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Ridin’ along on a (downtown Greensboro) carousel

by Ogi Overman

Funny. Bernie Mann and I have the same idea; he’s hailed as a visionary, I get accused of having an acid flashback. I guess it really is the messenger and not the message, eh? Or as the Stones would say, “the singer, not the song.”

A couple of weeks ago the News & Record reported that Mann is proposing building a carousel – or as we kids called our coveted landmark in Burlington, hobby horses – somewhere in downtown Greensboro.

Now, I wholeheartedly support this idea and am more than willing to fall in behind Mann and the Rotary Club in helping make this idea a reality. I do, after all, know when to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way, and this is an instance where I’ll gladly follow their lead. But just to set the record straight, it was yours truly who first proposed the idea of a downtown carousel in the fall of 2000.

Few not among the Sizzling Seventeen would recall (although two folks, whom I’ll get to momentarily, did), but I had jumped on the downtown redevelopment bandwagon even before Action Greensboro came into existence and brought along the foundation money to make it happen. I did a three-part series for now-defunct ESP magazine in which the subject of a carousel was broached. It was only one piece of a huge, far-ranging puzzle and was met with a collective yawn broken only by the occasional guffaw, snicker and rolling of the eyeball. Essentially, my plan was to turn downtown into a tourist mecca by capitalizing on millennium mania, complemented by Greensboro’s place in history and some unique, unheard-of attractions for both the locals and tourists. The centerpiece would be turning Elm Street into Century Boulevard, a decade-by-decade stroll or trolley ride from Lee Street to Fisher’s Grille that would re-create each successive decade in period dress, music and custom. At various points along Greene, Davie, Church, etc., I suggested a frozen pond, an I-Max theatre, the world’s largest soda bottle, a Ferris wheel and… a carousel.

Minus explication, I realize that all this sounds a bit bizarre. And I can understand how the blogger from the John Locke Foundation in a December 2006 post (after I’d reiterated my concept in YES! Weekly) said he couldn’t tell if I was serious or having an acid flashback. But, hey, he did mention that this was the second time he’d read my ramblings on the subject, which counts for something, I suppose.

Also, I do recall an ally asking permission to reprint the series and present it to a group of civic leaders studying downtown issues, but nothing ever came of it. And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between me and Bernie Mann: He has the wherewithal, the clout, the business acumen, the deep pockets and the connections to make it happen. I, on the other hand, have a stunning neckwear collection, some neat sports memorabilia, an accordion, and that’s about it. He turned Our State magazine into a gorgeous monthly keepsake that is not only a financial juggernaut but the envy of all similar publications nationwide. I ran The Greater Greensboro Observer straight into the crapper.

So, that’s why Mr. Mann is a mover and shaker and I’m a slug harmonica player. But we do have one thing in common: He is not afraid to call himself an overgrown kid and neither am I. Matter of fact, I’d venture that most of the out-of-the-box ideas that are initially met with ridicule and derision yet ultimately gain wide acceptance come from overgrown kids. There is something about viewing the world with that wide-eyed wonderment of a 12-year-old that allows folks like us to crawl out of that box of space and time, that impels us to dream the dreams of a child, that confers on us a sense of unbridled and untainted imagination. And, coupled with experience that can only be gained from being alive for thousands upon thousands of sunrises and sunsets, gives us skin thick enough to withstand the slings and arrows. It lets us roll the dice, lets us know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

Somewhere between those sunrises and sunsets we start understanding that constructive change often springs from ideas that, at first blush, seem peculiar and run contrary to convention. Lest we forget, the world was once flat, women could not vote, the sun revolved around the earth, slavery was acceptable and the world was created in six days.

Sure, a carousel and creation don’t exactly belong in the same train of thought, but the point is that sometimes we have to look to the past to forge our future. And sometimes you have to go round and round in circles to get there.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on MY 48.

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