“UJ Campus Radio, 90.1,” the voice on the other end of the phone call said. I got a little nervous making a phone call early in the morning, but obviously someone at the radio station was awake, since I had the radio tuned to this station and I heard music.
“Hi,” I said nervously. “Is this Tina?”
“Yeah!” Tina, the disc jockey, replied. “What can I help you with?”
“This is Greg Dennison. I lived on your floor freshman year.”
Tina paused for a second, then said, “Greg! Hey! What’s up?”
“I was talking to Liz and Caroline the other day, and they told me that you were a DJ for Campus Radio now, and that you were going to play that music that Ramon made on your computer. Is that true?”
“Yeah! That’s coming up in about 20 minutes. Will you be around to listen to it?”
“Yeah. That’s so cool.”
“Great! So how are things? Still majoring in math?”
“That sounds like fun!”
“How long have you been a DJ for Campus Radio?”
“Since fall quarter. It’s been interesting. I like it.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Well, I need to get back on the air, but it was good catching up. I’ll see you around campus, probably.”
“Yeah! Have a good one!”
A while later, I was done with my morning cereal, reading the newspaper, with Campus Radio 90.1 still on. This was a freeform station owned by the University of Jeromeville, broadcasting whatever its disc jockeys chose to play. I rarely listened to it, since its disc jockeys played some pretty strange music. I smiled when I heard Tina introduce her next segment. “Freshman year, my roommate’s boyfriend was in our room all the time, and I had a nice computer, so he used it to compose these electronic covers of popular songs.” I smiled nostalgically as I heard Ramon’s electronic reggae version of the Beatles’ “Come Together” on the radio, the same song that I heard loudly blasting down the hall so many times freshman year. I did not see Tina much these days, but I still often saw Ramon and Liz, the roommate from Tina’s story, at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and at church. Ramon and Liz had an amicable breakup six months ago, but they remained friends.
That night, I drove to campus for University Life, the college group from another church, not the one I attended. I made some friends from University Life through a random encounter at the Memorial Union a few months ago. I had been feeling frustrated at being on the outside of cliques at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, my usual group. I had been sitting with those U-Life friends at the MU and the Quad fairly often this quarter, and tonight was my third time actually attending U-Life.
U-Life was a very large group, with around two hundred students attending an average weekly meeting. I looked around and eventually found Alaina and Whitney, two of the U-Life friends I often sat with at the MU. Next to them was a third girl whom I had seen before but whose name I did not remember. I sat in an open seat next to Alaina.
“Hey, Greg,” Alaina said. “What’s up?”
“Just having a good day. What about you?”
“Good! We were just talking about our coffee house party. You’re coming, right?”
“Yeah. I should be there. When is it?”
“April 12. That’s a Saturday.” Alaina turned to the girl I did not know and said, “Greg is gonna do a dramatic poetry reading.”
“Really?” the girl asked me. “You write poetry? Or you’ll read someone else’s poem?”
“I don’t know,” I said, laughing nervously. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Come on!” Alaina said. “You totally should. Have you met our other roommate, Corinne?”
“No,” I said.
“Hi,” the girl who asked me about poetry said. “I’m Corinne. It’s nice to meet you.” Corinne was shorter than average, with light brown straight hair and brown eyes.
“You too,” I replied. “I’m sure I can find something to read at the party.”
“It doesn’t have to be anything serious,” Corinne said. “This party is just for fun.”
Alaina had told me a couple weeks earlier that she and her roommates were planning a big party with a coffee house theme. I did not know how many people I would know there, and I did not like coffee, but this sounded like a fun way to hang out with these new friends from U-Life.
After the end of the meeting, I talked to Alaina, Corinne, and Whitney for a bit longer. Next, I wandered around the room looking for other people I knew. Carolyn Parry, who played guitar and sang in the worship band, was putting sound equipment away when she saw me and waved. “Hey, Greg,” she said. “Will you be at our show on Sunday?”
I paused for a couple seconds. as my brain tried to remember what she was talking about. Show? Sunday? Oh, chorus. I met Carolyn last quarter when I was in chorus. “Yes,” I said. “It’ll be good to see everyone again.”
“I’ll be in chorus again in the spring. I just had a class meeting at the same time this quarter.”
“Yeah, that happens sometimes. I haven’t been able to do it every quarter. I’ll see you Sunday, then?”
I walked back out to the car a bit later, heading west on Davis Drive, and then north on Andrews Road. Today was a good day. I had all my homework done. I got to hear Ramon’s music on the radio. I heard a good talk about Jesus. And Alaina’s roommate Corinne was pretty cute. I left campus and entered the adjacent Jeromeville city limits, keeping my speed at 25 miles per hour, which seemed unnaturally slow to me. Jeromeville was a bicycle-friendly city with low speed limits that the police enforced strictly. I thought of all of Jeromeville’s famous quirks as I anticipated having a peaceful, relaxing couple hours before bed to close out this great day.
