Welcome to Twilight Junction
Welcome to Twilight Junction. Population 8,005...according to the latest census. It's a small town nestled snugly between here and there and a little more than half-way between the way things were and the way we would like them to be. It sits in the foothills of the nearby mountains, where the commuter rail line ends and the freight line begins. It's home to a little bit of yesterday, a fair amount of today and a few glimpses of tomorrow.
Main Street in Twilight Junction is home to Johnson's General Store, also known as the "Federal Store." It's proudly owned and operated by the original Mr. Johnson's great-grandson. To the right of the general store sits Bea's Books, a nice place to stop-by and read a new book, browse the newest selections in fiction, non-fiction and children's stories, or just sit around and talk to Bea. To the left of Johnson's is Carney's Hardware and next to Carney's is Barson's Deli, purveyors of quality meats, groceries and produce. According to residents, the deli has the best sandwiches in the area, especially the hot corned beef on rye.
Johnson's General Store earned the nickname "Federal Store" because just over a generation ago it was the gathering place every April 15th for all the chain-smoking men in town as they hurried to complete their tax returns. It was an era before photocopiers became commonplace, so Johnson's was the place to get correction fluid, replacement tax forms and pencil erasers. It also had a U.S. Post Office window that Sam Johnson would officially tend until 11:59 p.m. on "tax day." Since then, the post office has moved to nearby Market Street. Johnson's is now known as the place where the commuters in town pick up a newspaper or magazine. It's where they stop in after grabbing a Cappuchino-to-go at Barson's Deli and before boarding the train to nearby Sobriquet City. Housewives with small children gather at Johnson's after their husbands head to the commuter train and before they head next door to talk to Bea.
Life is good in Twilight Junction. Everyone in town seems to know one another at least by sight and it's more common than not for local citizens to be involved in the community and the schools. Twilight Junction has three schools: Alexander Hamilton High School, Thoreau Middle School and Calvin Coolidge Elementary School. The primary school was named after the sitting president at the time it was originally dedicated. The town began as a sleepy hamlet for railroad workers and their families when the railroad line was extended to the foothills. The freight lines still employ many of Twilight Junction's residents and the town is the first and last stop on the commuter train each day. The " turnabout " is just t a few hundred yards from the train station and from there the freight yard is just a stone's throw away.
The building that sits on the elementary school site today was constructed in 1963. It replaced the original school building that was damaged in the "great flood." In the early part of that year the rain clouds pretty much backed-up against the mountains for days. There was so much water running from the mountains to the foothills that the old one-floor Calvin Coolidge Elementary School was flooded up to the window sills. Ironically, the biggest improvements made to the new building versus the older one weren't better flood controls, rather, better fire alarms and sprinklers. The high school and the middle school were constructed on slightly higher ground.
Like most small towns, Twilight Junction has its share of colorful residents, not the least of which is Henry Harriman. Mr. Harriman is vice-president of the local school board. His history with the school system is unique. He attended the original Calvin Coolidge Elementary School the year it was dedicated and was elected to the school board the year the new building opened its doors.
Mr. Harriman's views are considered a bit extreme, but since he owns the building where the school board meets and provides the refreshments for each meeting, no one really seems to mind. Besides, there aren't many controversial issues discussed at Twilight Junction's school board meetings other than an occasional complaint about a book in the high school library and the biannual need for new band uniforms. But tonight's meeting was destined to be different. On the agenda was a discussion about purchasing new computers and Internet hook-ups for all three schools.
As we enter the board meeting, Mr. Harriman is saying, "I don't understand the need for all these computers. In my day we learned math. We didn't have computers to give us the answers. That's the problem with kids today, they don't have to learn. They have too much time on their hands. Give a kid a slide rule and I'll show you a future mathematician or scientist. Give a kid a computer and I'll show you a juvenile delinquent-in-training. This country didn't get where it is today by having machines think for people. Now we have this Internet...the local stores can't find help. All the young people are trying to get in-line or on-line or whatever you want to call it. If you ask me it's ruining our economy and its ruining our kids." "Thank you, Mr. Harriman," said Beverly Reiser, president of the school board, as she pounded her gavel to end his tirade. "We don't have much time," she added.
