The only limit to your ability is your imagination.--Robert Quentin DeNameland
Gage Andrew and I made our weekly Sunday morning trek to Oh Yes this morning and upon arrival, I was very quickly reminded why this city currently finds itself in such dire straights. I grabbed a copy of the Voice, tossed it onto the counter, and then Gage and I were off to inspect the available Matchboxes. After Gage finally selected the ambulance, we wandered back to the counter with his Yoo Hoo and Cheez-Its to find some guy reading the front page story about the inaugural ball held at the Ramada last night. He then lifted his gaze from the paper and let out with: "We got a new mayor? What happened to McCorry?"
The sudden urge to inject a Yoo Hoo bottle directly into his mostly unused brain matter passed very quickly.
Despite all of the horrible things that have gone on in this troubled city during the past few years, it's seems that voter apathy is still one of our biggest problems. Wish us luck. We exfilled right quick.
The inaugural ball at the Ramada last night was nothing short of amazing, if not completely uplifting. Basically, the legions of folks that want to see Wilkes-Barre's sagging fortunes reversed laid seige to practically that entire hotel. If ever there was a need to deploy our copper horses for crowd control purposes, this was it. I was put on notice that I was expected to "clean up" for this event. This was not a night where Braves caps or police scanners were appropriate casual wear. I did in fact "clean up" to some degree, but putting on a tie and a jacket always makes me feel instantly uncomfortable and has me looking for the closest available exit. After spending less than a half hour there, I wondered to myself: "What the hell am I doing here?"
It was like a 'Who's who?' of Luzerne County convention in there last night. In attendance were county commissioners, chamber types, big shot businessmen, current and past elected folks, a former mayor, the Mayor of Scranton, our new fire and police chiefs, the current management of the city, major players in our downtown, Parking Authority members, city employees, etc., etc., etc., etc. There were gents wearing suits worth more than my total net worth and chickies wearing gowns that would make Madonna envious. I was not intimidated, but I did wonder how some punctuationally challenged, overly opinionated, beer-swilling Rock 'n' Roller who would make love to his stereo if he could would somehow find himself included in this mix.
And then I ran across Len SXXXX. As far as I know, he's a nobody just like me. He lives in the Heights and I only know him because his home was being ravaged by termites. After meeting me, his home is no longer being ravaged by termites. BANG! I wasn't the only commoner or non-player on the premises afterall. I liked that. Then I made my way past the mile-long line of exotic foods donated to the affair by Wilkes-Barre businesses. Being the squeamish eater that I am, I was gone in sixty seconds and had partaken of mostly pasta selections.
I settled at a table in the adjacent dining room which quickly became the fire department's table. Our firefighters and their wives shuffled in and out, and one of the wives was reduced to becoming our beer gopher. While city employees can never be seen as objective observers of the city's government, sitting at that table for an hour reinforced a point that is easily forgotten. Call SAYSO and say what you want about their pay scales or their benefits, but when it's all said and done...they're commoners just like us. They worry about their 15-year old daughters having a boyfriend. They anguish over the gifts they bought for the kiddies at Christmas. One of them can eat his own weight worth of food. Sometimes they drink too much. Most importantly, while they ponder Wilkes-Barre's immediate future, they are nervously waiting to learn how our future might impact upon their lives. It's too easy to label them as overpaid, or lazy, or whatever floats your mentally-challenged boat, but if you were lucky enough to get to know some of them, you'd realize that our city employees are not the ogres they were made out to be during the past eight years. They're just normal folks much like us who happen to be employed by the City of Wilkes-Barre.
And I gotta tell ya, I'd much rather hang out with some nameless, faceless grunt who saved a small child's life from death's clutches than some big wig who expects me to flirt my eyes in reverance to him. Despite my initial misgivings about being thrown into a vat with the movers and shakers of our local world, an hour spent with our firefighters and their wives reminded me that I really wasn't alone afterall. They may not own a $400 pin-striped suit, three BMWs, or a highly recognizable name, but there are plenty of good people, mostly nobodies, toiling away and hoping for a new-and-improved Wilkes-Barre. I picked the correct table to sit at.
