(back to The Village Part One)
"This property ain't vacant"
I divided my time between checking on the progress at the park, and stopping by the school now and then, and watching the power company change out poles and wires, and doing everything else that I was told was now my job while I waited for various lawyers and authorities to finalize the list of stuff I was supposed to do for the rechartering.
One of those other things was doing an informal survey of vacant, abandoned, condemned, and otherwise unoccupied properties in town. All of the village owned properties were listed, but there was several questions and more than a few blanks as for their condition. Somebody had begun a 'property census' years ago, it had been worked on now and then, but it hadn't been touched in the last five years.
So, I decided to go through the list, top to bottom, address by address, and update everything in town that wasn't "owner occupied" or otherwise in current use. Those that were obviously rented or in other use, I so noted with whatever relevant data I could gather. If it wasn't, I put it on the 'vacant' list, and then noted the condition of the property complete with relevant photos. My plan was to update the board with the progress, and eventually present the entire census, as a total picture of the village.
The first one I did was one of the downtown buildings that used to be a retail store of some description that I had noticed when I was working with the power company. But it had been empty for at least twenty years. According to Mrs. O'Neill, a thrift store and consignment shop had been supposed to move in for ages, but it never came to pass.
"Oh, I don't know, there's been several people talk about it," she had said while I was looking for the key in the office cabinet full of keys whose tags were labeled with street addresses, or with hieroglyphs, runes, line drawings, random numbers, or, in a few cases, not marked at all. "Maybe Sam could fill you in."
"I'll ask him."
I decided to take some of the unmarked keys and just go try them as I went.
That had worked on a house on Chestnut street. I found the correct key about halfway through the mess I had, so I put a piece of tape on the existing tag and wrote, '145 Chestnut' on it. Which made sense to me. What was on the tag, "DB" meant nothing to anybody I showed it to.
145 Chestnut had been surrendered to the town for back taxes. It wasn't in bad shape, and all in all, it seemed to be a nice small house. According to the sheet I had on it, it had been on the market for some time, and had been showed to several people, but nobody had made an offer. I thought about trying to buy it myself, mainly because there were no appliances in it.
But I decided against that.
I took some new pictures of the house and the yard, noted that there was no maintenance inside that needed done, locked it up and left.
The town, county, or even the state, had several houses that they had come to own for similar reasons.
One had recently sold, but I drove by anyway to see if the new owners had moved in.
From the looks of 230 First Avenue, not only had the new owners moved in, their cat enjoyed sitting in the front window and ignoring cars that drove by slowly. I updated the note in the file that showed it still vacant.
My next property was a lot on the corner of Elm and the county road that went by the park that was named Lincoln for a block and a half in town.
I walked around the lot and had just stopped to take a picture of the fence along the back when a man came out of the house next door and asked me what I was doing.
"Just inspecting the lot, sir," I answered.
"I'm the city manager, I'm supposed to check up on vacant property inside the city limits once in awhile. Just to make sure everything is OK and nobody's dumped any garbage on it or anything."
"This property ain't vacant. I take care of it."
"Thank you for that, sir. But it is still owned by the city. It is for sale, you could buy it."
"Nah. Don't wanna do that."
"Well, all the same, thank you for taking care of it."
As far as the old store went though, once I got inside with a key labeled with a circle and a check mark on the tag, I was greeted by twenty years of dust, cobwebs, forgotten boxes full of yellowing newspaper, and a smell that had to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Not only didn't the gentleman from the corner lot not take care of this place, nobody had taken care of it for a very long time. There was evidence that the roof leaked, and a couple of windows had been broken and only marginally repaired with cardboard.
I was hoping I would find something interesting in the basement, or maybe in the partially finished second floor. But, no, there was nothing but more dust, some mummified mice, more cobwebs, and first hand proof that the local species of bat thought the place was a fine place to spend their off hours. The basement showed where water had been standing along the back wall.
The fixtures that had been left in the place were decrepit beyond salvage, there was no forgotten treasures that would be a highlight on one of those antiquing TV shows. Evidently anything of value had wandered off a decade ago or become the local home for wayward bugs.
"Nothing." I said to the mess as my flashlight showed more of the same in the next room. "Well, I know what I'm going to recommend to the board," I said as I turned to walk out.
No disembodied voice spoke from the gloom, I didn't come across last minute evidence that the place was of great historical significance, the stairs didn't give way beneath me and leave me writhing on the floor in the basement for two hours. None of that happened.
I walked out, locked it up and wrote two short words next to the address on my checklist.
"A dump. Stinks."
Other properties needed work before they would sell, unless, that is, we sold them 'as is' to the "fix'er-upper" crowd.
There was a set of opposite condition properties that I went to within minutes of each other. The first was a house that was in good shape, but the detached garage had had it, and the other, right on the edge of town, was one where the house had been partially consumed by fire several years ago, but the garage and another outbuilding that turned out to be a former chicken coop, were in good shape.
I laughed at a gaping hole in the floor of the hallway in the vacant side of a duplex, "or we could rent it as a movie set to somebody making a zombie picture." I took a picture of the hole to remind me of that option, then I wrote, 'offer to owner of other side at a song' on my checklist as a way to unload it.
All in all, about half of the twenty or so developed properties now owned by the city were beyond salvage without putting more into the building that it was worth. There were a couple that were marketable as they sat, we only needed to figure out a way to get buyers interested in moving to Middlefork.
The vote to first 'part them out' of anything of value, such as antique woodwork and fixtures, and then to demolish the structures went without a hitch for the seven buildings I recommended that treatment for.
Mayor McBride and most of the others on the board did not want a bunch of absentee landlords letting more places run down while collecting rent, so the option of offering them for sale to 'outsiders' to rent was dismissed.
"We had that problem, and, in a couple of cases, we still do," Mister Kaiser said with a scowl on his face that made his mustache droop even more than usual. "Carter whatshisname up in Chicago."
"He lives in Cicero," one of the others corrected.
"Whatever. It's all Chicago. But what I was saying, he still owns that apartment house on Locust. And two of them are empty, and have been for a coon's age."
"But he takes care of the building," Pastor Smith said.
"But he still lives a hundred miles away."
I moved the discussion on to offering the vacant half of the townhouse and the rest of the lot to the owner of the other side at a substantially reduced price so we wouldn't have to worry about it any more.
"How much of a reduced price?" Mister Kaiser asked. "The village shouldn't just give stuff away."
"A dollar," Pastor Smith said. "The point is to sell the place, not make money. Right now, it is a liability, if Russ took the rest of the building over, even if we forgave the taxes on it for next year. He could fix it up and rent it, or even make it part of his house. Whatever he does will be better than it just sitting like it is rotting away."
Mister Kaiser scowled silently for a moment, then his extreme frown faded back to his usual frown, "You know, that makes sense."
I checked with the Pastor later, he said he almost didn't believe that answer, but he knew better than to ask Mister Kaiser to repeat it.
Then came the downside. Now, I was also the City's representative to a local real estate broker to work out deals for the properties that weren't going to either be torn down or sold to those with a 'vested interest' in it, such as the run down house across the alley from Pastor Smith's church. At the end of the meeting he made a motion that the property be donated to the church for future use, then he recused himself from the vote.
I drafted Chuck to be in charge of the buildings that were to be torn down, which he appreciated to no end. No, he really did appreciate it. It meant he got to drive the tractor they had with a backhoe on it with an hydraulic jaw attachment that reminded me of a robot dinosaur when it chomped its way through the dilapidated garage.
For the other buildings, we went through them with a wrecking crew and pulled everything of value to anybody. Which really wasn't as much fun as it sounded because some of the old fixtures were delicate and if chipped, they became worthless.
We found antique wood trim and brass light fixtures. A couple of fireplace mantles and stair railings that we were told were worth more than the houses they were in. By the second house, our crew became passably expert at scavenging things and before long they were able to remove an entire plate glass bay window intact in its hardwood frame without doing more than scratching the ugly brown paint it had been covered with.
They sectioned off part of the streets garage and we sorted objects by type and material, then we started photographing, measuring and describing things.
Well, we did until Carol the Decorator got word of what we were doing. Then she called me and set up a meeting with her boss who might just be interested in buying the entire lot at a fair price.
"Thank you, ma'am. We've got three more places to do, including the old store. Then we'll schedule a time when you can come take a look."
"Thank you, Ed. Say, how are you doing with your fridge?"
I laughed at the question, but I didn't exactly tell her the truth, "It's fine, I think we've established a working relationship."
As I pushed the button to hang up the phone I thought about that working relationship. The only things in the computerized ice box was stuff that I didn't need on a regular basis in case it locked me out of it again, and things that wouldn't spoil if it decided to defrost itself without warning. If it was a food item that I used regularly, or was perishable, it was in the refrigerator that was almost as old as I am.
I couldn't think of any other way to deal with it besides simply finding a way to not have to deal with it.
