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Missing Out on the Party in an Unconventional Time

by on August 25, 2020 5:00 AM

We’re getting into the thick of a presidential election cycle and if the year 2020 was a normal year I would be in Charlotte, North Carolina as you read this. Except I’m not – I’m here in Happy Valley. This is the first time since 1996 that I am not spending five days each in the cities where the Democratic and Republican national conventions take place.

Which was more saddening last month when the Democratic Convention was supposed to have taken over the city of Milwaukee. On a reconnaissance trip there last year I met some great people, enjoyed a tour of what appeared to be a perfect setting for a wonderful convention and the variety of associated events – lakefront vistas! – and sampled some fabulous food. Oh, did I mention they love beer in bowling alleys? 

Decades ago I was a naïve Pennsylvania lad who grew up in communities with strict boundaries on places where alcohol was and was not served. Our local bowling alleys were not those places. So despite images in movies and on television that suggested otherwise, my experience with bowling was a wholesome family activity safe for kids to engage in – even on their own without parental supervision. Just don’t take the food near the lanes.

On my first trip to Wisconsin in the early 1980s I was introduced to bowling as a form of entertainment and alcohol consumption, on a University of Wisconsin college campus no less. I thought to myself, “Well this certainly brings new life to a sport I had by then given up participating in!” Imagine if the old Rec Hall bowling lanes had served pizza and beer – that would have made for an interesting on-campus activity. 

On the opposite side of the political aisle, the Republican Convention was to converge its masses on the city of Charlotte this week and I’m not sad at all that I’m missing it. My experiences there during the Democratic Convention of 2012 left me nonplussed on Charlotte as a decent location to do such an event. Outside of Lake Norman and Carowinds, Charlotte provided little else enticing. Unless you like banks.

Although when the possibility arose that there would be a change of cities to Jacksonville, Florida, I became a bit excited. At over 840 square miles Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental United States – over 75% the size of Centre County. Having lived in Florida for over a decade I’ll accept any opportunity to travel there. Although, in my geographic mindset, Jacksonville really belongs more to Georgia than Florida. Of course, if I was in charge of the maps of Florida, the panhandle west of the Apalachicola River would belong to Alabama, if only to cut down the size a bit. 

When you talk about geographically large states within the continental 48 states, many people think of Texas and California. But Florida holds its own. The drive from El Paso to Beaumont, Texas is 830 miles, and from El Paso to Brownsville an identical 830 miles. The drive from San Diego to Cresent City, California checks in at 848 miles. Guess what? The drive from Pensacola to Key West, Florida is 832 miles, And similarly to Texas, Florida spans two time zones. I think Florida could spare a few miles of beachfront for Alabama. 

Yet regardless of what I think about the oddness of some state boundaries, or where the conventions are or will be, all this takes place within our country. And the bonus of living in the United States of America is the freedom of movement within it that was agreed on by the founders and the individual states over two centuries ago. I can travel from state to state without stopping at every border to have my papers inspected by officials. 

Except in these pandemic times, that’s no longer the case. A few weeks ago a co-worker got off a plane in New York City that originated in Chicago and it was similar to going to another country – you had to complete paperwork to leave the plane because the state of New York has initiated a 14-day quarantine period for visitors from a number of other states. So for the first time in my lifetime the individuality of the states has manifested itself in a way that inconveniences people when traveling. Luckily they have not begun stopping cars at the border – I’ll be driving to Buffalo soon and wouldn’t look forward to that conversation.

That decisions made by governmental officials might inconvenience us is the irony and beauty of our democracy – the people making these decisions were put there by us. We elected them, at the local, state and federal levels. And the conclusion of the quadrennial Democratic and Republican Conventions signals that the presidential campaign season culminating in our ability to elect the highest of our government officials, has now swung into high gear. 

Ten weeks from today is Tuesday, Nov. 3 — Election Day. For those 10 weeks we will be bombarded by political news, ads and all manner of information in every format possible. But due to the pandemic we won’t have many of the normal diversions we could use to take our minds and eyes off that information. Events of all types – sporting, musical, social, educational – are postponed, limited or canceled. The workplace is not and will not be the normal collegial atmosphere. Travel is not an option for many. We’ll be sitting ducks for the masters of hyperbole as it were.

Then on Nov. 3 I will have a column on this website and will probably repeat a few things from my column that ran four years earlier – primarily the reminder that it is very likely that twice as many of the voting eligible population will NOT have voted for the winner of the office of president than did. Which is another way of saying, for every person who voted for the winner, there are two who did not. 

So please consider that ratio as you get through these next 10 weeks. Formulate and express your thoughts and opinions in a way that is intelligent, thoughtful and understanding that regardless of your opinion more people either don’t care or disagree with you than agree. Here’s to a pandemic presidential election season – I can’t wait for 2024!









John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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