And then I gasped in horror when I realized what today was.
My heart raced as I looked at the clock. 9:23pm. I was too late. I had failed. I finished the trip home, disgusted with myself for forgetting something so important, and when I got home, I tried to avoid talking with my roommates, because I did not want to talk about this.
Jeromeville was a university town. When a large university is located adjacent to a relatively small city, the university drives much of the cultural and political trends in the city. Jeromeville had a population of around fifty-six thousand, with over a third of these residents university students; about six thousand more students lived on campus, just outside of the city limits. Many of the adults living in Jeromeville were university faculty and staff. As a result of this, Jeromeville readily embraced many liberal and progressive political causes and trends.
Since the 1960s, Jeromeville has made great investments of tax dollars in bicycling facilities. I enjoyed riding my bicycle recreationally along the paths that ran through the Greenbelts in the newer sections of the city, with wide, safe bike lanes on streets connecting the different neighborhoods. However, this made driving in Jeromeville a pain. Many of the major streets had only one lane for automobiles and a slow speed limit of 25 miles per hour.
The five aging hippies who sat on the Jeromeville City Council embraced these causes, refusing to accept the reality that Jeromeville had grown to its current size. Jeromeville had a well-deserved quirky reputation among people in nearby cities for all the strange decisions made by its city council. A couple years ago, residents of an older neighborhood were lobbying the city council to pave a dirt alley behind their house. The dirt was extremely uneven, resulting in puddles forming during the rainy season, staying full long enough to provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The city refused, on the grounds that dirt alleys were historic and paving them would ruin the small-town feel of Jeromeville. Another relatively busy street in central Jeromeville was unusually dark, with very few streetlights, and residents lobbied for better lighting. The city responded that more lighting would ruin the small-town environment, making it harder for residents to see the sky, and attracting traffic and crime. In the real world, the traffic was already there, and dark streets attract crime better than well-lit ones, but the Jeromeville City Council ignored such arguments.
Chain stores and real estate development were particular villains to Jeromeville politicians. In the last City Council election, twelve candidates, an unusually large number, ran for three open seats. I voted for the ones whose views I disliked the least, and they finished eighth, ninth, and eleventh. To lose an election in Jeromeville, all one must do is take campaign contributions from real estate developers. The elites in charge will repeat ad nauseam in advertisements that their opponents took money from developers; this was a death sentence to any budding Jeromeville politician.
Downtown Jeromeville was sacred ground to the Jeromeville City Council. The city did everything in its power to ensure a healthy central business area, to avoid the flight to outer neighborhoods that had left so many nearby downtowns empty and decaying. But this had created some growing pains of its own. In recent decades, the city had grown across Highway 100 for the first time. The only route from south of 100 into downtown was Cornell Boulevard, passing under three railroad tracks through a narrow underpass with room for just one lane in each direction. This underpass was built in 1915, part of one of the original highways traversing east to west across the United States. The cross-country route had long since been bypassed by a wide freeway, today’s Highway 100, but the 1915 underpass was still in use as a local street. The clearance was about three feet lower than that of modern underpasses, and occasionally a tall truck would get stuck there. It also sometimes flooded during rainy times.
At certain times of day, traffic backs up terribly at the underpass and for long distances on both sides. I had heard horror stories about south Jeromeville residents taking close to half an hour to get downtown, a trip of less than two miles. Downtown itself was growing, making the traffic situation even worse. A shopping center had recently been completed at the corner of Cornell and First Street next to the underpass. The shopping center was controversial in its own right, since the anchor tenant was Borders Books. When this was proposed, it divided citizens into two camps, one camp feeling that Borders matched the intellectual character of Jeromeville, and the other believing that large national chain stores did not belong in Jeromeville, threatening to put local bookstores out of business. The most vocal member of the second camp was a City Councilmember who owned a bookstore. To me, this was an obvious conflict of interest, but no one in Jeromeville seemed to care. The bookstore was eventually approved, and many publicly vowed to boycott Borders, because this was considered the right opinion by the Jeromeville elite.
I loved Borders Books. I went there a couple weeks after it opened, after the hype died down. It was much larger than any bookstore I had ever seen, and it had a coffee shop where people could sit and read. They also sold music on compact disc, with headphones to listen to samples of any recording they had in stock, so I could know exactly what music I was buying before I spent money on it. This store became one of my go-to places when I had time to kill. If the local independent stores wanted to stay in business, they should add awesome stuff in their stores too. This was how the free market worked, and I supported it, although I kept somewhat quiet about it because I knew that most Jeromevillians did not approve.