One other thing that I had dealt with by finding a way around was the bathroom lights.
The motion sensor contraption had refused to stay on manual. Every other day or so it went back to automatic, and when on automatic it turned the ceiling lights and the light over mirror on full instantly. Which, first thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night if a towel slipped off the rod, was not a good thing. So while I was working with Slim on Unit Eleven and he was changing out the switch in the bathroom down there, I asked him if he thought he could replace the one in my bathroom as well.
"I remember when they did that, yeah, no problem. That pretty gal thought all of that was the best thing in the world. But I wasn't sure. Let's finish this up and go see what we can do for you."
Of course it was more complicated than it should have been because they'd tied everything into the relay in the fancy switch, but Slim figured it out and bypassed it for the mirror, then he put in a separate switch back where the old one used to be under it.
I turned the ceiling light on and off with the new old fashioned switch. "Much better, thank you."
"So, how do these other things work?" Slim asked looking at the cook top on the way back out of the apartment.
"The stove's not bad once you get the hang of it. That thing, is another matter."
He looked at the refrigerator, "It says your eggs are out of date."
"There's no eggs in it."
"Now it's telling us that you haven't bought milk in three weeks."
"You need to rotate the stock in the produce drawer."
"There's two bottles of wine in the produce drawer, and some soda pop in the meat section."
He opened the door and looked inside, instead of a food storage appliance, it most resembled a liquor cabinet. "So I guess everything is OK with it?"
"Everything's fine. If you want, we can move it down to your..."
"No way in hell. Want to take a beer and go back and finish up in Eleven?" He gestured to the case of brews where some food was supposed to be.
The other of the ultra-modern appliances that I'd had trouble with and didn't know how to solve the problem was the fancy alarm clock.
For some reason it thought if it heard a number, or even something that sounded like a number, such as when the TV was on and the guy from Decatur was giving the forecast, that that meant I wanted it to reset the alarm.
It took me a while to figure it out, but once I did I confirmed it by turning on the TV and watching the alarm clock during the sports report. It didn't do it at first, but then something was said on the program that triggered it to go to 'voice prompt programming' and then the next thing it heard that resembled a number, which in this case turned out to be a baseball score, it set the alarm based on it.
Which would explain why the other night it woke me up at two minutes after three.
The way I cured that was to unplug it and put it on a shelf in Unit Two.
When I was in there and wanted some music, I plugged it in and turned it on. When I left, I unplugged it. No more 'voice prompts' doing something I didn't want done.
Believe it or not, two of the fancy things were actually a pleasure to use. The dishwasher was wonderful and the clothes washer-drier combo actually did what it said it was going to do. Of course, I used them on what was their default setting, but they did what they were told without argument.
The microwave was a bit fussier, as was the stove, but even they would do what they were supposed to do without fighting back beyond a certain point.
The coffee station worked the way the designer lady told it to work, and I was smart enough to leave it at that. It made coffee, and that was good enough.
As for the dresser with the automatic drawers, I had managed to put stuff I wouldn't need until winter in the top drawer, and then I proceeded to ignore it. I thought that sometime after the first snow, I'd swap it out.
With the bed, I unplugged it. As a bed, and just a bed, it was rather comfortable.
So, all in all, life with these modern conveniences was about a break even proposition.
"This meeting will come to order."
Mayor McBride still chaired the city board meetings. But most of the meeting after his welcome and statement was centered around me reading various reports and answering questions. Everything from the power company's final replacement of the aging transformers in the business district to the demolition of the various condemned properties in town.
Then there was my report about what we'd taken to calling 'the homestead', the site of a pioneer family's house, and the older cemetery in what was now the city park. We had conflicting reports about which of the early families had built the place, and one working theory that it had been built by somebody else who had leased part of the farm as a sharecropper.
"And I finally did get to meet one of the tenants in Unit Ten."
"That's the one the Johnson family has the long term lease on, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. As far as I know, they haven't been there in months. But they came in one day last week and changed out all the sheets and towels, and then their grandkids spent a week there. Then they left again."
"It's a strange way to do things, but it works for them."
I had to agree that it did.
The eldest members of the extended Johnson family leased Unit Ten by the year. Whenever any of their kids, grandkids, in-laws, friends, whoever, came to visit, they stayed there. According to the record on the room, not long before I started the room had been in use by one of their granddaughters and her two kids for six months while her husband was deployed overseas and she didn't want to stay on base by herself.
After that I updated the board on the remodeling of the units in the old motel, including the hilarious problem we had with the carpet vendor.
"Hello?" I answered my phone.
"Ed? Slim. The carpet guy is here. There's a problem."
"I'll be right there."
The problem was that where we had ordered three apartment's worth of a color of carpet that was so neutral it almost didn't qualify as a color, the truck and installation crew showed up with floor coverings that belonged in a hotel lobby in Las Vegas.
"No m'am, I'm not kidding," I repeated into the phone, "one of the rolls has tropical birds on it, and the other is a really loud plaid."
Not only did the carpet lady not believe me, she didn't believe her own crew leader who claims to have never seen either roll before we peeled the protective wrapper back and looked at them when they were in the back of their delivery van.
"I watched them put the beige one on, but the other two were already in the truck," the foreman said.
His helper stood there and shrugged.
Then my phone rang.
"We found your carpet. It's in Peoria, at the airport."
"Where's it going?" I laughed at the news and then repeated it to the installers.
"Back here. You said they've got one roll of yours there, can they install it and then bring those back to go to the airport tomorrow?"
And that's what we did. The next day the two rolls of absolutely hideous commercial grade long wearing carpet were on their way to make customers in a gift shop and a bar miserable every time they looked down, and our blandness was here.
In the meeting I passed around the color pictures I'd printed out of the airport carpets.
Mayor McBribe agreed with my assessment of the birds, but he liked the plaid, "Reminds me of what we used to have in the temple in Danville. But I think they've taken it up."
"I thought you still go to the meetings," Mr. Falls said.
"It's been awhile."
"Me too," he looked at his own hands, "I'm not even sure where my ring is. It's just not as important as it used to be." Then he brightened considerably, "I do have something to report!"
"Well then, go ahead."
"It's about the manager's car," he said dramatically.
Everybody sat there and looked at him.
Finally Mrs. Robbins prompted him.
"They've given up on it, the insurance company is going to write it off under the warranty as a lemon. They've replaced all of the engine wiring, some of it twice, there's a new ECM, all the sensors, even the battery, and it still won't run for more than about ten minutes. It's still in Champaign, but it's computer is in San Diego."
"But we still have a contract for a vehicle..."
"They're going to give him something else, and give us six months of credit, I should know for sure what and when early next week."
In between everything else I got comfortable with approving days off and making sure there was coverage for employees in the various departments, I found out that our sewage system was something of a co-op between us and the township, and that somehow I had ended up subscribed to a Chicago newspaper on a trial basis as a perk of my employment that the letter said was a 'professional courtesy'.
So every evening when I got home, there was a huge roll of newspapers in front of my door.
"What am I supposed to do with five extra morning newspapers at four in the afternoon?" I asked their circulation office. "I only read one."
"Give them away," came the plain-spoken answer, "your office is down for one plus five, and that's what we send out."
In the city board meeting I asked the mayor and the others if they had a problem with me giving the papers to those that lived in the apartments as sort of a 'perk' of being a resident there.
Of course, there was one member who thought they should pay for the paper even though the city was getting them for free. But his opinion didn't even come up for a vote.
So, every weekday I walked down the line of apartments and offered whoever was there a paper, and put one in the Cornell's mail slot if they weren't home.
It did give me a chance to check the place out and see if everything was all right, so I guess it worked out OK.
My first school education committee meeting had been canceled because they didn't have a quorum, but I went to the district's board meeting away, just as an observer. And I'm glad I did, it gave me insight into the fact that the district's board probably had very little idea what was going on in their own administration building, and that the effort to close our school wasn't coming from the board, but from the superintendent's office.
I also decided to go to the next county board meeting just to see how that side of things ran.
And there was also a conservation district meeting, and a couple of other groups that I thought that maybe I should at least visit once in awhile to get a feel for the area and My City's role in it.
The next time I saw Mayor McBride I bounced the idea off him, and he was all for it. "I hated going to those sorts of things, but, you're right, it's probably in our best interest if you do attend." Then he added something else. "Go as our City Manager, put your time in for it, travel and all. It's an official duty."
"Yes, sir, I'll even take notes and report back what happens."
"You don't have to go that far."
"If they say anything important I could put it in my weekly report, otherwise, I'll just summarize it for the council."
"That's a good idea."
"Do you like your car?" Mrs. Robbins asked me early the next week, meaning the city owned vehicle I was supposed to use for city business.
"Well, that's a long story," I answered as Mr. Falls laughed.
"Your car is now a van."
Tuesday morning I was getting ready to head to the town office when I got a call from Mr. Falls, the car dealer.
"Yes, sir, I'll stop by there on my way in."
