in the Burg competition this summer but the virus has forced it to be postponed for a year. Last summer, there was more great barbecue in downtown Louisburg than I believe I've ever seen in one place before and son Nick and I purchased bracelets to allow us to sample each variety.
That was a great idea -- for a while.
I learned a couple of things. First, great barbecue cooks are proud of their creations and anxious to share with others. That was great.
Second, while those same cooks were supposed to share a bite or two of their creations, most piled more than that into little sample cups.
Given that there were more than 20 entrants, getting a couple or three ounces from each suddenly added up to a LOT of 'cue! Do the math -- and you'll understand why BBQ nuts like Nick and I couldn't even look at pork barbecue for a couple of months without turning green.
But we've recovered -- and were anxious to repeat the experience this year but that danged virus blocked those plans.
The virus even knocked out Fourth of July fireworks this year in the county -- and killed off the downtown concert series for the entire summer.
As I said, it's been a strange spring and summer but if all we have to do is wear a mask to beat back this virus until a vaccine or treatments can be created, then I'm all for masking up.
Who knows, we might even get a bit part in a cowboy movie if they are short of bank robbers.
But a word of warning from my buddy Ted Hayes.
He suggested masks are fine -- but he strongly advised against wearing a ski mask into the bank.
I think he's got a point there.
The attempt by the Franklin County Board of Education to hold a special meeting last Thursday evening was ... well, let's just call it entertaining.
Beyond entertaining, it was also educational and it underscores a problem in Franklin County that we're going to have to solve, although finding the solution and making it happen is going to be a lot more difficult than we might imagine.
First, the school board. School officials first tried to hold a meeting via the program Zoom which, to be quite frank, is a long way from being ready for prime time, at least in my experience.
It seems to work, fairly well sometimes, for small meetings with few people logged in, but it has proven to be glitchy and unreliable as often as not.
The free version of Zoom allows up to 100 people to be signed on at any one time, but because of the interest in last week's school board meeting, that number was met and exceeded fairly quickly.
The meeting was to focus on how to open county schools next month and the pros and cons of going entirely virtual.
Obviously, that's going to draw a crowd -- and the first version of Zoom just wasn't up to the task.
School officials apparently tried to quickly buy a Zoom version that would allow more people to watch the meeting but that effort never got off the ground.
It was interesting that most of us could see the meeting participants but couldn't hear them. You'd think video would be more of a problem than audio but that didn't seem to be the case last week.
After an hour of frustration, school officials called a timeout and decided to try a different approach.
After an hour break, they tried to "stream" the meeting on the district's Youtube channel, but that flew like a lead balloon!
We got one quick glimpse of one school official -- then were "treated" to a long still shot of students but no audio and no photos from the intended meeting which, we later learned, never even began.
After another hour of fussing and tweaking -- and possibly burning incense to appease the cyber gods who obviously were in a bad mood -- school officials scrapped that attempt as well.
Best guess, according to those who profess to know about such things, is that thunderstorms in the area played havoc with an already stressed broadband system which, under the best of circumstances, doesn't work all that well when the sun is shining and capacity is about 30 percent!
A bunch of school officials, sounding really tired and frustrated, called off the two-attempts at meeting Thursday night and made plans to try it all again on Monday -- and that seemed to work somewhat better. Not perfect, but better.
If local folks thought that the problems were entirely a local phenomenon, they were wrong.
Out Asheville way, which has much better Internet connectivity than us, the school board tried to use FaceBook Live (or, if you prefer, FraudBook Live) and it was a similar disaster. Viewers said they had difficulty at times understanding what was happening because of technical goofs, which included reverberating audio, speakers who couldn't be heard, a wildly swinging camera and, at one point, a video of a laptop screen that displayed a presentation rendered illegible due to screen glare with unintelligibly blared audio.
As speakers in Asheville took turns talking, their statements were sometimes interrupted by a person imploring them to move closer to the microphone when they spoke.
All of this sounds familiar to those of us haggard reporters who have been trying to cover virtual meetings for the last several weeks.
This technology, although it may be deemed necessary to battle the virus, is a long way from being ready for prime time -- and often is more trouble than it's worth.
In Franklin County, one of the main problems is Internet connectivity -- which is barely adequate in most places and almost nonexistent in others.
It's yet another example -- along with water and sewer -- of what happens when our elected officials repeatedly ignore problems for years while areas around us are developing and perfecting their infrastructure connections.
We're way behind the curve, folks, and even that long awaited Wi-Fi experiment is apparently still not up and running anywhere in Franklin County, although it was supposed to kick off months ago. When you see county officials, please ask what the problem is and see if you can get a straight answer.
In the meantime, all of you who experienced -- and especially those of you who expressed -- frustration with the failure of last week's school board meeting should appreciate your friends at The Franklin Times just a little more.
We deal with this kind of stuff more often than not -- but it should make that measly $29 you pay for an annual newspaper subscription seem pretty cheap.
You can just sit down at your leisure and read all about what happened at these meetings -- and you can do so either from a paper copy or from your computer screen!
If you don't think that's a good idea, here's a deal for you. I'll pay YOU $29 a year to go to town council, school board and county commissioners' meetings and then write about them. That way Carey Johnson and I can read your stories while we get all those evenings and weekends off. We also get to avoid the virtual frustration of trying to cover those meetings!
Fair warning, however. The virtual meetings aren't the only problem. Another HUGE challenge is trying to hear and understand people who are wearing masks (at the few face-to-face meetings still being held) or those who rustle papers, look down at the floor or have kids or pets making noise in the background when they are trying to speak during virtual sessions.
Ah, the life of a reporter. And to think, I used to believe all that was fun and a challenge.
The stupidity and naivete of youth ... now a distant and fading memory.
Enjoy your weekend ... and if you can, go enjoy some barbecue chicken and help raise a little money for two very worthwhile groups working for the people who call this county home!
I'm telling you, it'll be win-win-win.
Stay safe, stay cool and, if you know how, do a little rain dance.