Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Monday, November 9, 1998
Like any off-year Election Day, the week before didn’t bring out the voters a presidential election year would, and thus was the case in Bradford. There were only 540 votes actually cast in Bradford out of nearly 1500 registered voters, the Courier reported, and in many cases the voters just pulled the straight party lever. That didn’t get down to the nonpartisan race for a seat on city council. A little to Emily’s surprise, she got 149 votes, second to Leonard Pitkin, the candidate running for re-election to one of the two vacant seats. She was comfortably ahead of the 115 cast for Alton Tennant, the deceased council member who was still on the ballot – either that many voters didn’t realize he was dead, or cast votes for him out of respect or habit. Emily figured there were at least 147 people in Bradford besides her and her husband who liked her enough to vote for her, or at least disliked Bill Driscoll enough to try to keep him off of council. But Emily being elected by a clear majority – Driscoll was a distant fourth, with thirty-five votes – meant he didn’t have an argument that the election should be invalidated because a dead man won it.
Council normally met on Tuesdays, but the city charter said the annual organizational meeting had to be held on the first Monday after the election, so there they were. Driscoll, a rather arrogant and irritating retired auto company executive, was sitting in the back of the room, obviously fuming at the stupidity of the voters who couldn’t recognize the obvious superiority of his qualifications over a woman convenience store manager who hadn’t had a minute of college.
Still, that made it extra special for her, to know that many people thought she would do a better job on council. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know Driscoll, because she did. She had found him to be an interesting man to talk to if he wasn’t grinding an axe about something, which he all too often was. In spite of everything, she doubted he was going to be driving out to the truck stop to get gas in the future – after all, it was usually about a nickel a gallon cheaper in town. He also had a reputation as a cheapskate, which is why he’d run for council – to try and do something about the wanton and excessive waste of his precious tax dollars.
There were several friendly faces elsewhere in the room, notably her parents, Kevin, Vicky, and Jason. Most of the time Jason’s interest in city council was just about zip. It had been years since he’d attended a council meeting, when, along with a crowd of others, he’d protested a proposed zoning change that would have put limits on part-time home businesses, a proposal which, to everyone’s relief, the council voted down 6-1. At that, Vicky had been there more recently – the first time as a high school senior when she and Emily had attended because it was one of the requirements of the senior government class. In recent years, Emily had been there several times, when issues involving downtown businesses were on the agenda.
When you got right down to it, getting on council wasn’t a big deal in the major scheme of things, although it meant something to her. The next time the class had a reunion, she wouldn’t have to restrict her accomplishments to knitting and riding around on the back of Kevin’s Harley; so standing by the re-elected Pitkin and swearing her oath of office was a big milestone for her.
There really wasn’t much business at the meeting – in fact, when she’d talked to both Marci, the city clerk, and Lloyd Weber, the editor of the Courier, they’d both reported that council had been relatively quiet for a while. There was nothing on the near horizon that would make it much different. They did have to elect a mayor; several of the other council members had dropped by the Spee-D-Mart or called her on the phone in recent days to tell her Mike Daugherty had done a good job at it for years, and had no objection to continuing. Since the mayor had no real authority other than holding the gavel at the meetings, she had no objection, either.
The one real question at the meeting was whether to take bids on a new street sweeper or try to repair the old one. A new street sweeper had been budgeted the previous spring, but there were a couple of councilmen, Warner included, who protested the city could save some money if they fixed up the old one. Emily had more or less made up her mind to keep her mouth shut until she’d learned the territory, but she couldn’t let that one pass. “All I’ve ever seen the old one do is blow more dirt around downtown than it picks up,” she commented. “I have to sweep off the store driveway every time it goes past. Even if the money were spent to fix it I doubt it would work any better than it ever has.”
Since there wasn’t much else to talk about at the meeting the discussion dragged on for a while, and when it came down to a vote, it was 3-3 when Marci called Emily’s name, the last to vote. She voted in favor of the new machine, of course.