"I'm not far from your place, I can pick you up," he answered.
Most of the car dealers I've ever known have driven one of the top models of whatever line they sold. And Mr. Falls was no exception. His car was a high end four door sedan with all the toys.
"Very nice," I said as I got in, then I grinned, "I think this is a perfect car for the city manager."
"It would be, but this isn't it. Unless you want to buy it." Then he laughed all the way to the dealership.
Mr. Falls' car lot was larger than one would expect for a car dealer in a small town. But as we pulled in and parked he explained that they had all but closed several years ago when the various manufacturers scaled back during the recession.
"For almost a year I was a new vehicle dealer in name only, there wasn't a new car on the lot. But we got into things with a couple of import groups, and then Detroit found us again when the economy turned around, so we're doing better now than we were before. More brands, more cars, more trucks, a bigger used inventory, service, all of it, right here." He paused and looked at me, "I'm sorry, sometimes I sound like a commercial."
"You did good."
"Let's go see your new ride."
It wasn't a car. It wasn't new. But it was 'a ride'.
"Your new car is now a van," Mr. Falls said.
"How did they do that? I thought the city had leased a car."
"Technically, the city had leased a service vehicle with maintenance. And the three-year lease period on this started, well, will start, when you sign for it. They've forgiven the time before now when we had a car that was a piece of junk, and extended the terms by eight months for free so the three years is effectively almost four."
"'Service vehicle'. That's exactly what it looks like." I looked in the side door at some shelves and cabinets. There was a rack on the roof, and some sort of hanger thing on the back door. "It looks like it belonged to a plumber."
"Another dealership was using it. If you're dead set against it I'll call them and tell them to find you a car. This was 'on approval'."
"No, don't call them," I said looking at its lack of a back seat, but there was plenty of room for almost anything else. The sticker on the side said it had full time four-wheel drive, fed by fuel injected V-6, with an impressive list of options including a second battery to run accessories. "I think for what I'm doing, this may work out better." I patted the rack on top, "At least when I go to the county meeting I won't lose it in the parking lot."
"Did you really go to that?"
"Yes, sir, and I'm on their mailing list for news and updates."
Mr. Falls just shook his head and looked at the van.
I took the van out for a test drive with Mr. Falls in the passenger seat, and we talked about how I was doing as the village manager, and the coming transition to being a city.
"As far as I've been told by Mr. Donniton, we're on track for the rechartering," Mr. Falls said naming the village's attorney.
"That's my understanding as well," I answered, "we've already satisfied most of the requirements and are just waiting for the state and a few contractual matters to be settled." I felt Mr. Falls looking at me, so I glanced at him and said, "Yes, sir?"
"When Delcie Robbins and Sam said you were really getting into all of this I thought they were just being nice. You really are doing the job."
"I'm trying, sir. I still don't understand the school district."
"Neither do a lot of people."
I accepted the van and signed the agreement that included the information that the dealership would see to the maintenance. Which meant that about every other month or so I'd drop it off for a day and they could do whatever needed done.
In the paper trail for the van I found out that it had originally been consigned to the fleet for a housing development, but then never delivered. So it had been used by another dealership, then it had sat for awhile, and now, it was ours. Or rather, it was mine for the full 36 months of the lease, plus the 'extra allocation time', with the city having the option to purchase the vehicle at cost at the end of the period.
The first time I did was take it by my apartment and put a spare pair of shoes on one of the shelves. Then I thought about it and gathered up a change of clothes and put them in one of the cabinets. Followed by several bottles of water and a few other things.
I went to Unit Two and gathered up some of the duplicate tools that were in there, then I put them in an old tool box with a broken latch, and stuck it on a shelf as well. With the addition of an old folding chair, a wooden crate, and some other 'junk', including an extension cord that refused to stay coiled, it started to look serviceable.
Finally, I thought that the van was enough of a service vessel for now, so I got in it and went to work.
I'd managed to work out my office schedule so that I was only tied to the 'motel office' two days a week, and the village office one or two mornings. Other that I was out and about, and some of those times included runs into the County Seat in Danville where I had to take care of various matters in the county's various offices. And, of course, while I was there I ran various other errands as needed. And the overuse of the word 'various' there is exactly what is needed to describe the endless array of 'stuff' that fell to me to do.
And it never failed, after spending the biggest part of a day in the larger city I was always glad to get home to our village. Middlefork may soon be a city by name, but there were several things that did not automatically come with the title. One of the biggest to me was traffic, and traffic lights.
You didn't have to be in Middlefork long before you forgot the joy of sitting at a red light because we didn't have one.
Yes, there was a flashing red light over the main intersection in town. But it was a four way stop. Not a 'red, yellow, green' traffic control device. And that was it. Driving through the county seat, I lost track of red lights, and left turn signals, and all the rest of it. They were endless, and always out of sequence.
It was actually a relief to get back to my town and stop at the blinking light and then go again, I'd even wave at whoever was stopped across from me to let them go first, if there was another car there that is, usually there wasn't.
I tried to make a point to drive the van only for city related activities. But I didn't hide the fact that if I was out for city related business and someplace I needed to stop was directly on the way to or from, I did. And I always made the note on the log for the van.
Of course, Mr. Kaiser wanted to know why I didn't come home and then drive twenty miles back to where I'd just been. That is, he did until Mayor McBride asked him what he'd do.
"Well," Mr. Kaiser said, then he glanced around the table and shook his head, "I'd stop in the van. But I wouldn't tell anybody about it."
Most of the board laughed.
As did Mrs. Robbins, then she said, "And, with that, Mr. Davies, I believe that any reasonable detour you need to take while on an official outing is approved."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Then Mrs. Robbins asked Mayor McBride when he was going to be on the radio again.
"Next week," he answered, "and I was going to take Ed with me."
"On the radio?" I echoed. "You mentioned that before, but you've never explained it."
His smile was more for TV than radio, but in a minute he did explain it. And took the scenic route to do it.
"So, we just go down there and they record the interview for about fifteen to twenty minutes, and then play it back a couple of times." I summarized.
"Yes, sir. Do you think we've got fifteen minutes of material?"
"There's one way to find out for sure."
"Welcome to Our Town In Focus."
I was grateful that Mayor McBride came over to the office in the apartment to see if we could get a beer out of the new fridge and look through what we had for the radio show.
"I usually never even wrote out any notes, I'd just go down there and let Don ask me questions and see how it went."
"How'd that go?" I asked him.
"Sometimes better than others. If I couldn't remember a date, like for our village wide rummage sale, I'd call him back later with it."
"You don't mind if I take some notes with us do you?"
"No, actually, that's a pretty good idea. When I forgot the dates of the sale the ladies in the office ended up getting a ton of calls for the next week."
"When is the sale?"
"Sometime in the fall. Everybody else has theirs in the spring, so we do ours opposite."
Since it was City Related business we took the van and stopped for breakfast at a place the Mayor liked. Then we arrived at the station with time to spare.
Mayor McBride introduced me to 'A.M. Don' who Sam said had one of the greatest radio voices he had ever heard in person.
OK. I'll be fair. Don did have a good clear baritone voice that probably did sound good on the radio. But my only experience with listening to his station was on the drive down there that morning, and, while we were listening to it, they were broadcasting news and weather and a network sports report, so as far as I know, unless he'd done one of the commercials that had aired in between those segments, I hadn't heard him on the radio.
Don took us on a quick tour of the station, and gave us each cup of coffee in a station mug and said we could keep them.
"I've already got a collection of them, you can have mine back," Sam said.
Don shook his head, "Then I'd have to wash it. Doing dishes is not in my contract."
After seeing the map of the station's coverage, and the note that the signal's footprint covered well over two hundred thousand people I thought I'd be nervous and self conscious sitting at the table talking into a microphone. But I wasn't. I guess it was the knowledge that it wasn't live on the air that put me at ease. Or it could be Sam's easy and familiar relationship with both Don and the equipment we were using. It couldn't have been the fact that I'd spent most of the previous night memorizing every detail and fact that could possibly come up in the interview so I didn't forget that the date of the town wide yard sale was October ninth, or anything else important.
When we began I glanced up at the clock. Don had done the recording level sound check at almost exactly ten minutes after the hour.
The next time I looked up at the clock, it was over twenty five minutes later and he was just wrapping up and thanking us for an excellent interview.
I remember telling him about the plans to turn the old homestead and cemetery into an educational exhibit. And then he'd asked us about how the rechartering was going to become a city. Then he asked me something about the legal difference between a village and a city. And he did laugh when I mentioned the bit about the power company and the map of a town that they still haven't identified that they thought was us. And he'd asked about complaints about the windmills west of town....
But I couldn't have talked for over twenty minutes.
"That's no problem Ed. In fact. I think it's great!" Don answered when I remarked on the time. "We'll put a couple of commercial breaks in it and run it for a full half hour as a special. It'll be great! You'll love it!"
