John hated the coffee. It was the same everywhere else, the same routine – coffee, two sugars, one cream, talk, bullshit, break, platter of fruit for snack, presentation, graph, bored, lunch, more talk, another graph, some charts, break, talk, end.
He didn’t expect to attend so many meetings when he decided to be an environmental planner. He wanted a career that reflected those concise and inspirational summaries of his chosen program; “Change the world” “Learn to create and develop sustainable communities!” “Discover and protect the environment!” That’s what John wanted. Instead, he got bad coffee.
The speaker continued to drone on about suing online statistical data and economic dependency and diversification and investor opportunities. John pinched his leg in a failing effort to remain awake.
He knew these discussions were important though. To promote economic growth in rural areas, you have to understand population trends, marketing techniques for implementing development projects, blah, blah, blah. John had heard it all. It never seemed to go anywhere though. These meetings never seemed to change. The only thing that really did was the numbers.
It was those numbers that put John to sleep now. He never liked math, and math never liked him. His economics and statistical analysis courses from John’s undergraduate years had given him what seemed like a permanent bond between numbers and headaches. It was that and his significant disgust of modern business and greed that deterred John from becoming a business major. Years later, numbers and percentages still gave John a headache.
Break time – blueberry muffins and more bad coffee. John poured himself a cup regardless, in hopes that the caffeine rush would keep him awake for the remaining portion of the presentation.
Beside the picture window was a pair of co-workers. They were discussing their summer vacations to Greece, Hawaii and other exotic places. Whatever impact the numbers and charts represented for the rural communities they were supposed to be planning for and helping was left at the tables and in the power point presentations with their cutesy little images.
John couldn’t chastise them. He was no different. He wore the same suits as them. Hell, he was even planning to take a trip to Venice with his girlfriend the following summer. What kind of influence could he really have in helping these small towns prosper when he was so capable of simply hopping on a plane and flying away from those problems? Meanwhile, those people could sometimes barely manage to feed their family. John drank his bitter coffee in shame.
He stood in the sunny window pane, staring into the outside world. Beyond the small houses with their tiny smoke stacks was a glimmering lake. Fog slowly crept across the lake, weeping from the brown and yellow autumn leaves. The lake waters were motionless except for a young native man paddling his canoe.
John watched the canoe slowly flat across the misty lake. The bitter remnants of his coffee lingered in his mouth. That’s where John wanted to be – on the lake, engaged in the environment, a part of the community. That canoe could contain a man teaching his son to fish, fishing to feed their family or sell in a farmers market. Or he could simply be out on the water to feel nature, appreciating the flora and fauna that interacted with the people of the land.
John felt disconnected on his side of the window. He had no bond to the land or the people of the communities he supposedly worked for. His bond was limited to reports and statistics and bad coffee. That man out there could make the real change.
Anthony hated the cold. He longed for his old jacket, but his nephew needed it more. Anthony’s brother had been sick for a long time and couldn’t afford to buy a new coat for his son. He couldn’t let his nephew freeze walking to school every morning, so he did what families do – take care of each other. Although he felt no remorse, he did feel the brisk fall cold. The concept of family helping family was a noble virtue Anthony believed in, but over the years it had begun to feel spread too thin.
His fishing rod lay in the front of the canoe. Anthony looked at it briefly, shook his head and continued to paddle. Fishing had slowed considerably over the past years. This lake was renowned for having the most delicious fish in the region. The locals tried to take advantage of this fact and began to overfish the lake. It wasn’t so much irresponsible as it was a feasible option considering the recent economic downturn.
Jobs were almost non-existent in Anthony’s town. Practically everyone left town to work at the mils an hour out of town or found work elsewhere. The latter option was usually reserved for those who could afford the escape. Those who remained turned to fishing as a final option. This, in turn, removed a significant amount of re-spawning fish in the lake. You either starved or went broke and let fish-stocks return or you slowly destroyed your unsustainable form of income. The thought made Anthony sigh apathetically, turning his breath visible in the cool air. It was a lose-lose situation.
Across the lakeshore, past his and his neighbour's homes, Anthony noticed the town lodge was exceptionally busy. A row of cars filled the tiny parking lot. Anthony had seen this before. It was a hunting guide group, a town meeting or a planner’s convention.
Hunters and fishermen, usually rich Americans, found this area a beautiful site to hunt for wild game and fish. There were always mixed reactions towards these types of tourists, between residents. While they did put revenue back into the town, it was at the cost of wild life that Anthony and others used as a food source. If these tourists wanted to fish, they were taking away the town’s failing, but primary industry. The only simple consolation was the boom in business at the corner store.
Anthony knew it wasn’t hunters and fishermen in the lodge though. There were no big-rimmed pickup trucks in the parking lot that was typical of that crowd.
Town meetings were held in the lodge as well. This was mainly because it was the only building with the capacity of holding the volunteer committee. The small group consisted of Anthony and his friends; parents, grandparents, a few teachers who were willing to drive out to attend and a few youth who were often bored by the topics of discussion. Anthony mainly likes these meetings for the coffee. These same volunteers were the same ones who would volunteer to start a community garden or plan a fun day for the kids. Anthony really felt these people were beginning to get burned out. He had been trying to connect with other neighbouring towns to pool resources, but representatives had been slow to respond or just didn’t seem interested.
It wasn’t a town meeting either. Anthony was certain of this because it was the middle of the Thursday afternoon and Anthony had not received the phone call reminder. A hot, town-meeting coffee would really hit the spot right now he thought.
That meant it was planners in the lodge.
In the frame of the large deck window, Anthony could make out an individual planner. Squinting, it looked like the man was holding a coffee. Damn it.
Anthony wanted to be there. He wanted to hear them discuss plans and pie charts and power point presentations. These people knew what they were doing. They had the maps, records, and resources. These educated people knew the whole region, sometimes the province! They were not limited by the lack of volunteers or a failing catch-22 economy.
A shiver came over Anthony and his teeth began to chatter. He turned the nose of the canoe towards the shore and dug his paddle deep into the murky water. The man remained in the window, looking out back at Anthony. That man, Anthony thought, can make the real change