There were a couple of other minor items which the council had to rubberstamp; then they hit the end of the agenda, and Warner moved to adjourn. After the meeting broke up, several people stood around talking, and Weber came over to talk to her. “That was an auspicious start to your Council career,” he grinned. “There’s nothing like your first vote on council being to break a tie on a hundred thousand-dollar piece of machinery. That’ll tell you they do some serious stuff sometimes.”
“Oh, I realize that,” she grinned. “But I also think trying to fix the old one again is money down a rat hole.”
“I think you’ll do well on council,” Weber grinned. “So long as you don’t let the naysayers bully you, and you know who I mean.”
“I know,” she grinned. “I realized that before I took out the write-in petition.”
“One word of advice, and it’s advice I’ve given to a lot of people,” Weber continued. “I’ve been hanging around these meetings longer than everyone on council combined, so I think I ought to have the right to make an observation or two. Many people come on council with big ideas of things they want to do and don’t realize there really isn’t much the council can accomplish even if they can agree on something in the first place. You’re restricted by budget, by decisions made in the past, and by other limits. Sometimes your only choice is between bad and worse, and you have to make the best of it. Tonight is a good example. Yes, the old street sweeper does a lousy job. But if the new one doesn’t do any better you’re going to be stuck with it for the next twenty years unless we get lucky and a tornado hits it, and there won’t be much you can do but gripe about it.”
“I would think if it was a real lemon, it might be possible to do something sooner while there was some trade-in value.”
“True, but it will involve more money, and worse, it involves admitting a mistake, which most people don’t like to do, especially when there’s that much tax money involved. Now, if you want to go out and research street sweepers, that’s fine. The Department of Public Works superintendent and the city manager will make recommendations, and you can follow them or not. You have to about figure the DPW superintendent knows what he’s talking about. The city manager may or may not, and that’ll be something you have to evaluate as part of your decisions.”
“All I want to do is what’s best for Bradford,” she said, almost defensively.
“Believe it or not, that’s pretty much what anyone I’ve ever seen on council has wanted,” Weber smiled. “Over the years I’ve seen some misguided opinions and decisions, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case of someone being deliberately crooked. The tricky part is people’s perceptions of what’s right differ, and that’s not to say there aren’t some genuine idiots out there,” – he nodded in Driscoll’s direction – “But even they think they’re trying to do the right thing. It’s not all easy and it’s mostly thankless, but like I said, I think you’ll do well on council.”
“Sir, I appreciate your advice,” Emily nodded. “I hope you won’t mind if I ask you about something from time to time.”
“Feel free to ask, although my advice may be worth exactly what you pay for it,” he smiled.
After most people had wandered out the door, Emily, Kevin, Jason, and Vicky did too, but headed over to Hank’s Tavern for a quick one before heading home. Her twenty-first birthday party had been a long time before, but Vicky didn’t go in there often and couldn’t help but look around for Dayna and Sandy, even though she knew they were safely in Louisiana at their last scheduled renaissance faire of the year. Fortunately, it was just a routine quiet evening, with two couples sitting back in the corner playing Spitzer and a couple guys sitting at the bar, preferring to stare in their beer rather than head home.
“I’ll tell you what,” Emily said after they settled down at a table near the bar and ordered three Miller Lites and a Diet 7-Up for Vicky. “I think I’m just as glad that Lloyd didn’t give me that lecture before I filed the write-in petition. I guess I was always of the opinion that council doesn’t do much of anything, but this is serious. I mean, jeez, we got set to spend a hundred thousand dollars on my decision tonight.”
“Hey,” Jason smiled, “That was a drop in the bucket. I remember from the Courier that there’ll be a million-dollar street repair project for Maple Grove coming up in the spring.”
“Fine lot of help you are,” she snorted. “Still, I’d rather be the one making the decision than Driscoll. Sorry, Kevin, but it looks like I’m going to be working at this more than I thought I’d have to.”
“If it’s what you want,” he smiled. “I’d just say I’m glad you’re unsure enough about what you’re doing that you want to study it and make sure you’re right.”
“I’m proud of you for facing up to it,” Jason said, “And I think you’ll do just fine.” He turned to Kevin. “Getting a little late to get started now,” he said. “But you think maybe you’d like to mess around with the forge some tomorrow night?”