Sam shook his hand and nodded, "That's the advantage of dealing with a local station. They're a bit more flexible than the others."
So Thursday night I sat in the office at the apartment with Mayor McBride and his wife, the Cornells, and few others and we had a 'listening party' for the special.
"Welcome to an Our Town In Focus Special. For the next half hour we'll be chatting with Mayor McBride of Middlefork, and the new City Manager Ed Davies about the village's rechartering as a city, the discovery of an archaeological site within the city park, and other new developments. We'll be right back after these messages."
We never heard the messages. Everybody spent the next two minutes talking at once and toasting us.
Every time A.M. Don asked a question, I remembered him asking it, and I remember answering it. But if you'd asked me before the broadcast what we'd talked about, I couldn't have begun to tell you.
Overall, I was happy with how I sounded, and the things we'd gone over.
"So, you're good to fly solo next month?" The mayor asked me when the show was over.
"I'll get back to you on that."
The Handshake From Hell
Professionally, I'm sure the 'new' real estate outfit was competent. I'm sure of that, at least I hope they are.
On a personal level, they were perhaps the most unpleasant people I've ever tried to talk to. And that includes the mean drunk that used to live across the hall from us in the apartment, and a militant vegan feminist I used to work with.
The 'broker' the Village had used from time to time in the past no longer existed. The office had merged with another office, which was bought by a holding company, which had then been acquired by... or something like that. So, somehow, the message I had left for one Mister Knowles was finally returned by a paralegal named Vicki from Memphis.
Miss Vicki called me and seemed pleasant enough, as long as she thought I was looking to buy a house.
"No, ma'am, this is official business, I am the city manager of Middlefork, in Illinois. The city owns...."
"Thank you, sir, I'll transfer you to that office."
And then I was listening to canned music.
Ten minutes later I was explaining it all again to somebody who said they were in Bloomington, until I said it involved the city, then they transferred me to Chicago who then transferred my call to Springfield for 'downstate'. And every transfer took longer than the last one. Sometimes the music played, and sometimes I just got to listen to dead air.
"Hello?" Somebody said after the third transfer in Springfield.
I tried to sound like A.M. Don, "Yes, ma'am, does your office handle real estate transactions for municipalities to sell city owned property to private citizens in the State of Illinois?"
"I'm not sure, are you a railroad?"
I decided that that had been enough for me to clock out and have a beer. Then I clocked back in and called the Mayor.
"No, I'm not kidding. I've got the number, One, Eight Hundred, Three, Seven..."
"Don't bother, I believe you."
"I think we can walk through the process with the city attorney, or maybe they know somebody that can do it."
"I agree, do you have his number?"
And so I drove into Danville to meet with somebody on Mister Donniton's staff whom I was told knew everything there was to know about real estate.
OK, I'll say this: I'm not a connoisseur of the handshake. Yes, in the 'interpersonal relations' class in college I had sat through the section where the professor went on and on about what your handshake says about you. And there was a time when I used the grip exerciser until my knuckles got red so I could give the impression that I was more athletic than I really was.
I've shaken hands with people whose hands were ice cold, slightly damp, and otherwise lifeless. There have also been a few who appeared to be running a high fever. At least two that I remember who seemed to actively try to break bones in my hand. Another whose hand turned out to be artificial. And a few who took your hand in both of theirs, which wasn't covered in the class.
But they all gave me my hand back.
Mister Brian Miller Esquire took my hand in greeting, and then proceeded to conduct the opening interview there in the hallway, while still holding my hand. Every time I tried to release his grip, he shook my hand again, and asked me another question about the spreadsheet of properties I'd sent to him.
So I stood there, face to face with him, for I don't know how long, and talked about the houses and properties the city was looking to sell.
Finally, somebody else came down the hallway and we had to move slightly. I seized the initiative and took my hand back and introduced myself to the other gentleman with all the enthusiasm I could muster in spite of the fact that I could not move the fingers of my right hand.
"Oh, yes, I heard they'd hired somebody out there. Congratulations. I'm Ronald Lampier," he nodded toward Mr. Miller, "One of his partners. Good to meet you. Now I've got to run out to a hearing."
I stood there trying to work circulation back into my hand while the two lawyers briefly discussed an upcoming meeting, then Mr. Miller indicated we could go sit in his office and look over the file. It was when I sat in the chair at his conference table I noticed that even my wrist was numb. I couldn't have signed anything right then even if he told me he'd buy the entire list for cash and give me a bonus for a finder's fee.
It wasn't until I stopped for something to eat on my way out of town that my hand finally started to feel normal again.
When Mayor McBride asked me how it went, I had to force myself to think about what the man had said instead of the handshake.
"He thinks he can help us. There are several groups that he knows of that work to resettle special needs families out of urban environments."
"Special needs? What sort of special needs?" The Mayor asked slowly.
"Everything. Parents of kids that need physical accommodation, people who have made a street gang angry with them. Everything." When he didn't answer, I continued, "we do have some say in who buys, leases, or rents, the properties."
"Of course we do."
It wasn't even a week later that Mr. Miller was calling about a couple named Moore with triplets who had scored as 'gifted' on some test or other. The parents were unhappy with the state of the schools in the city they were living in, and they wanted a smaller school where their children could get a better education and he could still commute to work.
"Commute to where?"
"Chicago. He's an architect. Most of his work is on line, he only needs to drive into the city a couple of times a month."
"Why don't they put the kids in a private school."
"They've got two other children, have you ever seen how much that tuition would be?" Mr. Miller paused, "we've worked with his firm before, we're using him as a test case to see how this goes."
"Oh, well. OK. Let's test it. Which house are they looking at?"
"230 Pilot. The farmhouse on the dead end street."
"I remember that place. Five kids? It's perfect."
"That's what Staci thought."
"Oh, sorry, Mrs. Moore is my cousin."
"No conflict of interest here."
"Test case. They want to come down tomorrow and look at the house. I'll try to get out there as well."
"Yes sir. Call me when they're on their way, I'll meet them there."
As soon as I got off the phone I found the key and drove out to Pilot Lane. The house dominated the end of the street as the road turned into the driveway and bent toward the large old house.
I went in and aired the place out, and made sure the power was still on, and that there wasn't anything unwanted anywhere. The downstairs furniture that came with the place consisted of several mismatched chairs, a spindly looking end table in a corner, and a metal shelving rack that would have been more at home in a hardware store instead of the back porch of the house. There weren't any appliances that had to be gotten ready, or gotten rid of, so once I felt enough fresh air had moved through, I moved the chairs and table into the living room, then I locked the place up and went outside and walked around the grounds.
From the back yard you could see that the property had originally included a good bit of that side of the town, but now all that was left was a large lot that was maybe an acre or so around the house, and some across the lane off the corner of the driveway where some sort of machine shed used to stand. One side of the property bordered on a house owned by one of Mr. Falls salesmen, behind the house and on the other side from the salesman beyond an overgrown hedge and a battered picket fence was a cornfield
"A bit of fencing, it'd be a great place to be a kid."
By the next morning I'd almost forgotten about the house. The other details of the city's business had tried to drive it from my mind, namely, one of Chuck's trucks had blown its head gasket without warning and getting the engine rebuilt was going to cost more than the truck was actually worth. They wanted to take the utility box and man lift off of it and put it on another truck, but then that would leave us short a snowplow.
"This is Staci Moore, we're on our way, we should be there in about an hour by the GPS. My parents are dropping the kids off at school."
It took me a full minute to realize what was going on and say something meaningful beyond, "that sounds good."
I agreed to meet them there with some of the best lemonade in the state.
When I pulled up with a bag of ice in an old cooler, gallons of the store's in house made lemonade and tea, and a stack of cheap cups a car pulled in right behind me, and then another stopped in the street.
I got out of shaking hands with Mr. Miller by immediately grabbing the ice chest out of the side door and asking if he could bring the drinks.
A woman got out of the car that parked in the street and said hello to Mr. Miller.
"Hello! Mister Davies, this is Jan White, she's our real estate specialist and appraiser."
"Nice to meet you, sorry I've got my hands full," I said honestly.
"Understandable, is that everything?"
"There's a bag of munchy stuff on the passenger seat."
She smiled broadly, "Munchy stuff is always good."
Miss White walked through the house. She talked into her telephone, looked around, took some photos, and asked me questions that I had to go dig through my laptop or the printout I had for answers. Then she stopped and nodded, "It is being sold as is, correct?"
"Yes," me and Mister Miller answered simultaneously. She looked at her telephone where she'd been making notes. "In that case, I think the Moore's will be getting an excellent deal. It appears that the electrical system and plumbing do meet code, of course, I will have to do a more thorough inspection to make certain of that, but if they do, given the age of the structure, I think it is worth the listing price." She looked around, "And it's big enough you can live in half while you remodel the other half."
"I thought I heard a car," I answered.
