NO FREE PARKING – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Parking

There is no free parking in Boston. There is no free parking in New York either. I don’t know about the rest of the big cities, but I’m betting it’s pretty much the same. Assuming you can push your way through the traffic and actually get to the city … what do you do next?

Alley behind the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston

Weaving through Boston traffic on any given day can be a traumatic experience. Cars and trucks pop out of side streets, apparently without so much as a glance for possible other traffic. If you can find a parking place (good luck with that), it will either cost you a fortune … or pretty much the same amount for a parking ticket.

I have stood there, calculating which is going to cost more — the ticket or a legal spot. The legal spot is usually not only more expensive, but it’s much less convenient than parking wherever you happen to be.

My first car experience in Boston traffic was waiting at a light and getting hit by a car leaving a parking space. I got hit by a parked car standing still. At a light. Welcome to Massachusetts.

How about the people leaving illegally parked cars and stand there with their doors open, waiting for you to knock it off the frame?

I do not know if all cities are as bad as Boston, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. Of course, now people lurch wildly through streets talking on the phone. Blind and deaf to traffic, at the very least can’t we ban cell phones in cars? AND while walking on the street?

Walkers who have parked are the terror of the roads.

Considering how often we stand at an intersection waiting for the driver in front of us to get off the phone and drive, it’s hard to tell who is parked and who isn’t.

Out here, in the country, the roads aren’t as packed with traffic as they are in town. You can generally find a place to park — at least in the village. Out in the country, it’s perfectly legal — but the odds are very good that someone — texting or talking — is going to come around a curb and whack your car.

Remember TV shows where the cop or private detective could park anywhere? There was always a spot for him, even in the middle of Manhattan or Los Angeles. I want to see more realistic shows where the guy misses his appointment because the IS no parking. And he doesn’t have $120 for two hours of downtown parking.

DYING IN TRAFFIC – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Traffic

When we lived in Boston, traffic was life. It was like getting up in the morning. It was getting to work, the grocery, the doctor. Anything and you always had to calculate how much “extra” time you needed to deal with traffic.

I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was as fundamental as roads and bridges. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding an extra hour — in case traffic was bad.

Traffic was always bad, but sometimes, it was lethal. These days, I don’t think about traffic because we don’t have much. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection.

Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a primary issue in our lives. It controlled our working days and holidays. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from Channel 7 which was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come and get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a U-turn and went back to the apartment. The next day “GRIDLOCK” was the headline. The entire city had been stuck because it was the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from Boston to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away.

Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig forced us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

Local roads

We fled. Traffic had overtaken over our world. Nothing was fun. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work and should we get where we were going, there was nowhere to park. People trying to visit couldn’t find our us because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home.

We must have spent years of our lives sitting in traffic.

We live in cities because that’s where the jobs are. You don’t find jobs with a future in small towns in the country. With all the telecommuting talk, most jobs still require you to be there. Most jobs require live interaction with colleagues and customers.

We underestimate how badly the wear and tear of commuting affect our lives and psyche. If it takes hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Public transportation often takes even longer than a car and is a lot less comfortable.

Work is easy. Traffic is a killer.

MAKING A DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENT AT UMASS MEMORIAL

MORNING QUARTET

I was having a dream about how I hadn’t yet managed to see a doctor about whatever it was that happened to me a few weeks ago. Two weeks? Three?

For the past few weeks, they’ve been researching my Pacemaker. Apparently my telling them that I can’t have an MRI because it would suck the Pacemaker out of my chest leaving me bleeding and quite probably, dead as the proverbial door nail.

What make door nails deader than other things? Has anyone done any research on this issue? No? Well, isn’t it about time?

The Front Door at UMass Memorial where they said I didn’t have an appointment

Meanwhile, back at the doctor and hospital, apparently a mere patient with the implant can’t say “No, don’t do that, it will kill me.” There are all these privacy laws in place, so mere information from the original source — me — is inadequate to stop the progress of grinding towards this very expensive test that I don’t merely not need, but which would end my life.

It took almost a week of research by the doctor’s nurse to track down my device and note that it cannot be allowed anywhere near those big magnets. She called the manufacturer, but privacy laws forbade them from saying anything about it. That I had the information was apparently irrelevant. Calling my cardiologist — again — was a no go. Privacy laws.

Meanwhile, I got a call from the MRI people to schedule an appointment. I had already had this same discussion with the nurse and said “No, no, no MRI no, not ever” but UMass Memorial does not give up easily.

So I said “I can’t have an MRI. I have a Pacemaker. A metal one. NO MRI. Never ever.”

“When did you get the Pacemaker?”

