Summer of the Cicada

Unless you’ve spent your summer living in a cicada burrow, you have probably heard about —and maybe even experienced—the emergence of the “Brood X” (brood 10) cicadas in portions of the Eastern United States.

Unless you’ve spent your summer living in a cicada burrow, you have probably heard about —and maybe even experienced—the emergence of the “Brood X” (brood 10) cicadas in portions of the Eastern United States.

Brood X is the most infamous of all the cicada broods. Emerging from the ground every 17 years, its members—several billion of them, divided into three different species —use their three week lifespan to do nothing more than mature, mate and die.

If you aren’t familiar with cicadas (which are technically locusts), they are essentially insectoid versions of the zombies from 1960’s movies like “Night of the Living Dead.” They look pretty menacing, thanks to their freaky red eyes, but the reality is that they are slow and relatively stupid (even for insects). Clumsy flyers, cicadas bumble their way through the air with all the grace and dignity of a rock with wings.

I suppose the zombie comparison is maybe just a little unfair. Zombies stumble around in search of fresh brains, whereas the cicada lifestyle is more akin to stumbling about in search of free love (all as part of the quest to make more cicadas). In fact, the only real menace posed by cicadas is realized during the occasional collision with one while walking down the street or standing on the golf course. That, and of course, the shrill, incredibly loud noise made by male cicadas as they try to woo their female counterparts (imagine several thousand construction workers sitting in a tree shouting “Hey pretty mama, bring those sweet lips over here!” all at the same time, and you start to get the picture).

Living in Cincinnati—one of the areas most heavily populated by Brood X—I started hearing cicada “horror stories” about two years ago. “You can’t dine or drink outside or they’ll swarm you,” people told me. Running the lawn mower was out of the question, as females would mistake it for the mating chirp of a would-be lover and come after you. “You had to sweep them from the sidewalks using a snow shovel,” one person told me of the 1987 invasion. And of course, everybody had a story about having an expensive carpet ruined as the result of a dog, cat or backward cousin that tried making a meal of cicadas and ended up getting sick.

Each new day, the fever pitch behind “Y2-ciKada” intensified. The sense of impending doom got so bad that at one point, I considered boarding up the house and moving to Sri Lanka (well, ok… it was Vegas). But suddenly, about three weeks prior to the emergence of the first cicadas, the tone of the “cicada talk” began to change. Local bars tossed up mosquito netting and started throwing cicada parties. A handful of people built humorous and creative web sites devoted to the cicada. Garden stores and local colleges sponsored cicada seminars for the sake of educating people about our ruby-eyed friends. The turnaround was perhaps illustrated most dramatically by the “cicada envy” that prompted some people in non-cicada areas to transplant cicadas to their neighborhoods in hopes of joining in on the fun. In short, fear and dread became celebration and excitement.

Brood X has since come and gone, not to return to Cincinnati for another 17 years. Much of the exagerated dread surrounding their emergence proved to be just that. In fact, now that its over, I don’t mind telling you that the whole experience was kind of fun. Frankly, I wish they could have stuck around a little longer.

The attitudes towards this year’s cicada invasion remind me of some of the attitudes I’ve observed when it comes to the challenges our industry has faced in recent times. There will always be those – when confronted with a new challenge – whose first instinct is to flail their arms in the air while shrieking “The horror! The horror!” Fortunately, there are also be those whose immediate reaction is to look for a hidden opportunity within the challenge.

Throughout the course of this year, PF has profiled a number of these positive thinkers. Even though the economy is still sputtering, a lot of them are currently experiencing some of their best years ever. What may have you scratching your head is that these folks will tell you that their current success is because of – and not in spite of – the challenges their businesses face on a day-to-day basis. They may differ in how they responded to their specific obstacles, but the one thing they have in common is a positive outlook – one that causes them to see each new challenge as an opportunity to be seized.

I would sum it all up by telling you that they turned cicadas into cicada-ade, but that paints a rather unpleasant picture.