Mr. and Mrs. Moore were a bit highway lagged from their trip, so we postponed the tour for a few minutes while I poured them cold drinks and we chatted about driving long distances on Interstate Highways.
"OK," Mr. Moore said, "does this chair come with the house?"
"Yes, sir. The place is 'as is', and that is part of 'as is'."
"We'll take it, I like the chair."
Mrs. Moore understood his sense of humor, "he means I'll look around, then we'll decide."
They did look around, they did like the place, but instead of moving in immediately, they were going to let their kids finish the current semester in their school up there, then they'd move in. In the mean time, they would put a handful of local contractors to work on the place.
When I got back to the city office Mrs. O'Neill greeted me with "Oh, Ed," which meant she needed to tell me something.
"They just delivered this for you," she said and handed me a large mailing envelope. "Sam got one too, I called him to stop and pick it up."
I knew she was dying of curiosity so I opened it. Since we had both got one, I suspected it was the paperwork we had to do for the rechartering, and it was.
The cover letter was fairly straightforward. But after that it was pure highbrow legalese. Fortunately, somebody lower in the food chain than the names in the letterhead had had pity on us poor commoners because separate from the bound document that was the official rechartering bundle there was several pages stapled together. They were written in clear English. Across the top it said: Checklist for Recharter.
"That's what I need," I said looking down the items. Most of them had already been handled. Several others I knew were in progress. The others I thought I could get done in time.
"That's good. Isn't it?" Mrs. O'Neill said.
I put the keys to the farmhouse back in the cabinet and told her about the couple that were going to buy the place, then I went home to read through the papers to make sure I was at least familiar with it, even though I wasn't sure I'd understand a lot of it.
Too many beers.
I was walking out to the van when Mayor McBride pulled up.
"Is that it?" He asked me.
"Yes, sir. Looks like the whole package. Yours is in there."
"Good," he said starting to get out of his car. "I've got an idea."
"Those are dangerous Mister Mayor."
"Don't I know it. Anyway, how about we get something to eat and then sit in your office and walk through it."
"Sounds like an excellent idea. What have you got in mind?"
"I'll buy, you want anything with it?"
"Whatever looks good."
"You're on. I'll meet you there."
Since the mayor was coming to dinner, I had to make sure the place was presentable. Which mainly consisted of throwing some wandering laundry on top of the washer-thing, and running the garbage overflow out to the dumpster. All in all, the place wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
While I was walking back to the motel office my phone rang.
"Yessir." I said to it when I saw it was Mayor McBride.
"Donniton got a package too. He said he was sending somebody from his office out to explain it. I said they can meet us there, I hope that's OK with you."
"As long as I don't have to shake hands with Mister Miller again, sure."
"Understood. I'll get extra chicken."
I checked my inventory of drinks. Well. After I told the refrigerator that I knew all about how the yogurt I'd never bought was out of date and that I still hadn't put anything in the egg keeper.
"Plenty," I said to the well stocked shelves. One advantage of doing my bulk shopping in one or the other of the large stores in the city once a week was that I had no problem buying the 'economy sized' package of anything that wasn't super perishable. Which included large bag-in-box wine containers, huge cases of beer, and so on. Fresh fruit, eggs, milk, that stuff I bought in town at the smaller store, and paid more for, under the banner of helping to keep a local business going. But, of course, I didn't tell the computerized fridge I'd bought eggs and not put them in its keeper.
Mayor McBride showed up with enough food for an army. Or an all night meeting.
"I didn't know if you had any beer. I'll need one or two to get through this stuff."
"More's always welcome, you want to put it in the fridge?"
"That thing? Hell no. It'd never let me get them back out."
I took the two bottle carriers from him. "There's a trick to it."
"You lie to it."
He was still making fun of my appliances when there was a tentative tapping on the office's front door.
"Hello?" A female voice called.
"Yes, Ma'am," I said and left him in the kitchen.
"I'm looking for the Mayor and City Manager."
"You found them. Ed Davies, City Manager, at your service."
"Hi, I'm Katherine Howard. I'm Mister Donniton's paralegal for municipal matters," she said with one hand out. Her other hand was holding a well worn leather satchel.
"Welcome aboard," I said and tried not to fall all over myself. I'll say it right here and right now, Miss Howard was the prettiest woman I'd seen in person in a long time. "Come on in, I'll introduce you to the mayor."
"Katie?" Mister McBride said from the kitchen."
"Yes, Sam, it's me."
"So you already know him."
"I'm afraid so. But it's been awhile."
"Oh, yes. She used to work at the store that was up on 136."
Ms. Howard shook her head, then nodded, "Yes, I did, when I was in high school."
"The store changed hands, then closed for good. A storm blew the building down a couple of years ago."
"It wouldn't have taken much of a storm even when I worked there," Ms. Howard laughed.
"Supper's in there, hungry?" I said to the following silence.
"Yes. Thank you. He said you'd feed me."
I had no idea which 'he' she meant, her boss or the Mayor, but it didn't matter, the lady was hungry and we had food. I indicated the doorway and she went into the kitchen.
The mayor stopped me before I followed, then he whispered in my ear. "I don't remember her being so pretty," he said.
"Oh, she is? I hadn't noticed."
"You're a bad liar," he chuckled, "I guess I don't have to worry about you running for my job."
"No, sir, you don't."
Ms. Howard was both very pretty, and an expert on the municipal charter paperwork we had been sent.
An hour later, in the middle of the section about renegotiating the ratings on the municipal bonds that had been previously issued as a village, Mayor McBride waved her to a stop and said he needed a break, "And maybe one of those beers I brought."
"I'll have one too. It's going to be long night," Ms Howard said.
The Mayor took his bottle and gestured to the framed diagram of the old motel on the wall, "I know, we'll walk down and see the new paint and carpet in the vacant units."
"Sure, I got the keys right here."
The tour didn't take very long, but they both commented that we'd done a really good job painting.
In about fifteen minutes we were back around my conference table looking at paragraph seven of the bond rating.
And we continued.
Later the Mayor looked up during her walk through the different Federal sections that applied to Cities instead of Villages, "I've got to work tomorrow, you guys carry on, if there's anything I need to know or do..."
"We'll get it to you," I said.
We both walked the Mayor to the door, then Ms. Howard asked where the bathroom was. She got a good laugh out of the light and sink. Then I showed her the rest of the modern conveniences, which included trying to sell her the refrigerator.
"No. Just, No. I get enough error messages trying to synch my laptop with my phone."
Overall, she was more impressed with the overall progress we'd made toward the recharter than she was the appliances in the apartment, overall.
I had a list of things the Mayor had to do, another list for the board, for the police chief, and so on. The list of stuff for me to do was longer than all the others combined, but I'd already started most of it.
Then, after a bathroom break before we tackled the US Census Bureau But then we noticed that it was almost midnight, and that she'd had far too many of the beers to drive back to Danville tonight.
"We've got extra rooms. You're welcome to one of them," I said to her.
"Thank you, that's really sweet."
She slept it off in Unit Four with clean sheets and towels from the 'extras' cabinet.
About seven thirty the next morning the office phone rang.
"Good morning, Mister Davies."
"Good morning, Ms. Howard."
"I'm sorry we didn't get through the entire package last night. We could finish it today."
"I'd like that, do you have any plans for breakfast? There's a great place right here in town."
We were on a first name basis before our orders arrived.
Then she told me the ring she wore on her left hand was hers. "I found out early on that wearing it cuts down on unwanted attention, so I went shopping."
"So I'm not 'unwanted attention'?"
"No. I'm pretty good at judging people."
"Something you learned in law school?"
"No, they don't teach you things that are that useful. Just from last night I learned a lot about you."
I stopped cutting my French toast up into identically sized squares, "oh?"
"That you like certain things a certain way, but you're not obsessed with it. Which means you're probably not a 'mama's boy'."
"Very good. To be fair, I learned things about you too."
"Besides that I tend to forget to say no to a second beer?"
"Or a fourth."
She blushed, "But you didn't take advantage of me. So you're a gentleman."
"I don't like jail food."
"You didn't even offer me a mixed drink and you have a full liquor cabinet."
"We were working, if we finish up tonight I'll make up for it."
She smiled, "You're too honest for your own good."
"You'd rather I lied to you like a Congressman?"
"And you have a sweet tooth," she looked at my plate.
I looked at the careful lines of syrup that criss-crossed every piece of my breakfast, "It's real maple syrup."
"Oh, in that case, may I?" She reached for the bottle and doused her sausages with it.
I checked in at the office, then we went back to the motel and continued the evaluation of the recharter.
Mayor McBride was happy with the outcome. Overall, the Village's paperwork was mostly correct, largely done, and we were ahead of schedule.
I didn't tell him that I had a date this coming weekend to go to a concert at the University with Ms. Howard.
While I'm sure he would have been happy at the news, I didn't think the Village's Fully Operational and Functioning Gossip Mill needed any more fodder.