“Four years ago,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said.

That was the end of that call. Next I heard from the nurse who said she was really sorry about that call from the MRI group, but she had explained it, really she had and I said I believed her, really I did.

Yesterday I got a bundle of papers from Blue Cross to announce that they were happy to pay the gazillion dollars it would cost for the MRI that I can’t have because — y’know — it would kill me.

Valet parking at UMass Memorial — where they said I didn’t have an appointment

I sighed. Put the papers on the kitchen counter and went on with my day, pretending nothing had happened. It was too stupid and I just couldn’t deal with more stupidity. Especially medical stupidity.

But all night, I dreamed that I was trying to just talk to a doctor to see if anything even needed to be done for this “issue,” whatever it is. I think it’s related to my migraines  — a complicated, advanced version of the aura you get before a migraine. If you get migraines — with auras — you know what I mean. It affects your sight and makes you dizzy, sometimes nauseated … and occasionally gives every evidence of your having a stroke. But it isn’t a stroke. It just looks like one.

Another view of UMass Memorial — where they still said I didn’t have an appointment

It goes away without a trace and no amount of testing or tracking will find any evidence that it happened. Moreover, there are a dozen other things it could also be, all of which leave nothing in their wake. They happen, they scare the pants off you and yours — and vanish.

And may — or may not — ever occur again.

More parking lots at (you guessed it) UMass Memorial

This has happened a few times through my 71 years. For a while, after  one or another surgery when I was terribly thin — emaciated — it happened fairly often. Good thing I weighed so little since strong men had to haul my butt upstairs until I came to. Since the cancer and heart surgery, the worst part has been occasional dizziness, but none of those screaming seizures.

I had one, though, a few weeks ago for no apparent reason. Although I don’t think it was important and still don’t think it was medically significant, my doctor thinks I should at least have a chat with a neurologist. I agreed to the chat because how big a deal should it be to see a doctor and talk a bit?

After last night’s dream, I took a deep breath and called the nurse at my doctor’s office who assured me that they shouldn’t be sending me paperwork agreeing to the MRI I can’t have and she would call the hospital and make sure a doctor — or nurse, but anyone someone medical — would call me. Soon.

I hung up. That was the second call.

The phone rang. It was the MRI group trying to set up another appointment. I said “NO MRI I HAVE A METAL PACEMAKER” and she said “Then how about an EEG?” I breathed again. Deeply. Slowly. Counting.

More views of the excessive amount of snow on the grounds of UMass Memorial

The next thing she did was ask me why I didn’t show up at my March 15th appointment. That was the one I went to where they sent us home because they said there was no appointment or maybe the nurse had screwed up the paperwork, but one way or the other, we went home.

I said “We were there. We were told there WAS no appointment and they sent us home.”

“That’s impossible,” she said.

“Would you like to see the photographs I took of the hospital? And the receipt for the parking? Would you like signed papers from my husband and I attesting to having been there and being turned away as not having an appointment?”

She said that couldn’t be because things like that don’t happen at UMass Memorial. Breathe, Marilyn. Breathe.

“I would like to talk to a doctor before I make any other arrangements. Let’s see if I even need testing.” So she connected me to the Neurology Department. They asked me my name. “Marilyn Armstrong,” I said.

She said “You don’t have to be hostile!”

The trip home from that missing appointment

I said I wasn’t being hostile. That was my name. She asked me for my last name again and I said “Armstrong.” Silence. “I still need your last name,” she said and I said (louder) “Armstrong,” so she hung up. Still breathing slowly I called again. Asked for neurology. Gave my name. Was questioned (again) about how come I never showed up for my March 15th appointment. Said I had but was told there was no appointment. Was assured that couldn’t have happened. Whatever.

“Be that as it may,” said I, “I would like to talk to a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a nurse practitioner. Or even a receptionist.” She asked me where I’d like to be seen and I said Worcester, so she connected me to the Bolton office which is 50 miles northwest of here and nowhere near Worcester.

I hung up and called back. Determination is my middle name. The remnants of the blizzard from two days before March 15 when I didn’t have an appointment

I told her — this time — that a doctor was supposed to call me this morning, but instead I heard from the testing department about setting up an MRI or some other test, but before we set up tests, can I — pause, pause, breathe in, breathe out — please talk to a medical person. So we can decide if I need testing.

She said a doctor would call and I said “Well, I’m off to the Oncologist today, so if no one calls soon, it will have to be tomorrow . I repeated my phone number, name, date of birth and reminded her that this was the ONLY telephone number I have and it is NOT a cell phone. Try to deal with the concept of it not being a cell phone. In other words, please don’t text me.

