As I talk to my journalist friends around the country and beyond, they all seem to lament that nothing is happening where they live. The economy is in the crapper, the horns are drawn in, cities are being allowed to go downhill, and if you are a writer, it's no picnic when there's nothing happening to write about.
In Storm Lake, we are not immune to the hard times, but we have deflected some of the blow, by basically refusing to admit that our fate is out of our control.
In the worst economic year since the farm crash of the 1980s, you would think that nothing would be moving forward.
Today I drove by the hospital and took a look at the latest in ambitious expansions, with new scanning technology, surgical suites and cafeteria further casting our status as a regional hub for health care.
Just down the road, I pass the new United Community Health Center, looking good and almost ready to open to the public.
In between, I stopped to watch the work for a few moments at the multi-million-dollar new elementary school. I imagine the excitement of an all-new community-wide school might even offset the suffering of an end to summer freedom.
Headed back to the office, I can see the huge new grocery store footings being set, while I plan lunch at a brand new restaurant just opened this week on North Lake.
Meanwhile, next week the planning meetings begin for a remake of the city's popular campground, and construction of a series of tourist cabins, and a summer meeting is being scheduled to plan for an upcoming skate park development.
Local development officials are clearing some space on Milwaukee for some future development, and several businesses, including Sears, are looking for opportunities to get in.
Even the state has invested, and is about to dedicate the new $3.1 million marina at Casino Beach.
BVU has chipped in with its beautiful new Social Sciences and Art complex recently completed, and a new "Underground" student center with some unassuming charm.
And this is the DOWN year?
Economy be damned, there is a lot going on, and we should consider ourselves very fortunate.
So far we are weathering the storm, holding our jobs better than the rest of the state, and continuing to grow in some pretty impressive ways.
I would suggest that it isn't luck.
There is a certain sense of optimism here, a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel attitude, and a steadfast belief that when things do get better, Storm Lake will be pretty well poised to take advantage, from tourism to Main Street business.
A lot of people and companies are tightening their belt to make this happen.
We should be grateful for the confidence and faith that all these developments express very clearly for the future of our community.
You don't build new clinics and schools and marinas and grocery stores in dying towns.
At the same time, people in Storm Lake haven't forgotten about those less fortunate than themselves. They have given in massive ways to the local food banks, and the Community Chest fund in a very short time has already raised more than it did for the whole year of 2008.
I know that people are struggling, and cutting back, and I don't mean to sell their anguish short.
All I'm saying is, that while all we seem to hear, read and watch is about economic despair - if you look, you can find reasons for optimism right here in our town.
Next time you're driving across Storm Lake, take a moment like I did to count them - and at the same time, count your blessings.
We are in a better place than most.
You might have heard that travel is actually affordable in these strange economic times, and in fact, a quick check online reveals some very attractive fares.
Until you start booking them, that is. That's when good old Al Capone Airlines takes you to the cleaners.
Oh yes, there is the cheap flight - one of them, at an impossible hour or with such crazy connections that it's of no earthly use to anyone. For the flight you can actually take, same company, same time, same connection, same class of plane; oh no, the story may be quite different.
Jump on Expedia or Travelocity and check a flight from our nearest major airport to any major tourism center. Yep, here's a flight for $220! What, only one seat available at that price, and with a 28 minute layover in Chicago? (can you say not a prayer?) Aha - same airline has basically the same exact flight here and it has plenty of room - for over twice the price. Plus all of the fees, of course. The newest and nastiest of which is the dreaded baggage fee.
Unless you are planning to vacation at a nudist resort, chances are you have a suitcase. Lets take United for example, most other airlines are similar. Your first bag is gonna cost you $20, each way. Your second, $30. If any bag is over 50 pounds (don't try to pack your college roommate) it will set you back $100-125 more. And if it's bigger than 62 inches, another $125 on top of that.
Lets say we have a family of five, each with one suitcase, and mom has two. Dad's duffel is big enough to hold his beloved putter, and little brother packed his hefty Tonka toy truck.
By my calculations, they could pay up to $760 just to check their baggage! Sheesh, it might be cheaper to buy a ticket and strap your bag into a first class seat. Don't forget the handling tips, the extra fee for printed tickets, etc. etc.
Be careful and check the fine print, or just skip it and go for a swim in the lake.