The Mundane and the Ridiculous
The house on Pilot was now being actively remodeled for the Moores. But other than the occasional call about one of the others, nothing happened that way for sometimes over a week.
Of the other buildings, the rest were stripped of usable parts, others were just torn down the way they sat.
The property in the park was partially excavated, a team called in by the county society from one of the universities verified that there were burials in both of the pioneer cemeteries. But some of the graves were poorly defined, and others appeared to overlap so they weren't sure how many were there.
I went to training for various things, including the emergency command vehicle, first aid, heart rescue, and whatever else was on the list the fire department had.
The board suggested I do an inventory of all the vehicles and what they defined as 'major power tools' like I had done with the property.
So, for the better part of three days I spent a lot of time looking at chainsaws and lawn mowers.
I did turn up the somewhat hilarious fact that there were enough burned up weed cutters of various types, not to mention dead chain saws, "push mowers" that would no longer do both of those things at the same time, a ventilating fan that worked real well as a meeting place for lonely mice but would never ventilate anything ever again, an air compressor that hadn't compressed air in however long it takes a leather drive belt to rot almost completely away, and other fine examples of scrap for very nearly every adult citizen of the village to have their very own dead 'major power tool'.
Then I wanted to find out why the soon to be City of Middlefork owned that collection.
"We can't throw anything away," Chuck said. "Some of it we manage to use for parts. But, most of it is worthless."
"Why keep it? This thing won't even work as a door stop," I said gesturing with a gas powered weed whacker than had been run over by something large ages ago. The cutter head, carburetor, and spark plug had been removed, but the rest of it was still there, rusting away in one large flat piece.
"Ask your board."
I froze, "Mister Kaiser," I said as light dawned.
I nodded, he'd mentioned something like that when I told the board that we'd had to replace the large capacity printer in the village office. He kept saying that we could have gotten it repaired, and that they'd used it for years, and that there was no reason for us to buy the latest and greatest.
I told them that the toner cartridge hadn't been manufactured new in about five years and there was only one source for 'reconditioned' cartridges, and that the thing had been running so hot there were times when the office air conditioner would kick on while it was running on cool days.
"I'll see what I can do," I said softly.
"Look at the regulation he got voted in about, oh, I don't know, seven, eight years ago. We have to submit any capital equipment for three bids for repair, and then get three more bids to buy a replacement, and it has to be an identical or as similar an item as possible, not an upgrade unless pre-approved, and it just goes on and on."
I remembered skipping over that section in the manual I'd looked at.
Then I had a brainstorm, "Got a few minutes?" I looked around the storage building, "Maybe more than a few."
"Sure, what's up?"
"I'll bring the van."
It was a lot of work, but I thought it'd make the point. Everything that had a metal tag stuck to it that said "Prop Vil Midfork" on it we put in the van. Then I drove over to the board room, we got every spare table we could find, and loaded them full of, everything.
Then I bought Chuck a big cup of lemonade.
The regulation in question was passed almost ten years ago. And since then, they hadn't thrown anything away that was considered 'capital equipment' other than titled vehicles which were an exception.
There was a clause in the rule about 'with board approval' that allowed us to dispose of stuff.
I was going to get board approval to load all that junk in the dump truck and take to a recycling center.
The next board meeting, I was there early, and I was ready for them.
Mister McBride looked through the stuff we'd hauled in, and some other stuff I'd found since then, like the antique printer, three ceiling fans from the apartment building, and two full sized window AC units. "I remember some of this stuff," he patted a rusty two man chainsaw that looked truly dangerous.
"What in the hell is all that crap?" Mister Kaiser said from the door at full curmudgeon volume.
"Capital equipment on the village property list that we need board approval to dispose of," I answered.
"You've got it, get rid of it."
"Per the regulation, each item must be voted on by the board." Mayor McBride said seriously. "I believe you're familiar with the rule."
"I've got a copy of it right here," I said helpfully.
Mister Kaiser's response was a half muttered off color word that I need not repeat here.
Needless to say, a motion was made to suspend the rule and that if me and Chuck or the mayor agreed that we could recycle anything we thought needed to be disposed of. It passed unanimously on the first vote.
The next morning, we gathered up enough to fill both the dump truck and my van and we drove it all to a recycling depot in Danville, then we went out to lunch on the Village's tab.
Then we discussed what to do with a now empty storage building.
A week or so later I attended a funeral for a former village board member with several of the others.
I also attended more meetings than I can easily name. County board, school, environmental district, emergency management... all kinds of meetings. There was at least two or three every week. And sometimes on weekends.
And I went here and there with Ms. Howard, who, as it turned out, liked to 'go'. Just go. It really didn't matter what it was we were going to, everything from local festivals to several different types of concerts ranging from some folk singer on a stool in a coffee shop with a dozen people there, counting us, to a major touring act in the stadium with about fifty thousand of our closest friends.
At a church craft fair she learned how to finger braid, I sat with some other men, drank coffee, and watched them.
We got volunteered to show how easy it was to learn how to clog at another festival, I'm not sure how my attempt would rate, but Ms. Howard was apparently a natural and earned a nice round of applause.
I'm not kidding about attending all sorts of different sorts of things. I saw a flier for grade school community day in one of the small towns not far from the radio station, so that Saturday morning, we went. And she appeared to have a good time. As for me, anyplace that makes pan fried dough things with chopped up hot dogs and onions in it, with cheese sauce drizzled over it, scored highly in my book.
And, of course, we attended more than our share of things like the county and state fairs, homecomings, and local sporting events.
She admitted several times that she had been going to things like these by herself, but it was a lot more fun to go with somebody else.
I had to agree with her. In fact, I was glad to go just about anywhere with her, and, occasionally, to stay home with her as well.
Her penchant for attending events led to us sitting embarrassed and uncomfortable for over an hour in Bloomington one Friday evening. She'd signed up on line for tickets to meet a film producer. Except, the gentleman in question was Italian. He made what amounted to high art porn in which the actors and actresses in question sat around smoking and talking, or in one case, singing, in Italian, or French, about God knows what, with no subtitles, and then there would be a very tastefully filmed sex scene, also in Italian. After which there would be more talking, then later, more sex. After the film the producer answered questions, in Italian.
We both whispered that the villas and castles they were filming in were spectacular, as were the various mountains and seashores. And, as we were led to believe, everybody in Italy drives either a two seat supercar, or a wagon pulled by a mule.
At the break we sampled the Italian snack fare and some almost brutally sweet wine, then we slipped out the side entrance before the second film.
And we laughed all the way back to her apartment in Danville.
It had been an interesting evening, but I had to beg off a nightcap, and anything else, as I had an early meeting the next morning with.... somebody or other. There was a note at 0800 on my phone, but nothing else.
But I promised I'd make it up to her with a gourmet meal afterward.
"You mean you're going to use that oven?"
"I've used the oven before."
"And you've had to spend the rest of the day airing out your apartment."
"I've learned how to program it since then."
"So it has a setting besides Self Clean when you put food in it."
"Yeah. It has 'leave it frozen for an hour then start dinging'."
I spent the entire drive back to the apartment full of appliances that hated me trying to remember who the meeting was with.
So I walked into the office side of the apartment and checked the computer's schedule, then I checked the calendar on the wall. I looked for a note stuck to either of the refrigerators. Then I walked back into the office and went through my emails.
The phone was ringing.
"You figure it out yet?" She asked me.
"Your meeting is with me. We were going to go to the village wide rummage sale in Rossville."
Have you ever felt really stupid and couldn't say anything at all?
"I'm sorry," I finally managed to get out.
"You can make it up to me tonight. I'm out front, I've been watching you."
"And laughing at me."
"And laughing at you. And you still owe me a mixed drink."
"I can take care of that right now."
"Not unless you unlock the door."
The rest of the evening was worth the moment of total and utterly complete deep humiliation.
She thought the 'advanced relaxation settings' on the bed were a nice touch.
Progress Has Been Made
It took a concentrated effort, and a few well places hints and suggestions to various board members that could have been taken as a threat, but we finished all the various parts of the paperwork, including what had to be done to do and undo and redo the bonds and grants, and a long term agreement with a rail road for a section of property that was still technically a right of way, and so on. But, it was done, signed, notarized, sealed, and delivered by courier to everybody that wanted a notarized copy of it delivered by courier ranging from somebody in the township office just down the road in Collison, to several in Washington, DC.
"OK, do they get an original or a copy?" I asked as we spent a morning stuffing envelopes.
"They get a certified copy," Ms Howard answered reading off the checklist.
I walked over to the table where that particular animal had been sequestered, "got it, in, sealed. Address sticker. In the chicken mail bag. Next?" It really was a 'chicken mail bag' as it was the bag the Mayor had brought the fried chicken in, now re-purposed appropriately.
"US Department of Interior, water resource... thing, they'll take a copy and a cover letter. In the mail."