After which I hung up and couldn’t find my new blue jeans. I gave up on that and wore the blue pants I bought months ago and forgot I owned. Went to get coffee and an English muffin with raspberry jelly.

And then I wrote this post.

How many calls was that? I’m pretty sure it was four, a basic quartet, but it gets difficult to count what with the transfers, hang ups, and calling back.

Lovely view of beautiful glass building at UMass Memorial.

Garry thought I sounded cranky so I explained and he said “Oh,” and offered to refill my cup. I still have to go to the oncologist and hope I still don’t have cancer.

It’s noon. So many more things could yet happen today. Maybe I should call off the doctor and go back to bed.

Nah. Let’s get it done already. Deferring the event will just make it even more complicated.

DEATH BY TRAFFIC

When I lived in Boston, traffic was basic. It was as much “life” as getting up to go to work. I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was fundamental. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding that extra hour — in case traffic was bad. Traffic was usually bad, but sometimes, it was worse. These days, I don’t need to think about traffic because we don’t have it. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection. Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a major issue. It controlled our days. Road work in Boston could make it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from work. It was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a u-turn and went home to the apartment. It was before cell phones, so I had to call the guard at the front desk at Channel 7 and ask him to go outside and tell Garry I couldn’t get there. The next day it was in the papers and TV. The entire city had been gridlocked, the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from Boston to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street, as long as you remembered alternate side of the street parking.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away. Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

We fled Boston. Traffic had taken over our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign or marker to give them a clue where to go. Maps and GPS were useless.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home. It was unnerving.

THE COST

I must have spent years of my life in traffic. By the time we slouched home, exhausted and beaten, we were wrecks.

Is there a solution to this? Not that I know of.

You don’t find good jobs in small towns or the country. We underestimate how seriously the wear and tear of commuting affects us. It wears us down physically. It tightens our backs and necks. When it take hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Maybe it’s easier by train, but we haven’t lived anywhere with direct train — or even bus — service to where we worked, so we had to drive.

If not for the commuting, I might have survived longer in the work place, but it was hopeless. One day, something snapped. After that, no amount of pushing was going to keep me going. I was done. There were other reasons too … but if I hadn’t had that two to three-hour twice-a-day commute? I might have found a way to hang on. Traffic has a lot more to do with our survival than we think.

Work is easy. Commuting is a killer.

THE DOWNSIDE OF MY NYC YEARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

People talk a lot about the great benefits and conveniences of living in a big city. At least New Yorkers tout the glories of New York City all the time. I lived there for 40 years. When I was a young adult and young Mom, I came face to face with the decidedly inconvenient and often scary aspects of New York life.

As a young married, we spent most weekends (except in the winter) at our house in CT. This was very common. Most people we knew left the city almost every weekend. So we needed to have a car in the city. That caused serious problems. Garages were (and still are) very expensive. So for many years, we had to park our car on the street. This is not easy, to put it mildly.

There is a ritualistic parking dance that city car owners go through every week called “Alternate Side Of The Street Parking”. It’s complicated. But it boils down to this. If you are lucky enough to get a side street parking space near your apartment, to preserve it, you have to do the following: Move the car to the other side of the street at a very specific time on a specific day. Then you have to sit in the car for an hour until it becomes legal to park there again. You have to do this once or twice a week. And don’t get me started on what happens if you actually used your car during the week. That made things even more complicated.

I followed this time-honored tradition for years. All of them miserable. In rain, snow, sleet or hail, in sickness and in health. If I had a sick kid at home, they had to come with me. When I was nursing, I often had to take the baby and nurse in the car. In plain view of anyone passing by.

It was a nightmare. I had to plan my entire schedule around the parking rules in my neighborhood. And they could vary just a few blocks away from home where I often had to park. As soon as my husband started earning a little more money, I insisted that the first thing we did was get a garage. So I never had to deal with Alternate Side Of The Street Parking after I had a second child. Thank God.

However, the second child created her own logistical nightmare for me. Her Pre-K school was only about three miles from our apartment. But in NYC, that can be a pilgrimage. It was all the way across town and very inconvenient to get to. The school didn’t allow kids that young to take a school bus by themselves. So I had to take her to school and pick her up for an entire school year.

This involved walking six blocks with a four-year old, in all kinds of weather, to get the cross town bus. After we got off the cross town bus, we had to walk another block and take a downtown bus that took us to the school. The whole procedure took 45 minutes. Then I had to take the 45 minute trip home and repeat the process four hours later! I don’t know which one of us hated this torture more.

