Carswell’s Corner was the type of small town where the city government loved to brag about how ‘fiscally responsible’ they were. What they meant by that was that when the city government did something, it usually did it on the cheap.
It wasn’t always that way. In old photos, black and white images fading like the memory of the time they portray, Carswell’s Corner was a thriving town. The laid-brick main street, a thing of geometric beauty by itself, is lined with businesses, and every parking space is occupied. Now, the only way to recognize the street is by the store fronts. The buildings still stand, but all but a handful sit empty. It’s a rare day when more than half of the parking spots are occupied. And the street? The beautiful brick pavement is still there…you can see it any time the city decides the asphalt atop them is too beat-up. Then a huge machine that roars like a demented mad scientist’s monster flails the asphalt with revolving chains, chewing its way down to the immortal brick base. For a short while they bask again in the sunshine, still geometric and beautiful despite the battering inflicted upon them by the violent stripping process. Why not, some well-meaning citizens ask, bring back the brick street? Why not use that as other town do, as a tourist draw? Too expensive, they’re told, far too expensive…and the city buries them again under more cheap asphalt.
You noted that I used the term ‘usually’ to describe the town government’s approach to its civic duties. That was not by accident. There are certain projects where the city feels that money is no object. Like the tax break they gave to the huge national discount chain store…and the money the city poured into building new roads, sewers and laying water lines. The project, everyone was told, would ‘revitalize’ the town. But faced with a nationally-supported store moved in, the mom-and-pop stores that had been the life blood of downtown had been forced out of business. A few people asked about this, but they were treated like village idiots and quietly ignored.
Then there was the new grade school. Like the city government, the elementary school district liked to brag that it, too, was ‘fiscally responsible’. So for decades, they kept one old school open, adding onto it so many times that only the upper floor and the odd corner could be seen. Time and regulations proved to be an enemy that could not overcome. The old school, built when asbestos was considered safe, had been granted numerous waivers, but state officialdom had finally issued an ultimatum: remove classes from the structure, or face the loss of state funding.
Few people mourned the closing of the old school, least of all those who’s kids had to tread those asbestos-floored corridors. What few had expected was the proposal for the new school. Twice the size of the existing building, with all the modern amenities a parent might want for their child, it was a grand replacement. What those parents did not expect, and their children were shocked by, was the decision to build the new school about as far away from the old one as was possible.
The new school would set on an open plot of land nearly two miles away from the old, with the nearest house almost half a mile away. Those who asked why this location was more suited for a school, given that there were several plots of land near the existing school that could have served the purpose, were also ignored.
But long-term residents of Carswell’s Corner already knew. It was no coincidence that the people who owned the property the ‘big-box’ store was built on were the same ones that owned the land the new school was constructed on. They knew the ‘fix’ was in, that the ‘leading families’ of Carswell’s Corner had once again profited from the government they almost openly controlled.
You hear people tell horror stories about corrupt city governments of Chicago or New York City, but they know nothing about corruption. Real corruption, the sort of ‘buy any sort of ruling you want’ crooked government that makes people cynical about government, exists in small-town America. In all the places like Carswell’s Corner that exist all across the nation.
Let me tell you a few tales of Carswell’s Corner, the citizens who populate it, and their lives in a true den of government iniquity.
Take, for example, the adventure of Jack Simms and his dog Snow……