The tuba train

The tuba train came to town this year. We’d wanted the circus, but somebody objected, saying it was cruel to the animals. How was it cruel? They got fed lots better than they would in the wild, and were safe from predators. All they had to do for these gifts was to do a few tricks. They should be grateful – the animals and the bleeding hearts. But they weren’t – surly and snappish, and this was both groups! It was hard to tell who was more upset at this arrangement – the panthers or the protesters. But the city couldn’t afford another lawsuit so we went with the Tuba Train instead. Lord knows, it didn’t feel any different. Instead of tigers we had tuba players. Both had to perform, both were away from their homes. Perhaps the tuba players were fed better, and perhaps their enclosures were better – windows instead of bars, and they had the ability to open and close the door to their cabins. But was it the fault of the people that they had opposable thumbs and better self-control? The tigers would do better if they could, I’m sure.

Who am I? Just your faithful council person, Lee McGee. I’ve held this office for nigh on a dozen years by now, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. That’s good, because I can’t think of anybody else in this one stoplight town who would rather do this job for me.

Its lonely work, being a council person. There’s a lot to keep up with and not a lot of training. You have to figure it out as you go most of the time. Some of it is common sense, but maybe I think that because it makes sense to me. Some people don’t have common sense at all, so maybe it isn’t that common. Maybe it needs to be taught in schools alongside the home ec. classes. Better to teach it twice and be safe than not at all.

You see, this little town has all sorts of classes that everybody has to take and when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Of course, all the children have to take the curriculum – no homeschooling here, no high school dropouts here, but also the adults if they moved here after the classes started. No exceptions. It wouldn’t do to have the kiddos learning something that wasn’t reinforced at home.

We even have fines and penalties for not going along with the curriculum. Who cares if you take the class if you don’t follow it? It was just like getting a driver’s license. Sure, you could say you were going to follow the rules of the road, but none of that mattered until you actually got out behind the wheel.

So we have no illiteracy here in our little town. Not only can everybody read, everybody does read. Our library is well stocked and well used. Everybody reads whatever they wants, as long as it is at their reading level. If someone was consistently getting easy books, they’d get a visit from a literacy mentor to figure out what sort of assistance or incentive they needed. Sometimes they needed audiobooks because they had a visual processing issue. Sometimes they needed time management help, to make sure they had enough time to read. A minimum of an hour a day was expected. But sometimes they were just bored and understimulated. Then they’d get a list of books custom-made for them, like how a physical therapist would create an exercise regime for a patient with a bum leg.

We have no divorce here either. Don’t need to. People don’t just up and marry here. They understand that forever is forever. There are tests and trainings everybody goes through, and lots of counseling. The whole community has to agree that it’s a good match, and then agree to help a couple when, not if, they hit a snag.

Yes, we’re like one big family here. Not necessarily happy all the time, but not miserable neither. We work together to make it through the thick and thin times and we all get by tolerably.

This is one of the thick times, when we get to import a little entertainment to our fair burg. We don’t usually splurge like this, seeing as how it’s better to save than spend so we have spare when times get tight. But you can’t take it all with you, as many of our older (and presumably wiser) citizens are fond of saying, so we splash out for a treat when we’ve saved up enough to cover everybody’s expenses for a year. We all decided to do this in case of a fire or flood, where some (but not all) would have to rebuild. It would be a real hardship if the whole town were involved in some sort of natural disaster, but the law of averages being what it is, we don’t worry about that much. Maybe we’ll change our mind on that by the next census, but for now, for this decade, this is how we operate. We don’t pay insurance premiums though, and that’s nice. We all take care of each other.

Well, as I was saying, we chose the Tuba Train for the special celebration this year. Of course, all our entertainment that comes from out of town comes by train. We don’t have paved roads leading out, and we don’t have an airfield. We just couldn’t justify the expense – not only in money but also in trees. Many people across the world think of trees as filler, as packing material, as something that takes up space. They feel that space should be filled with houses made from the very trees that had been there, not understanding that oxygen wasn’t optional.

There was a lot of debate about bringing in entertainment at all. People who come here sometimes want to stay here, and we can’t have just anybody living here. And those who don’t want to stay might tell others where we are, and that won’t do neither.

Sometimes, even if we have a lot of money left over, we just throw big party or put on a play that involves the whole town and we call it good. That usually is enough to shake out the cobwebs of the older folk and use up some of the gumption of the younger ones.

But sometimes we have outsiders come, and sometimes some of them will stay. I should know. I was one of them, nearly 50 years back. I came here as part of a traveling circus with my parents on those very same train tracks. Yes, I know, most kids run away from home to join the circus. I ran away from the circus to find a home. It was a home that I never knew I needed, never even knew I could ask for or dream about. My parents were a little shocked to learn their only child didn’t want to follow in their eccentric footsteps. They thought they’d provided an ideal home for me, one where I didn’t have to go to school or wear normal clothes. They’d dreamed of such freedom as children, assumed I wanted it too. Maybe it’s human nature to want the opposite of what your parents want, even if it is countercultural.

The tuba train didn’t just have tubas, but it did have only brass instruments. Nothing electronic either. It was all live, all human powered. We like things like that here. All natural. Not extra or amplified. We all use tools, of course, but we’ve taken a page from the Amish book and learned the value of slow and simple. Faster isn’t always better, they proved. Sometimes going fast is just going nowhere. Better to walk at a human pace in everything you do. It gives you a chance to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.