I have endured the sniping of the e-mailers who wondered aloud about how Tom Leighton would compensate me for my undying support of him. Exactly which position would he offer me? I've heard it all, but my favorite was that I would end up being the next City Administrator. To suggest that I would be rewarded with a lucrative city position for my efforts suggests that nothing would change by changing mayors. That's where the hostile e-mailers got it wrong. Tom Leighton does represent change. A change for the better. Up until last night, the only rewards Tom Leighton showered upon me were a couple of city hat pins and quite a few free beers.
Last night, as he was posing for picture after picture in the hotel lobby, he called to me to join him. I quickly lost the cigarette and the beer and wandered over to him for what I thought would be my turn posing with him. Instead, much to my surprise, he introduced me to Scranton Mayor Jim Dougherty and called me: "One of my biggest supporters." I exchanged a few niceties with the Mayor of Scranton and scurried back to my beer. I was surprised and strangely, somewhat humbled by that turn of events, but at the same time, that was all of the compensation I need for supporting the man that will turn this flailing city around.
"One of my biggest supporters."
You got that right and now we can get on with making Wilkes-Barre the city that it should be.
This was one helluva party and I was not going to shy away from consuming mass quantities. But I was up at 3:30 AM and already beat when I showed up at this affair. Fatigue and alcohol consumption can lead one to some very strange places, so my gameplan was to have at it and as soon as I thought I was about to hit the point of no return I would split. That moment arrived and I headed for the adobe fully satisfied with the entire evening and the events we made transpire last year. This affair at the Ramada was the conclusion of a very long journey for very many of us, but it's basically the starting gate for the folks we entrusted our future to.
I didn't want to drink too much and hang around long enough to start doing impersonations of chefs, or anyone else for that matter.
Some famous Air Force General was on hand and rumor has it that he secretly commanded the British air defenses in 1982 when Lady Thatcher went to war to reclaim the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) from the invading Argentines. Being that the British had no defense against the French-built Excotet missiles and lost numerous surface ships, I doubt that he'd admit to being involved. I was also told that he was Tom Cruise's stunt double during the filming of Top Gun, so who the hell knows?
Now that city employees will no longer face harrassment for being associated with me, it's time for someone to come out of the Wilkes-Barre Online closet. My favorite copper dude. There's the phoney brave and then there's the brave. If Wilkes-Barre residents had access to the history of most of our copper dudes, the donut jokes would go the way of the dinosaurs very quickly.
A few months ago, I received an e-mail from someone wanting to know why I show up at fires and post the heroic exploits of our hose dudes, but never do the same when the sh*t hits the fan for our copper dudes. I doubt that they'd allow me to get too close to a hostage stand-off and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't want to. Fires usually don't come flying across the street and penetrate one's skull. Bullets tend to do that. Donut jokes anyone?
What started as a "Hose Dudes for Leighton" picture last May, finally culminated in a "Hose Dudes with Mayor Leighton" picture. The dudes that posed for that picture way back when have some of the largest testicles in our area. They thumbed their collective noses at the vindictive tyrant when doing so could bring nothing but grief down on them. While other city employees laid very low, these guys stood tall. When Wilkes-Barre is one day revitalized, they'll be known as heroes for something other than entering burning structures.
And then there's these ladies. You know, chicks. Yep, the "Hose Chicks" that dared to march on City Hall and caused the first ever pressure washing of the sidewalks at City Hall. To say that they have balls suggests that they're she-males, so let's just say they're really gutsy. When I go to work, wifey is fairly certain that my job won't kill me and I'll be coming home. These chicks do not have the same level of certainty about their husband's safety that my wife does about my safety. I know that many of them listen to scanners while they're husband's are entering burning structures, but I have never once heard one of them whine about it, or suggest that their husband's should consider a career change. It's almost as if the brotherhood that firefighting is demands a parallel sisterhood. If the dudes can hack it, the hose chicks can hack it too. In Wilkes-Barre, the "Hose Chicks" have proven that they can hack it in more ways than one.
Whatever. As I previously stated, very many of us fought the good fight and now Wilkes-Barre actually has hope for a better future. We gathered, we partied, and now it's time to get on with making this place whole again. Stay patient, volunteer some time and sweat, but most of all...remember...whether we're well-connected bigshots, city employees, or stupid commoners such as myself, we're all in this together.
Politics need to be put aside as we force Wilkes-Barre to shine again.
Let's do it!