Mrs. Reiser was born and raised in Twilight Junction. After graduating from Alexander Hamilton High School, she worked as a school crossing guard. Later she became a school bus driver. She retired a few years ago, but is still remembered as the hard working but gentle bus driver who cared deeply for each child on her route. She is very much loved by the students, parents and teachers of Twilight Junction. When she retired, Mrs. Reiser took college correspondence courses and quickly earned an Associate degree. Proud of her accomplishment, she wanted to put her education to use. Her life story is about a local girl who devoted herself to serving her community. She ran for school board president and won easily. Many people in town think she would have won easily elected even if her opponent was someone other than Mr. Harriman.
Tonight's meeting is very well attended by parents and teachers. For some, it's an opportunity to hear first hand about how the Internet and its graphic component, the World Wide Web, can help educate children. A few parents are concerned about student access to the Internet because of sensational stories in supermarket tabloids about child pornography on the Internet and sex-related Web sites. For others, the thought of bringing the schools "online" has an adventurous appeal. They, too have seen articles about the Internet and want to learn more about the "wired classrooms of tomorrow" being developed today.
On the agenda is a proposal from a Internet Service Provider in Sobriquet City. It offers free Internet access accounts for the schools along and a few megabytes of free Web space for each school to construct a Web site. In return, the ISP wants the right to publicize the donation on its Web site and, to a more limited degree, in print advertising.
Charlie Dixon is chairman of the high school's English department. He was selected by Mrs. Reiser and the school board to chair a task force for developing guidelines for Internet usage at the schools. Except for Mr. Harriman, most board members favor some form of Internet access for teachers and students. The task force's recommendations will play an important role in the board's deliberations.
Meanwhile, other events in Twilight Junction are taking place.
A block south of Main Street is Jefferson Street, home to the shoe store, the town's only bakery and what might be described as the Twilight Junction version of an old-fashioned "five and dime," Curly's. Curly's is taking on a whole new look under new management. Less than a year ago, Mark Schoengrun and his wife, Kimberly purchased the store. They consider themselves "refugees" from the region's largest metropolis, Sobriquet City. They gave up more conventional careers and moved to Twilight Junction with hopes of raising their two daughters in an environment of peace, quiet and safety.
Mark and Kimberly first became interested in buying Curly's after stopping there to buy some bug repellent and playing cards while traveling to the nearby mountains for a weekend camping trip. Mark remembered the beef jerky display, an old wooden Indian statue that, for years, had been used for cheap cigars. With the cigars removed, the chief's right hand was a perfect holder for the long strips of dried, flavored beef. Kimberly recalled the old dome-style hair dryer she saw in the corner, just above jars of hair gel that she thought hadn't been manufactured since "Bee Hive" hair-do's were in vogue. They both liked its off-beat "charm," and kept in contact with a local realtor, who informed them when the store was put up for sale.
In their short time as owners, Mark and Kimberly have worked hard to maintain Curly's charm as they updated the store and its merchandise. They restored the old-style soda fountains that once were the town's favorite. The soda shop is now open for a few hours after school everyday and on weekends. Patrons can walk over a refurbished black and white checkered floor to sit at red and white speckled tables trimmed in chrome. The new menu offers low-fat milkshakes, several different soda flavors and combinations and a small but appealing assortment of ice cream sundaes and floats.
Gone are the hundreds of cheap, overstocked items that overflowed the bins. The new Curly's offers an orderly selection of greeting cards, personal items and various sundries, small gifts, arts and crafts supplies and an aisle of inexpensive things for kids. Mark set up a small hobby shop in one corner and pictures of important railroad events from Twilight Junction's history now adorn the walls. The old taxidermy displays featuring the stuffed remains of Curly's weekend hunting trips were among the first things that Kimberly removed. The old dime store Indian is prominently placed near the gum ball machines at the entrance to the soda shop. The wooden statue has been cleaned, repainted and polished. His right hand now offers a selection of complimentary mints to store patrons.
Mark is closing the store by himself tonight because Kimberly is on her way to the school board meeting with their two daughters (Amy, age 8 and Rebecca, age 6. Amy, as unlikely as it may seem, is at the center of the school board's debate about computers. The three schools have used Apple computers almost exclusively for the past several years. Lately, however, there has been pressure from different groups to change to Wintel-based machines. Amy has been asked to share her experiences with the school's computers with the school board.
Back at the meeting, Mrs. Reiser is saying, "We have the recommendations of Mr. Dixon and the members of the task force. Does anyone on the board, other than Mr. Harriman, who has already spoken, object to the report or its contents?" With the exception of a few low murmurs in the audience, the room was silent. With no further comments Mrs. Reiser put the issue to vote.
The Next Episode: Amy's Macintosh and the Twilight Junction Computer Challenge.