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Over Easy: Predicting the Ups, and Inevitable Downs, of 2019

  • Uber's new hot air balloon service in the Upper Valley will be short-lived.(Shawn Braley illustration)



For the Valley News
Friday, December 28, 2018

In years past, I have written “year in advance” columns that revealed with eerie precision what the coming year would bring. Gadzooks! and zounds! readers responded.

Like newspapers in general, I have a slightly older reader demographic.

I observed woolly bear caterpillars, solar flares, hair fashion trends, signs and portents from the heavens and secret messages gleaned from Valley News classifieds to guide my predictions.

This year I updated my system to add digital algorithms, which increasingly make the world go round as we meander together in our wobbly orbit.

As it happens, the algorithms and woolly bears are in perfect alignment, so here are 2019 highlights in advance. You will be amazed (the algorithms foretell it).

January

A report from Canaan about a self-driving snowblower is debunked when it turns out that the human operator was rendered invisible in a storm by a thick coating of snow. “It was a beautiful dream,” the wistful Canaan observer says, who endures winter with a mere snow shovel.

February

Rumors of a new Target store send Upper Valley shoppers into a Facebook frenzy. Like, like, like, like, like! It is the fourth such frenzy in four years. The Upper Valley Welcome Target Committee says parade plans, complete with a marching band, can be implemented with 24 hours’ notice.

March

New volunteer town jobs debut in several Upper Valley communities seeking to update the venerable institution of Town Meeting. No more weighers of coal or fence viewers. Among the new positions are Weigher of Spotty Wireless Coverage, as well as Chronicler of Landline Maladies, reflecting local concerns about both. Those jobs prove hard to fill, but Lister of Craft Beers draws copious volunteers, as does Town Netflix Viewer.

■A pothole on Route 132 between Thetford and Strafford receives national attention when reports surface that it jolts vehicles so severely that it induces minor incidents of time travel. Skeptics think intense collisions are simply resetting automobile clocks, but others are convinced by accounts from drivers. “I left Thetford and arrived in Strafford a half-hour earlier,” claims one baffled Vermonter. Then there’s the case of a chronically late Thetford husband who got home while dinner was still warm​​​​​​ for the first time in 30 years after a close encounter with the pothole. “You may be a skeptic, but I say it’s miraculous,” his long-suffering wife says.

■The DailyUV, a website that solicits payment for favorable items about town governments, raises eyebrows when it declares Lebanon and Windsor the Upper Valley’s top communities in a story praising, among other things, their tax collection software, fire hydrants and taco potential. As it happens, both communities have contracts with a DailyUV subsidiary.

April

Mindfulness continues its expansion into Upper Valley life, with programs now offered on mindful knitting, mindful sleeping, mindful daydreaming and mindful trips to the dump. Mindful personal communication is particularly popular; the difference between not listening to a spouse and mindfully not listening is “subtle, but real,” a teacher says.

■The city of Lebanon offers counseling for residents of roads and streets torn asunder by its sewer project, which subjects the populace to noisy pounding, back-up alarms and dusty detours for days and days and days. Under stress from the noise, a number of city residents have left to “take the waters” in spas or bars. 

May

Amazon’s “Virtual Vermont’’ program is derided by state officials who have been trying to induce people — particularly the young — to move to the graying Green Mountain State. “A lot of people would rather just see it on their screens,” claims an Amazon official, who asks not to be identified because the great and powerful corporate overlord has no need to explain itself. Those who sign up will receive Vermont-based email addresses, realistic Photoshopped selfies of themselves in front of state landmarks, and maple syrup (imported). “I feel like a Vermonter, and I don’t even have to shovel off my car,” says one satisfied customer.

■The Upper Valley Uber Hot Air Balloon Service fails after only a month when commuters are deposited in open fields, craggy hillsides and the Lebanon Landfill, among other disembarkation points. “The views were great, but my boss put me on notice,” says one customer, who asks not to be identified because “my name is somewhat ethnic and no one in the Upper Valley spells it right anyway.”

June

Several sightings of a purported lake monster on Mascoma Lake are taken with a grain of salt by officials in Lebanon and Enfield. “It’s not all that deep,” says an official source who asks not to be identified because he’s not authorized to comment about lake monsters or tax hikes.

■A DailyUV story, paid for by city tax dollars, describes Lebanon’s dump smell, which some call offensive, as “powerful and piquant, redolent of happy remembrances of things past.”

July

Amazon and Apple react to criticism that their digital personal assistants are creating a national monoculture by launching regional versions of Alexa and Siri. Upper Valley residents will speak to Walter (Amazon) and Muriel (Apple). Unfortunately, the global corporations won’t allow regional personality differences, so don’t expect Walter to tell you to look something up yourself, or Muriel to say, “What do I know about tectonic plates? Ask your father.”

August

A Woodstock-themed assisted living facility aimed at aging hippies opens, appropriately enough, in Woodstock. Remember the ’60s? You will tonight at the Country Joe and the Fish sing-along. Tomorrow: tie-dye crafts. And a special treat: oatmeal cookies infused with cannabis and Metamucil!

September

Hanover bears surprise town officials by attempting to register to vote. Secretary of State Bill Gardner immediately launches a probe into their legal domiciles.

September

A Broadway musical that tries to recreate the magic of Hamilton fails after opening night, disappointing Vermonters. Coolidge employs rap lyrics to capture the life and times of the 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. However, that doesn’t seem to work for the famously taciturn “Silent Cal.” The failure augurs poorly for Pierce!, an extravaganza about New Hampshire favorite son Franklin Pierce, who is rated among the worst presidents by historians. Critics are generally unkind to the off-off-Broadway production. A Union Leader review holds a contrarian view: “The boffo song Live Free or Die won’t leave a dry eye in the house,” it says.

■Reflecting national trends, local schools issue a ban on helicopter parents’ latest weapon in the nonstop quest to keep watch over their kids. Miniaturization of technology has led to the development of tiny Nanny Drones, which can track subjects 24/7 and eliminate separation anxiety, since there isn’t any separation anymore. Teachers say the devices are a nuisance, particularly due to miniature speakers. “When parents start commenting through the drone, it’s just unmanageable,” says one local educator, who asks not to be identified because three nanny drones are within hearing distance.

October

Town officials express concern when the first self-driving car to visit Dorchester gets hopelessly lost on the back roads. “It seemed to lose its signal, and then kept driving in circles,” says a town official, who asks not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk about self-driving cars that travel in circles.

November

Viewers are pleased and surprised when an Upper Valley reality show based on ice fishing debuts on the Discovery Channel. Early ratings are good, but local participants are disappointed when producers add one of the Kardashians to the cast after just five weeks, changing the focus from pike and perch to celebrity nonsense. “Everything Hollywood touches turns to chum,” a local ice fisherman complains.

■Running counter to national retail trends, a general store opens on Route 12A amid the big box stores and chain restaurants. The quirky nature of the store is reflected in job ads: “Help wanted: Codgers, for retro retail operation. Must be comfortable in flannel shirts, adept at pithy weather observations and enjoy baked beans and red flannel hash.” However, the owners find such employees are in short supply, or nonexistent, and settle for the usual crew of underpaid retail workers who sigh a lot.

December

Breaking new ground, a bear is granted early acceptance into Dartmouth College, after the school modifies its admissions criteria following criticism that they are too “human-centric.” He’s dubbed Smocky, after our president’s madcap misspelling of “smocking gun.” Admission may be symbolic, because the bear sleeps through the winter and awakens only to eat and drink. Smocky might not graduate, but he could become an awesome frat bro.

Dan Mackie live in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.