Once upon a time, I took a slow drive through a prairie town. Not unlike most towns in the heart of America, Main Street was busy with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The side walks were covered with mothers and their broods. Merchant wares stood on the sidewalks giving passers by the ‘come hither’ look. I was a lad in one of those broods once. I was in awe.
I continued my drive up Main Street. There stood the towns hospital – a beacon to those who were in need of a friendly old doctor and a nurse dressed in a crisp white dress and a strange hat. A hat she wore as a badge of honor. Oh look, the doctors parking. Buicks and Oldsmobiles neatly in a row. Brothers and sisters were born there and grand parents died there. I was humbled.
I continued up Main Street past houses that were as fine as any in America. Emerald lawns that seemed to stretch forever covered with children playing tag. And a dog, always a dog with a wagging tail. Further up Main Street was an big field. The sign out front proudly yelled out, “Kansas State Fair” There were tractors and cows and rabbits and a ferris wheel. The people were laughing and throwing balls at milk bottles. They were eating hot dogs on sticks and drinking root beer from a real root beer barrel. I was excited.
The town seemed to go toward the east so I followed. There were factories with windows standing open and people, lots of people inside moving things here and there. Big trucks were backed up to the end of the building and men were loading some and unloading others. The parking lots were running over with Fords and Studebakers and Nash-Ramblers. My Mother and Dad worked in a place like that. I was impressed.
Darkness was settling on the town and I realized my day hadn’t included eating. I could see a glowing “EAT” sign up ahead. It was a small place with a half dozen factory workers at the counter. There were no tables, just a counter and a cook. Oh, wait a minute, there’s a kid in back doing dishes. Today’s special, like everyday, was a hamburger and a pile of fresh out of the fryer French fries. The food in these diners always arrives the same way. First a clunk of the heavy plate followed by the tinkle of a knife and fork. I was hungry.
From the diner parking lot I could see the flicker of a “HOTEL” sign. It was a semi-circle of miniature cabins with a little larger cabin in front. The setting looked like there should have been a lake but, none to be found. The cardboard sign said, “Vacancy.” The room was tiny, sparse but more that adequate. I was tired.
I woke up with the sun pushing through the solitary window. I felt like I slept forever. Time to get on down the road. Maybe one more drive up Main Street. I could get used to a town like this.
I headed back up Main Street but it felt different. The side walks were almost empty. Some store fronts were empty, others had peeling paint and cracked windows. No racks of suits on the sidewalks. Further up stood the hospital. Where there used to be shiny Buicks and Oldsmobiles were weeds. The hospital had a few broken windows and spray paint scribbles on the brick. The fairgrounds stood empty with a sign declaring better things next year. I think it’s time to head out of this saddened town. Past the factories with empty parking lots, now occupied with tumbleweeds. A quick breakfast and I’ll continue my journey. Where was that diner? All that’s left is a foundation and a rusting sign post.
I am anxious to see the future.