Thirty years from now, a Monday night at Lilburn City Hall ...
A man sits alone behind a table in a meeting room looking at his watch. With his other hand, he twirls a placard with the word "Mayor" printed on it around in a circle. He sighs, then drums his fingers on the table. The door squeaks open. He quickly straightens his "Mayor" sign and sits up.
It's his assistant. He has a briefcase in his hand and is wearing his coat.
"Yes?" the mayor asks.
"I'm going to take off now, if it's OK."
"Take off? What about the council meeting? Where is everybody?"
"Well, er ... they're not coming, sir." The assistant steps into the room and puts down his briefcase.
"Not coming? But the meeting ... This city has business to conduct."
"Well, sir, that's the thing. It doesn't really. Not anymore."
"Business, sir. There's nothing to do. The council members, they're not going to meet anymore. In fact, they're moving away."
The mayor considers this, then shakes his head.
"But ... why? Where else would they go? Lilburn is a great town. There are no lines at any of the stores. I can walk in any restaurant in town and have my choice of tables. There aren't many to choose from anymore, sure, but the few that are open are empty. Every parking lot is empty. And the parks, they're all empty. No screaming kids, no dogs barking. Move away? That's ridiculous. This place is paradise."
The assistant sits down and clears his throat.
"Yes, sir. Well, a lot of people haven't seen it that way."
"What do you mean?"
"There's a reason you don't have to wait at stores and restaurants. It's no fun, sir."
"What's no fun?"
"This town. It's no fun to live here anymore."
"You're crazy. This place is great."
The assistant gets out of his chair and walks closer.
"I'm sorry, sir, but it's not. It hasn't been for quite a long time."
The mayor lets out an exasperated sigh and rubs his eyes. He leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling. He speaks again without bothering to look at his assistant.
"And just how is it not fun?"
The assistant fidgets a little in his chair, clears his throat again.
"For starters, you can't sing here. It started out decades ago. Some restaurants weren't following rules about half their revenue coming from food sales. So the council banned singing."
The mayor sits up and stares in the assistant's eyes.
"They banned singing."
"What exactly did singing have to do with restaurant revenue?"
"Nothing. But singing was fun. Just like darts, cards and pool. People liked to go out, kick back with some chicken wings and a beer and sing karaoke or shoot a little eight-ball. The council figured if they made it no fun to go to these places then they could stop all the drinking."
"Bars, sir. They didn't want bars. They said the restaurants were really bars and that promoted crime."
"Why wouldn't they just enforce the existing laws? Force the restaurants to follow the rules about the revenue?"
"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that sir."
The mayor rubs his temples.
"OK, so they banned fun in restaurants. What's that got to do with my council members moving away?"
"It has everything to do with it, sir. You see, city government back then got a little drunk on its own power, if you'll pardon the pun. First it was singing, darts and such. Then they decided businesses shouldn't be open after a certain time. Promoted crime, they said. So they made another resolution to shut them all down at sunset."
"Makes sense. Nothing but trouble after dark. That's when all the crime happens."
"Yes, well, that's a matter of opinion, sir. Anyway, after that came singing anywhere in public. People sing, they get happy. Happy people like to have fun. Couldn't have that in Lilburn. So the council banned that, too. Then singing at home. They banned most fun stuff at home and in public. They banned ballgames at the park - too noisy. They even banned family get-togethers. Too many people having fun in one place. A crime might happen."
"This is fascinating."
"It gets better. They decided people were watching too much TV, so they had the electricity disconnected from the city."
"You're pulling my leg."
"No, sir. They did it. But without a chandelier they couldn't see their hymnals on Sundays, so they had to hook it back up. Anyway, by the time they were through you couldn't do anything in Lilburn but sleep, eat and work. Most people need more in their lives than that. No one wants to live here or do business here anymore. So they all moved away."
"Now, I've got you!" The mayor jumps up, slaps the table and points at the assistant. "Now I've got you. There's still plenty of people left here. Just go out there and look at Highway 29. Thousands of cars pass through on that road every day. Ha!" He breaks into a wide smile, but the assistant is shaking his head.
"What?" the mayor asks.
"That's all they're doing, sir."
"They're just passing through."
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.
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