Eventually we threw in the towel and started taking taxis – when we could find them (you usually couldn’t in the rain or snow, when you needed them the most). This had it’s own problem – a whopping price tag of $30 a day or $150 a week in 1989 dollars. The choice was sanity and bankruptcy or solvency and having my daughter become a nursery school dropout.

Another negative aspect of NYC life in the 1980’s, was crime. My mother lived in the city for almost 80 years and never once encountered any sort of street crime. We were not so lucky. When we parked cars on the street, they were broken into regularly and the radios were stolen, along with anything else the burglars could find. This happened even in an upscale, Upper East Side residential neighborhood.

Signs people put in their car windows to discourage burglars

My husband and I were also mugged at gunpoint late on night, around the corner from our building. We gave the guy all our cash and he ran off. But he turned around and yelled out, “Sorry to do this to you, folks!” So at least we had a polite and apologetic mugger. Still scary.

The scariest incident happened to our au pair, Heike, when she was out with our two-year old and seven-year old children. Heike was a wonderful German girl who lived with us for two years. She was drop dead gorgeous. And big. Not heavy. In fact she had a beauty queen’s body. But she was 5’10’’ tall and not slight. She was also very tough. No one messed with Heike (except for her alcoholic boyfriend, but that’s another story.)

Heike with David and Sarah

One day, Heike came home with the children through the back or service door. She reached the door and a man jumped out at them and tried to grab my two-year old from Heike’s arms. Heike kicked him in the nuts and started to scream. The man ran off immediately. I was so shaken! I was also so grateful to Heike for so aggressively and bravely protecting my kids. That’s what you pay a babysitter to do.

In the late 1980’s. homeless people on the streets were a big problem. We kept seeing them when we walked around our neighborhood. My almost ten-year old son was beginning to ask questions and get disturbed by the sight of people sleeping in doorways or in cardboard boxes. I asked my husband how I should handle the situation with my son. He said to tell him to keep walking and ignore them.

That’s when I knew for sure that city life was not for me any more. Or for my family. There was no way I would live somewhere where I had to inure my children to human suffering. I would never tell my son to just walk away and not care about people living in such dire circumstances. A few years later we moved out of the city into the woods of CT. And I have never looked back. For me, big city life turned out to be less than the glamorous, convenient utopia that I had been brought up to believe it would be.

DYING IN TRAFFIC

When I lived in Boston, traffic was basic. It was as much “life” as getting up to go to work. I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was fundamental. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding that extra hour — in case traffic was bad. Traffic was usually bad, but sometimes, it was worse. These days, I don’t need to think about traffic because we don’t have it. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection. Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a major issue. It controlled our days. Road work in Boston could make it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from work. It was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a u-turn and went home to the apartment. It was before cell phones, so I had to call the guard at the front desk at Channel 7 and ask him to go outside and tell Garry I couldn’t get there. The next day it was in the papers and TV. The entire city had been gridlocked, the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street, as long as you remembered alternate side of the street parking.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away. Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

We fled Boston. Traffic had taken over our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign or marker to give them a clue where to go. Maps and GPS were useless.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home. It was unnerving.


I must have spent years of my life in traffic. By the time we slouched home, exhausted and beaten, we were wrecks.

Is there a solution to this? Not that I know of.. You don’t find good jobs in small towns or the country. We underestimate how seriously the wear and tear of commuting affects us. It wears us down physically. It tightens our backs and necks. When it take hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Maybe its easier by train, but we haven’t lived anywhere with direct train — or even bus — service to anywhere we worked, so we had to drive.

If not for the commuting, I might have survived longer in the work place, but it was hopeless. One day, something snapped. After that, no amount of pushing was going to keep me going. I was done. There were other reasons too … but if I hadn’t had that two to three-hour twice-a-day commute? I might have found a way to hang on. Traffic has a lot more to do with our survival than we think.

Work is easy. Commuting is a killer.

What’s next for small town America?

It’s lovely out today. The sun is shining. We are having one of the warm weeks we sometimes get in November. These end abruptly when the jet stream drops down from the arctic. Until then, it’s delightful, springlike with a few puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. I can look out my window and see trees and the few leaves that still cling to them.

Despite Conservative insistence that less government is better, living without enough government  is no blessing.

What it really means is that we don’t have quite enough schools or anything else. It’s difficult keeping taxes low so people won’t lose their homes while supporting schools, a few police and firefighters and some part-time clerks at town hall. It’s a bare-bones budget and no-frills government, with a very fine line between no frills and just plain inadequate.