A big stack went by US Mail, some went by email, I sat in the motel office and waited for the guy in a truck to come by to pick up the ones going that way.
And now we waited.
Officially, the recharter process was a given. If we had met the criteria set by the State, it was done. But, there was always the chance that some Bureau of Interdepartmental Confusion and Nonsense may object because we hadn't filled out form 712-B, and it would get kicked out.
I had it on very good authority from one Ms. Howard that that wouldn't happen. But we made a side bet on it anyway. And, between you and me, I was hoping to lose the bet and the recharter go through without so much as an 'oh, by the way' from the state.
Which meant I would cook her a very good meal, and supply a very nice bottle of wine, and make her another one of my special gin ear-ringers (secret recipe), and, well, plug the bed in again.
If she won, and we had to re-submit whatever needed re-submitted to whoever was unhappy before it was approved, we'd go over to a fancy steakhouse just over the Indiana line that she liked. And she'd buy me dinner.
Miss Howard could cook. She just didn't like to.
Mr. Steward bought the "not vacant" lot at the corner of Elm and Lincoln. He had two ideas for it, well, actually his wife and her sister had an idea for half of it, after he mentioned it.
He just wanted to build a pole shed to put his boat and an old motorcycle that he'd spent the last ten years restoring and which wasn't quite done yet, in.
The ladies wanted a 'craft room' in the front of the shed. Which meant the shed turned into a more substantial building, then it morphed into a 'shop' with storage, and at some point they moved his boat and bike out, and installed a room full of sewing machines and a weaving frame.
"Is that a kiln?" I asked him as we looked at the plans when he applied to have the lot rezoned from residential to light retail business with on street parking.
"So where are you going to put your boat?"
There was a special hearing about the pioneer site at the county level, they voted to 'kick the matter upstairs' for state recognition of the site as a historically significant location.
Which meant I had to go to Chicago for a meeting that should have been held in Springfield, but wasn't.
And, as the Village's officially retained paralegal pending the charter review, Miss Howard went with me to make sure the thing was done in the best interest of the citizens of Middlefork, and Vermilion County, and the State of Illinois, of course.
I'm sorry. As the City's officially retained paralegal...
The morning before we left for Chicago we got the message that the paperwork had cleared all hurdles and we should be getting the official document shortly.
Middlefork was now a city.
"I'll take a rain check on the dinner, we should leave right after lunch. Traffic in the Loop can be insane in the afternoons."
I kissed her cheek, "Then we'll leave now and have lunch on the road. And you're driving in, Miss I-Know-Right-Where-It-Is'."
"OK. But it's less than a two hour drive."
"Can't check in until two. I checked."
She gave me a strange look but she was grinning, "Somebody's making plans for the evening."
"Yeah. And? Something wrong with that?"
Our confirmed hotel was supposed to be within walking distance of the Thompson state building.
Our reserved room was supposed to have a nice view with a king bed and a kitchenette.
We were supposed to be able to park our car in the same time zone as the hotel room that we had already paid for.
After half an hour of excuses and bickering, we walked out, and she found another hotel on her phone somewhere north east of the government center, got a decent deal, that had two queen sized beds, and a view of the boat yard. We did just fine without the kitchenette. And we saved the city quite a bit of money on the room rate to boot!
The next day, in the historic meeting, I sat there and said "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir" once in awhile. Miss Howard did most of the talking.
At the county historic committee meeting, I understood what they were talking about and how the official designation would both restrict what could be done to the site, but would benefit the town in other ways. I asked and answered reasonable questions, we had an interesting discussion, and when they made their decision and made a couple of other recommendations, I knew why they did, and although I disagreed with part of it, I understood why they did it that way.
At the state meeting: I'm not even sure what language the official business was conducted in.
However, my charming escort was fluent in their language, and the meeting went smoothly.
I didn't know what the chair-person's closing statement meant, but I thanked them for their time and we exited as the next group from a historic conservation district in western Illinois along the Mississippi about something that had turned up in Oquawka
We were in the elevator on our way back down to the real world when I asked Ms. Howard how she thought it went.
"I think they'll vote to fully recognize the site as significant."
"That's what we want them to do, right?"
"That calls for a celebration then."
She kissed my cheek, "That's not enough of a celebration for you?"
"It's a start," I answered and kissed her back, full on the lips mind you.
Our choice was to get to sleep early, then get up in the wee small hours and try to sneak out of the city before rush hour, or wait until later, take our time, have a good breakfast, then go.
We compromised by spending some quality time together, then packing everything except what we'd need to get on the road, catching a couple of hours of sleep, then boogieing south, with Miss Howard and her local knowledge behind the wheel.
The city was gorgeous at night... in the rear view mirror once we were outbound on the interstate.
We had a good breakfast, at the diner in Middlefork.
"Your car is still here," she said as I drove up to the old motel.
We unpacked my travel case and the other stuff that was staying here and left her two suitcases in her car.
She borrowed the bathroom while I went to check the mail and other official duties, and call the City Office and let them know we were back.
I was on the phone when I heard the bed come on and start massaging and Miss Howard said something about the next time we take it with us.
I finished up on the phone and the computer and walked into the bedroom.
Miss Howard was sound asleep while the bed vibrated and sounded like a waterfall.
I just smiled at her and went back to the office.
"I've been saving them"
The next morning at the City office Mrs. O'Neill came in all excited to show me something.
"I know I probably shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist. I ordered these months ago, and have been saving them. I've been using them since we got the news."
She kept talking and mentioned everything from name tags to coffee cups, but what she took out of her desk drawer was standard typing paper letterhead and envelopes with 'City of Middlefork' on them. "I know they're going to change the seal, but this is what I had."
I looked at the symbol in the center of the page, "We talked about it, but I don't think anybody has submitted a design, so this will do until they come up with a new one."
That made her happy.
The only thing that had been updated was Mrs. O'Neill's letterhead. Everything else still said Village on it. All the mail, insurance policies, utilities, and an endless collection of county offices.
Some of it was a simple change of the name on the account, accomplished with her letterhead, with other stuff, we had to get a certified copy of official paperwork.
Other things, like the junk mail about cruises, wastebasket filler from political parties, catalogs selling office furniture, we didn't bother with.
That evening I spent an hour or so on line chatting with Miss Howard listening to her complaining that her landlord hadn't fixed the elevator in their building and she'd had to lug all the crap she'd taken to Chicago up two flights of stairs.
And there it was on the screen.
Ed: When is your lease up?
Katie: Next month or the one after.
Ed: Then move in here with me. Get out of there.
Katie: Do you mean that????
Ed: Sure, why wouldn't I?
I'd asked her to move in with me and she didn't immediately say no. In fact, after a bit more discussion she asked me why I'd let her take her suitcases home instead of leaving them here if I had been thinking about it then.
Instead of admitting that it'd just come to me right then and there, I blamed the size of the washer/dryer unit in the bathroom.
The following week she served her notice to the landlord's local office. Instead of begging her to stay, they said that the next tenant would pay about fifty dollars a month more in rent.
"And she said she thought the elevator had been fixed."
"They're in violation of the handicapped law."
"No, they got a waiver because of the age of the building. It is supposed to work, but they won't pay a penalty for it. I checked."
But there were others that had serious problems with Miss Howard moving in.
Evidently somewhere in the old blue laws there was a clause against 'cohabitation'. Nobody had been able to find the actual statute, but there were several references to it in other documents.
One of the board members seemed to take great glee in describing how improper it was for me to have a woman living with me who actually liked me.
It was no problem, me and Miss Howard discussed it, and she moved into unit four. She even qualified for discounted rent as a part time village, I mean, part time City employee. And, she got a Chicago newspaper delivered every afternoon by a most friendly paperboy.
"And no elevator," I added.
"No elevator, separate stacked washer and drier instead of a single unit," she smiled, "and no angry refrigerator that takes your picture while you're putting the groceries in it."
"I can have it moved down there if you want it. Besides, I liked that picture of you."
Her glare answered in no uncertain terms.
Miss Howard's next assignment as resident paralegal was to find the old village code and see if any of it was still in force, or enforceable, and what we could do about it. Especially the so called 'blue laws'.
All in all, Daily Life in the City of Middlefork was about the same as life in the village had been for ages.
There was our Fall, or Harvest, or Halloween, parade. The name of the thing depended on who you asked. With a festival of sorts at the park afterward.
We had the ongoing nonsense with the school district. Except now they wanted to send more kids to our school instead of closing it down, and not send any more staff to the school to help out.
The historic people in Chicago sent us a big pile of paperwork. Most of which we'd already submitted but which they had evidently lost.
The bond people sent an old guy in an expensive suit and a rented car out to inspect the City's buildings and I spent a day showing him around.
Mr. Jacobs spent most of his time tapping on a data pad and saying "uh huh".
