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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

Common Prologue to the Bradford Exiles series

To most people, Bradford is little more than an exit sign on I-67; people driving by on the interstate usually barely notice that it's off to one side of the overpass beyond a string of highway service businesses. It's located in that vague borderland where TV sets tuned to baseball games are about equally likely to be playing the Detroit Tigers or the Chicago Cubs, and for those still getting the game on antennas the signal is lousy for either one.

Bradford is a town of about 3,000 people, located in the flatlands of southern Michigan; the overpass is about the highest spot around. It's a largely unremarkable town, much like hundreds if not thousands of others that sit next to Interstate overpasses. For the most part, the people are unremarkable, at least to the person driving by the exit with their cruise control on.

Lloyd Weber knew better. He knew that people are individuals, and most had stories to tell; as editor of the Bradford Courier his job was to tell some of them. Not all of them, and he didn't know all of them, anyway. But he knew a lot of them.

On the morning of June 6, 1988, Weber was sitting in the Chicago Inn out by the overpass. The Chicago was a little over-named; it was a slightly run down cinder block building built about the time the freeway was going in, but the truck stop on the other side of the interstate had been built more recently and siphoned off most of the travel business. People in Bradford knew that the service at the Chicago was more personal than the truck stop, the food and the prices were better, and for a certain part of the community, they also knew that friends would be there for breakfast on any given weekday.

This morning, much of the topic around the big breakfast table back near the kitchen of the Chicago Inn was about the high school graduation the previous day. "A good bunch of kids," florist Chuck Tyler commented. "You wonder what's going to happen to them." Chuck wouldn't have minded seeing into the future, since his son Scott was one of them.

"They'll grow up and have lives of their own," Bruce Berkshire said -- his daughter Dayna was one of the class of '88 graduates too.

"Well, of course," Dick Jones said from across the table.

"Oh, I can tell you in general terms what's going to happen," Weber said, deciding to speak up, and in the mood to spout off for once. "Some kids will be successes, and some will be failures. Some will get married and have families; some will get married and be divorced, and a few will never get married. Most will move away and we'll never hear from them again, except maybe for an occasional visit with the relatives. A few, a very few, will stay in the area. In about nine years and six months, someone will come into my office with a list of names to run in the paper, looking for addresses of people they've lost touch with to invite to the tenth reunion."

He leaned back, and expanded on his thoughts. "Most of them will have stories, some good, some bad, many of them something that they or we could never expect. In many cases we won't hear those stories, either because the kid is gone and there's no way to get them back to us, or because the kid doesn't want them told. It'd be fun to have a crystal ball and see some of those stories, because many of them would amaze us, like the kid we think of as a loser who becomes a big success, or the kid we think of as having lots of potential that ends up living under a bridge some place. We don't know, and we'll never know. But for the most part, most of the kids will turn out more or less pretty average. But which ones? That's what keeps life interesting."

"It's a shame we can't keep some of those kids," Jones said. "There's some sharp ones. From what I hear, the valedictorian, that Jennlynn Swift kid, is one of the sharpest kids to ever come out of the school."

"It'd be nice if we could," Weber nodded. "But we can't. The Swift kid is a good example. I talked with her for the valedictorian story. She wants to go to Caltech, get a doctorate, and design computer chips. There ain't no way she could do that here. Hell, most people in this town don't even know what a computer is. What's here for a bright kid like that, except for the on-ramp to the interstate?"

"I grant you that," Berkshire said, already getting a feeling of the empty-nest syndrome that would be engulfing him in a few months. "But why do so many other kids leave, too?"

"Same thing," Weber snorted. "There's only so many jobs in this town, and most of them are already taken. The kids have to leave to get jobs, so they take the on-ramp and scatter to the four winds. We think about kids leaving town for the big city and the bright lights, and that's true for some of them, but more of them are looking for the bright jobs than they are the bright lights. That's the thing about this town, like a lot of little towns like this. We raise our kids, love them, nurture them, reward them, sometimes heroize them. Then they graduate, and for the most part we exile them."

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