Remember that scene from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy opens the door of her ruined farmhouse, and steps from the black and white world of Kansas into the Technicolor Land of Oz?
Well… it was like that.
There I was, in a sweltering room at the town hall, amidst a sea of stoic faces. The issue tonight was The Casino. The board of selectmen sat at a table in the front of the room. We waited for the meeting to begin.
This wasn’t any different than what I’ve been doing once or twice a week since April - but where were the feathers, the pins, the signs as big as billboards? No t-shirts bore bumper stickers. No little guy with a scowl and a mustache was sticking his Nikon in my face.
That's because this wasn’t Middleboro. It was the green and glorious land of Plympton.
And it was all just sort of… normal.
The chairman opened the floor to questions. People stood up and asked them. No one asked permission. They just did it because that’s what they were used to - speaking up at Town Hall. It all felt so new to me, though I can still remember a time, not so very long ago, when this was the way it was in Middleboro, too.
I raised my hand. The chairman recognized me.
“Hello,” I said, “I’m from Bridgewater. May I say something?”
“Well, why not?!” he exclaimed, making me realize how I’d come to take for granted that any question or comment regarding The Casino would be about as welcome as an open vial of bird flu.
And so, with cautious hesitation, I spoke. And then the funniest thing happened. Something I surely had learned not to expect in Middleboro: People wanted to know more. They wanted to know how they could stop the Casino, how they could help, what could they do, where could they sign.
I wanted to cry.
So, I spoke some more. And no one drowned out my voice or banged a gavel or requested I sit down.
Someone asked, “what’s wrong with that Board of Selectmen in Middleboro?” but before I could answer, another person stood up and revealed that they'd traveled to the last town meeting in Middleboro, and had been astonished by how closed the Board’s minds were, and how little they acknowledged what the people were saying.
I’d been in that meeting too, and now felt heartened to know I hadn't been alone in my observations.
At the end of the meeting, the selectmen prepared to speak in turn. I waited for at least one of them to insist he was a polished professional from a major metropolitan area who knew more than the rest of us, and for another to insist that Middleboro was in such financial straights that of course it needed a casino, and for another to say how good The Casino would be for the people of Plympton, the riches and jobs and tourism it would bring. That the Tribe would see to everything.
So, I waited, as I always do. But it didn’t happen. Instead the selectmen spoke of quality of life, of protecting their citizens, their community and the riches their town has already been blessed with. They spoke with reason and concern.
Like stepping from black and white into Technicolor, suddenly the world was painted with hope. After three months in Middleboro, I’d forgotten what it looked like.
After the meeting, people were anxious to talk to me. They gave me their names, I gave them mine. One woman asked, “Why? Why would people want to put a casino in their town?”
I tried to come up with an answer… “Well… not all of them do.”
“Then why is this happening?”
How do you explain wicked witches and flying monkeys to people who’ve spent their whole lives in the Emerald City.
“I’m not sure. It’s just sort of… different over there. Really different.”
She continued, “… and what’s this about seven million dollars? That’s nothing.”
“I know,” I said. “I know…” How could I offer her a proper answer to that question when I’ve been at a loss to explain it to myself? Poppies?
But suddenly, everywhere, throughout the room, in the lobby and out in the parking lot, people wanted to know how they could help. The vocal majority of Plympton had spoken.
Suddenly I was consumed with a need to go home. All I wanted to do was to go home and tell everyone what I’d seen, to share with them the hope I’d been given this evening. And so I clicked the heels of my new red sequined ballet flats together three times…
… and awoke the next morning, back in black and white, laying back on my bed with a cold compress to my forehead. And instead of the friendly faces of Plympton, I was surrounded by Jack Healy, Adam Bond, Wayne Perkins, Steven Spartaro, Pat “Tank Man” Rogers, and the careworn face of Marsha Brunelle.
“Oh,” I said, startled, “I guess it was just a dream…”
“Yes,” said Marsha, “...it was all a dream. Don't ever wander away like that again - you had us... worried."
I shook the sleep from my eyes. “But I know I was in Plympton! It was so real! And I learned so many things!”
“Like what, Gladys?” asked Tank Man, “What did you learn in Plympton?”
“Well… for one thing, I learned that there are still whole towns full of people who don’t think a casino is the answer to all their problems. … And I learned that there are still leaders who are willing to listen to what you have to say, and who place people and quality of life before profits. But most of all…” and I fought back a tear, thinking of the people of Plympton who, like me, like the folks from CasinoFacts.org, were willing to fight to preserve their green and glorious way of life, “ … most of all I learned that, no matter how far away you go... there’s no place like home.”
Adam smiled down at me, then scanned the faces in the room. “Yeah..." he said, "...except for how much money they’ll give you for it!”
Drawing the covers up over my head, I clamped my eyes shut and clicked my heels three times.