I'd sat in the office the day before getting together all sorts of information I thought they'd require. I knew how old the roof on the police station side of the complex was. When the fire alarm in the office had been installed. How the double door on the shop had been repaired when a piece of equipment had rolled into it and broke the hinges. It reminded me of when I crammed for a history exam in college.
He didn't ask any of that. Which was pretty much what had happened in history class as well.
Instead, he was more interested in how much it would cost him per month to live in one of the vacant motel units.
"I'm tired of cities. All my life I've lived in places like St. Louis, Dallas, and now Philadelphia. I'm going to retire for good next year, and I've been looking at small towns like this. When the time comes, I'm moving out."
"If we have a vacancy, you're welcome to it."
"Thank you, Mister Davies."
"The fridge got an email."
While my primary duties as City Manager had become somewhat routine, the job itself never did. And neither did life with Ms Howard.
"I'm not ready to get married," she said over dinner one evening.
I'm still not sure, but I don't think I'd mentioned it, so I just sat there and looked at her.
"No, you didn't ask me, but you've been thinking about it."
"Well, yes. But so have you."
"I know, and I've decided I'm not ready for that, not quite yet."
"OK." I honestly had no idea what else to say.
"And I don't want to date other people, or go explore anything else like that. I'm happy the way things are with you." She paused for a second, "That's if you are."
"I love our relationship."
"Good. Let's keep things the way they are."
"Who's said anything else?"
I held up my hands, "Say no more. I think she's also the local Matchmaker. Or at least she fills in as needed."
"Matchmakers have 'vacation and holiday relief officers'?"
"Of course. You didn't know that?"
"It never came up before."
One afternoon when it was Ms. Howard's turn to cook for us she came walking into the office part of the apartment laughing.
I raised an eyebrow at her, "I didn't think Chuck's sick day was that funny," I said as I closed the screen where I'd just approved his dentist visit one day next week.
"It's not that. You're devil-fridge came up with a new one."
"Now that I want to see."
We went to the kitchen and stood in front of the fancy appliance.
"'Important Message Received'" I read as the letters scrolled across the screen. "'Press To Review'. Shall we?"
"Hang on," she said. Then she opened the door and took out a bottle of wine. "In case it locks us out again. Now I'm ready."
I pressed the indicated button and we waited as the screen changed.
"It's from the manufacturer," I said as the new message came up.
"I told you it was going to report you to the egg police."
Then I started laughing, and after Ms. Howard read it, she did too.
"It's been recalled for performance issues," we kept saying and laughing harder and harder.
Supper was slightly delayed.
The next morning I called the interior designer and asked her what we should do about the thing.
"I've got several messages about them," Ms. Enwater said. "Do you mind if I use yours as a test case to see what they're going to do about it? It might just be a software update."
"Be my guest. If they're going to send a truck out to haul it away, let me know."
"I don't think it's going to be that bad, but you never know."
"I can always hope."
What they did was to send a link to a download page where I was supposed to go to get a firmware update, then plug my laptop into the fridge and upload the patch to the appliance using a special 'force' code.
"I promise, I'll do it as soon as I get home."
"I need you to do this for me Ed, I've got those installed in several locations, if it doesn't work, I'm going to have to have a tech go out and do it." Ms. Enwater sounded desperate.
"How many of these things have you sold?"
"Almost a hundred, but there's only thirty-six showing the error."
"That's still a lot. OK. I'll get the patch and let you know."
"Thank you so much."
I borrowed one of the city's older laptops in case the fridge fried it, and downloaded the update. Then I rooted around to find the right USB cable and looked at the code and instructions on my note.
"OK, here we go," I said to the refrigerator.
It took some button pushing to find the right menu screen, and then some more button pushing but I finally found the code entry place.
It took the code the second time I tried to enter it. Then I told the laptop to send the file to the fridge.
"Upload successful." I read off both screens. "That was too easy."
According to the instructions, I was supposed to 'close' the menu screen and then push a button would appear that said 'apply'.
I closed the menu screen on the fridge and in a minute the apply button showed up. I pushed it and waited.
"Well. OK." I said to the now blank screen and took the laptop back into the office.
Ten minutes later I checked the fridge.
"'Please enter email address for shopping list.'"
I stood and stared at the screen, and then read it to myself again.
"That's the first message it ever showed me. We're starting all over," I said to it.
It didn't answer.
I called Ms. Enwater with the news. "Evidently all it did was restore the factory defaults. We're back to square one."
"An Auspicious Occasion"
"You can't talk me out of it. I'm a committee member, not an Alderman."
"But the board won't be the same without you."
"Oh, I'll still come to meetings."
"Good. It wouldn't be the same without you being here."
And with that exchange, Mr. Kaiser removed himself from contention to be an alderman for the new City Council.
The districts and one at-large position were created, and a special election called.
The only question was who was going to run for the at-large seat. Just before the deadline, two petitions arrived in City Hall.
Mr. Steward had decided he needed to do something besides listen to his wife and her sister make plans and had collected enough signatures to run.
The other candidate was somebody I didn't know, but as the office ladies began to verify the signatures it turned out that most of the people that had signed didn't live in the village. I mean, in the city.
With no contested seats, the election was merely a formality. A month later, the almost non-event took place with very light turnout and no spoiled ballots.
"Of course I'm going to vote," Ms Howard said as she signed in, "I want a voice in what happens here."
I put a mark next to her name on the voter registry. "Yes, ma'am."
As for the City Seal, we all decided to simply change one word on it and keep the original design. For the most part, nobody noticed.
A week later there was a special meeting of the village board as it voted itself out of existence, then Mayor McBride called to order the first meeting of the City Council for their swearing in.
Mr. Kaiser got out of his chair and picked up his name plate. Then he handed his pen to Mr. Steward and shook his hand, "I know you'll do a good job Del, probably better than I did."
"I've got big shoes to fill. Thank you."
Mayor McBride nodded and then asked them to stand and raise their hand.
The next weekend there was an official ceremony in front of city hall with various dignitaries and a few celebrities. A couple of TV crews found their way to town, and A.M. Don acted as the Master of Ceremonies, and, the City of Middlefork came into being.
They'd even had Ms. Howard talk me into making a speech.
A.M. Don was great on the podium, he's the one that said "Auspicious Occasion", three times, by actual count. He had said he always enjoyed a live crowd after being stuck in a tiny radio studio six days a week, so he was going to make the most of it. He talked about the history of the village from its first mention as a settlement in the eighteen forties. Then just as you could see the audience's attention wandering, he told a joke about a traveling salesman, then jumped ahead a hundred and fifty years to the rechartering as a city with, "If you want to know the rest of the history, the Village Museum hasn't been renamed yet."
Then he introduced Mayor McBride and the City Counsel.
I was the last act of the show. It fell to me to talk about the future.
Ms Howard said I did fine.
There was a small street fair. A carnival with some kids rides and a bouncy house. Quite a bit of food. And, oddly enough, a display of a couple of brand new cars from a local dealership. One of which may have never before, since 1845, been Middlefork, Illinois, and, as such, it was drawing quite a crowd on its own in spite of a sign saying it was on loan from someplace else.
"Tell me something Mr. Falls."
"Yes, Ms Howard."
"Could I even get that thing out of first gear without breaking the speed limit in town?"
We looked at the low profile twelve cylinder European sportscar with a bull on its nameplate.
"Of course you could," he answered, "I'll be happy to order you one."
"Maybe next year."
As we walked away I asked her if the numbers on the card in the window of the car was the price of the car or the phone number of the dealership. She laughed.
A week after the party, we were all back to business as usual.
Ms Howard decided that she liked having her own apartment, one without a refrigerator that beeped and flashed messages about spoiled dairy products when there were no dairy products in it.
I ended up supervising an upgrade to the city's sanitary facilities, something that tested my patience, and the washing machine in my apartment, to the limit.
But all in all, The City Of Middlefork was a lot like the Village I had moved into.
Except now, I found myself madly in love with the local paralegal and was looking forward
"beep.... beep.... beeeeeep...."
"Now what?" I asked the keyboard as I got up from trying to finish telling you about my falling with one of the newest residents when I was interrupted by That term deleted Thing again.
I walked into the kitchen and looked at it.
Ms Howard came out of the bathroom, "What's it want now?"
"Defrost cycle overdue," I read off the screen.
"Is there anything in it that will hurt?"
I opened both doors, "Booze, some frozen fruit. That's about it." I handed her the bag of fruit and took out a beer. "Should we let it do it?"
I closed the doors and started pushing buttons to make whatever demon was on duty tonight happy.
It took longer than it should to clear the error and get it doing what it said it wanted to do.
"Aww, that's sweet. You said you love me."
I walked into the office and saw her reading the screen, then she glanced at me, "It's the last thing you wrote."
"I can change it. Maybe talk about the fridge."
She got up and walked to me and, well, I didn't get back to finishing my story until later.
And that's OK.
[NOTE: As far as is known, there is no village, or city, of Middlefork, Illinois. All characters are FICTIONAL. Overall this Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]
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