“Unless Emily has an objection,” he replied. “I mean, I know I’ve got a lot to learn, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it a little.”
“I think you are, too,” Jason nodded. “Either metal talks to you, or it doesn’t.”
“I didn’t think it was going to take quite this long to make a knife,” Emily said, a question in her voice.
“We really aren’t just making a knife,” Jason explained. “If we were, we’d be further along. I’m trying to teach him about how to make a knife, not just telling him what to do like I did with Vicky that time. That’s a little more complicated. Kevin understands tools, and he understands metal, so he’s off to a good start.”
“There’s a load of skill involved,” Kevin explained. “I guess in a way it’s like learning to be a good council member. I mean, we really haven’t done much more than fool around with some scrap metal, but I can see that it’s a lot more satisfying than standing in the plant running a machine all day.”
Vicky knew, of course, that Kevin was shading the truth a little bit. He and Jason had spent quite a bit of time out messing with the forge and anvil in the shop, and Kevin was picking up some of the basics and seemed to be enjoying it. In fact, the guys put the majority of their time into the knife work, and only a little time on the Harley Sportster. There were things to fix, but more importantly, parts that hadn’t arrived yet, so assembly was a long way off. She knew this since she’d often been out there in the shop with them, but working with the polisher, getting some motorcycle parts ready for chroming – in fact, she’d probably worked on the bike more than they had.
“Well, as long as you’re enjoying it, I suppose it beats sitting at home and watching hockey games,” Emily shrugged. “I guess I’m not going to mind not having to listen to them while I’m sitting up reading the city charter after the kids go to bed, so it’ll be just as good to have you out of the house.”
Just then, Millie, the bartender, came over. “We’re going to be shutting the grill off in a few minutes,” she told them. “So if you want to order anything, you need to be doing it.”
“I think I could stand a bar burger and some fries,” Jason told her. Kevin also ordered a burger, and Emily ordered a basket of fries, no burger. When the waitress got to Vicky, though, she replied, “I’d love to have something, but I just joined Weight Watchers, so I guess I’d better not, other than keep the Diet 7-Up coming.”
“You joined Weight Watchers?” Emily asked. “I hadn’t heard about this. How’s it going?”
“Too early to tell yet, but I have hopes,” Vicky reported.
“What brought this on?”
“To tell you the truth,” Vicky replied, “I got to thinking that if Eve had the guts to go to the extreme she had to in order to get control of her life, I ought to be able to find the determination to drop down a couple sizes. Having to buy XL just irritates the hell out of me, and there isn’t as nice a selection of clothes.”
“Good for you,” Emily beamed. “I hope it works out for you.”
“I hope so too,” Vicky smiled. There was, of course, more to it than that. She knew she was overweight and had been for years – but shedding some weight might help with her appearance and get her closer to her real goal. More importantly, she hoped to get some real positive emotional support and encouragement from Jason, which she might be able to build into other things. “I’m probably beyond the possibility of having a bikini body anymore,” she added. “But it’d be neat if I could get even close.”
“Glad to hear it,” Jason smiled. “Jeez, I remember when you used to sun yourself in the back yard when you were in high school, and those bikinis were almost like you had on nothing at all.”
“Actually, they’re even skimpier today,” she smiled back, with him squarely in her sights. “They didn’t have thongs much then, but if I can get down into that weight range maybe I’ll have to buy one just so I can lay out in the back yard and get a tan again next spring.”
“Well, I hope you can manage it,” he said, trying to not give the obvious impression he looked forward to seeing it.
“I hope so too,” she smiled, for more reasons than she was willing to admit. “Weight Watchers is a pretty positive-reinforcement thing, but it’ll help if you guys keep after me and keep reminding me of it, too.”
“If that’s what you want,” Jason smiled, still obviously with the vision of a high school age Vicky in a bikini in the forefront of his memory. “I’ll be glad to do what I can to encourage you.”
“I know you will, Jason,” she smiled and took the back of his hand for a moment. “That’s what friends are for, aren’t they?”