Next month marks one year of writing for the local daily newspaper. It has yet to feel anything less than a joy, an adventure and quite the experience.
I see quite a few people once a month or so, and I’ve observed and chronicled them doing their duties, so to speak. The changes are numerous, except that they are all dedicated to their elected offices. That hasn’t changed a bit.
I’ve watched the lines in one small town mayor’s face grow deeper and deeper, his shoulders a little more hunched and his step just a little slower each month. He volunteers his time to do much of the work needed around his small town without a second thought, and he was rewarded with a drive-by bullet through his front door a few weeks ago.
Another small town mayor’s voice has grown quieter and softer. He’s had to hire help for his aging secretary who had been slowing down quite a bit. Two months ago, he had three stints put into his heart, and showed up to the council meeting two days later. There was a petition to pass around concerning the landmark bridge connecting the two halves of his town.
The mayor of the second largest city in the county is faring a bit better, though his hairline is receding. His town has the resources to support strong and capable people, and he manages them well. But, some of those people have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and have gone through open heart surgery not so long ago. Somehow, it seems that everyone is less excited about the next town celebration event, and no ears heard the latest reports of progress. If the mayor is feeling more weight on his shoulders, he’s bearing it well.
Two years ago, the area’s Representative was young, vibrant, full of life and energetic. When I saw him last, his hair was shot through with gray, his smile was much slower to light his face, and his eyes too tired to lift with the corners of his mouth. Still, his hug was warm and welcoming, though it too was tired.
My editor’s sense of humor and seemingly endless good cheer both have diminished as he continues to work his ass off to get his paper out every day. A whole department was closed, much of the support staff has been laid off, and advertising revenue continues to shrink. The paper comes out every day by the force of his will alone.
Every town is growing, all projected to triple citizenship soon, and all are facing reduced revenues, just like the remaining surviving businesses. So many factories are now idle and silent, empty and boarded up storefront windows line sidewalks, and weeds poke through more parking lots and wall cracks.
Every morning, my drive to work seems a bit easier with less traffic to slow me down. I no longer see Hummers or BMWs, and not many other new cars either. There’s no trouble finding a parking spot at the grocery store, feed store or Wal-Mart. The same cars sit in the dealer’s lot, the for sale signs in front of several houses have faded in the sun and more lawns grow shaggy.
More faces, fewer smiles. The loss is felt all around as good cheer fades away much like this gorgeous flower will fade in no time at all. The beauty is still there, perhaps hanging by a thread, but how much longer will it last? I continue to write the news, but all this is never part of the stories I submit to the paper.
Still, I wonder. How much longer will it last?