A proposal had recently been put forward to build a wider underpass, two lanes in each direction with a more modern design. Jeromeville also had a long tradition of direct democracy for certain proposals, so this underpass widening had been placed before the voters. I had seen “No on Measure K” signs all over town, with a small sprinkling of “Yes on Measure K” signs mostly in south Jeromeville, where people are actually affected by this awful traffic jam. Last week, I saw organized opposition to Measure K at a table on the Quad, a balding man and a woman with long gray hair. They displayed a picture of a four-lane boulevard crossing under a railroad track, with a caption that said “IF MEASURE K PASSES, THIS COULD BE IN DOWNTOWN JEROMEVILLE!” In the fantasy where these people reside, that statement would sway voters against Measure K, but to me the same statement was an argument in favor.
“This does not belong in Jeromeville,” the gray-haired woman at the table said to two students she was trying to sway to her position. “Vote no on Measure K.”
“I heard that traffic is really horrible there, though,” one of the students said.
“The Power Line Road overpass just opened last year,” she explained. “We should wait and see how that affects traffic before we spend all this money on something else.” As she explained this, I realized that I knew who this woman was: Jane Pawlowski, one of the five aging hippies on the Jeromeville City Council. She was frequently in the local news, and occasionally national news, for making some very strange statements. She was the one who touted the historic character of the puddles in the alleys. And when Power Line Road was extended into south Jeromeville last year, she loudly advocated, successfully, to spend extra money on a small tunnel under the road so that frogs and other wildlife could cross the road safely. “Lots of frogs live in that pond, and we can all benefit from knowing that we have this psychic connection with the frog community,” Jane Pawlowski had said.
“The new overpass hasn’t solved the problem,” I said loudly, approaching the table. “People still get stuck in traffic on Cornell Boulevard.”
“But does this eyesore really belong in Jeromeville?” the balding man asked me, gesturing toward the picture of the four-lane road.
“Yes!” I replied. “We’re a city of fifty-six thousand people, and we need to build the infrastructure to support that population. It looks safe and modern, and traffic is going to flow freely.”
“I guess we’re just of a different ilk,” Jane said.
“You got that right,” I replied loudly. “And that’s the first intelligent thing you’ve ever said.” I walked away, with the other students around the No on Measure K table staring at me.
I knew as soon as I walked away that I should not have said that. It was unnecessarily unkind. I arrived at the Writings of John class that I had with many of my Christian friends; Taylor Santiago was standing outside waiting for people. I told him what had happened.
“’They will know we are Christians by our love,’” Taylor said, quoting a song.
“I know,” I said. “It just makes me angry that these pretentious intellectuals who hold on to hippie fantasies and use words like ‘ilk’ have undisputed control of Jeromeville.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Taylor suggested. “Learn from this, and be kind if this ever happens again. And if you really want to, you can contact her office and apologize. She’s a politician, so she’ll have public contact information.”
I never did apologize to Jane Pawlowski. I would take out my anger on these people with my vote. Except, as I drove home from U-Life that night, I realized that I had completely forgotten to vote. This vote had been on my mind for weeks, and once the day of the election arrived, I did not think about voting at all. I had failed all of those who supported Measure K.
I read the newspaper the next morning and learned that Measure K had failed, with about 65% of the residents voting No. My one vote did not end up making a difference, but I was still angry with myself for forgetting to vote. It was not like me.
More interesting was the map of the vote broken up by precinct. Every single neighborhood south of Highway 100 had a majority of Yes votes, since people on that side of town actually have to drive through the inadequate underpass. Only one of about twenty precincts north of 100 had a majority Yes vote. At the time, Jeromeville City Council members were elected at large, by the whole city, representing the whole city. No one on the City Council lived in south Jeromeville, and there was no requirement that members of the City Council live in different parts of the city. The opposition to this measure was purely driven by elitists in the old part of Jeromeville, who do not use this underpass often, imposing their will on the people most directly affected by the underpass.
The next morning, I rode the bus to class, still feeling ashamed of myself. I sat next to Tara, the cute brown-haired girl who I often saw on the same bus. She asked me how I was doing, and I said, “Not well.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked, sounding concerned.
“I wanted to vote Yes on Measure K, and I completely forgot. And it failed.”
“But that was a lot of money to spend on that overpass,” Tara replied. She became somewhat less attractive to me that day when I found out she had been against Measure K, but at least she was against it because of government spending, not because of some fantasy about small-town feel. That was a more acceptable reason to me.
The 1915 underpass remains to this day; Cornell Boulevard has never been widened. Jane Pawlowski was right; I was of a different ilk than most people in Jeromeville. Had I researched the local culture of Jeromeville before I came here for school, I probably would have gone to school somewhere else. However, in hindsight, I am glad I came to Jeromeville. I found a community here, and I found a great church where I was getting involved beyond just the college group. Jeromeville, with all its quirks, was growing on me. I may not ever vote for people who win elections in Jeromeville, but God was in control no matter who won elections on Earth. And one day, I would leave this world behind and spend eternity in heaven with others who were truly of my ilk.
Author’s note: What are local politics like where you live? Share an interesting story in the comments! And don’t forget to like this post and subscribe to this blog if you enjoyed what you read!