Making ends meet means we have no public transportation. Our roads get sort of repaired. The bridges are always a bit in danger of washing away if the river floods. There’s no city water or sewers. Trash collection is private. Unless you live in the middle of town, there are no sidewalks or streetlights. We have no town planning because there’s only so much planning you can do with no money. Kind of like us, but on a larger scale.

Being on your own makes great rhetoric, but it loses it’s charm when you realize your community has no resources to deal with its own future. With all the complicated explanations I’ve read about why small American towns are not thriving, it isn’t complicated. Our towns are not doing well because we have poor government and no money. I don’t know if these two things are causally related, but they seem to go hand in hand.

Small towns don’t have lots of qualified people who can or will serve. Even with the best of intentions, there’s only so much you can do when you have nothing much to work with. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, it’s a thankless job. The romanticization of small towns in movies and television might have been true of small towns 60 years ago, but Andy Griffith would have a rough time today.

Meanwhile, whatever else we lack, we sure do have a lot of cars.

Lack of public transportation guarantees lots of cars. Everyone has a car and the roads get more crowded every day. Everyone over 17 drives. Most of us don’t worry about traffic because we don’t have too much yet. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars at an intersection. But that’s changing. The parking lot at the grocery store used to be mostly empty; now it’s usually full. We have our own version of rush hour. It’s not an hour, barely half an hour …  but a year ago we didn’t any rush hour at all.

Local road … also an interstate route, so it is in better repair than many similar roads that don’t cross a state line.

There are many more cars than there were even though the population is slightly lower. Lacking public transportation, you need wheels. If the populations starts to rise, what will we do with the cars? it doesn’t take much to produce gridlock. An accident, a slow driver, road work … anything can bring it all to a complete stop. No one has any idea what to do about it … and that’s just traffic.

When people say we should have less government, they don’t really understand what it means. When you live in a well-populated area, you get infrastructure and services. You don’t think about them: you expect them. If you live in a sleepy town that has no plans to wake up anytime soon, nothing comes with the territory.

Our town is managed, more or less, via Town Hall meetings. We have a town council made up of the friends, relatives and descendents of the families who have always run the town. They are slow to implement change, even when change is urgently needed, typical of all small towns here and everywhere.

What’s going to happen when we are hit by rapid population growth unaccompanied by additional revenue? When the economy comes back, towns like this become an endangered species, ripe for exploitation by anyone who waves money at us.

To say our officials are not forward-thinking  is a massive understatement. By the time town councils in towns and villages acknowledge a crisis, it’s too late to do much about it. Things that suburban areas take for granted are unavailable. From road repair to trash disposal, from schools to sewers, to trained personnel … we don’t have it.

Maybe we can start by figuring out how to deal with the cars. As it stands, we have enough traffic so that almost anything can turn it into a rural version of gridlock. It doesn’t take much: a very slow driver, a minor accident, a road crew … and everything stops. We don’t have another route, so if one is blocked, you can’t get there from here.

Grabbing a piece of the metro pie is tempting. Job opportunities, more and better services — it sounds pretty good until you realize the cost. It will likely bankrupt the towns, make taxes skyrocket and ruin of a lot of beautiful places. What sounds like a boon — the rapid infusion of  upwardly mobile young families with school age children — has devastating economic ramifications on a fragile local economy. Newcomers arrive with expectations of services comparable to those they have known in other places. They expect modern schools, roads, and shops. They assume amenities like trash collection, sewers, water from reservoirs. They don’t realize the attractively low taxes that drew them to the area can’t support the services they expect.

Small town life in the 21st century is a precarious balancing act, life on a fiscal tightrope. There are no big treasuries to raid, no heavy industry to offset costs. All you have to work with are small businesses, many of which are struggling, and property taxes that a lot of people are already finding hard to pay.

So far, the best solution the towns have come up with is to build condos, preferably senior housing. If you bring in lots of seniors, you don’t get lots of kids, You get taxes, but not a hugely increased demand for services. Condos don’t take up as much space as sub-divisions, but pay the same taxes as private homes. McMansions eat land and don’t pay their way. Unfortunately, most of our towns are run by people who have trouble saying no to a developer waving money. Even when they know it’s not a great idea, the need for an infusion of cash can make people ignore the obvious.

Which brings me back where I began. You can say all you want about how more government is bad, but we need government. More to the point, we need good government, smart government. We need people who have vision and can see past a wad of cash to long-term effects. We need planners, not pirates.

Good government protects us in myriad ways. Without the protection of government, small towns are easy prey. We do fine if things don’t change much, or change is incremental, gradual. I suspect the long years of the leisurely change are ending.

Everything is changing. Can America’s small towns survive without surrendering their identity? I guess I’m going to find out soon enough.