The Longest Commute
Author’s notes: A fictional newspaper article. Name of the writer is a PSEUDONYM. MOst places and towns mentioned are real, but ALL NAMES FICTITIOUS AND ANY RESEMBLANCE TO REAL PERSONS IS PURE COINCIDENCE AND UNINTENTIONAL. (c) 2015 Parker W. Mason. Found this in my backlog of writings and decided on a whim to see what response it would have here. :)
The Longest Commute
- Grizzled and gouted, with peppery bangs wafting over a varicose forehead, he shakes and quakes his way out of bed in the morning, shuffling slippered feet across a shag carpet. At 80, Thom Macklemore looks like he'd need assistance getting out of his own house, and yet he travels, unaided, four hours every day to Cambridge--two hours there, two hours back. Most of the year, he beats the sun up, and summer's the only season he beats it back home.
Macklemore is the sole Middlesex County Board representative for the town of Ashby, the westernmost municipality in the County. A small hamlet of 4,000 that straddles the border with New Hampshire--Macklemore's own house is a brisk two-minute stroll from it--Ashby is a hanging little town on the rocky soil as the green plains of the Merrimack Valley turn to the more steppeish landscape of the Quabbin Reservoir Valley.
"We're way out out these parts," Macklemore says. "We're hillbillies as far as some of the suburban representatives think."
Macklemore was born in and says patriotically that he will die in Ashby. His loving constituents have reelected him every year since he took office in 1966. He shares the designation of the longest-serving County Board member with Ayer's Lawrence Littleton, 81, who was also elected in 1966. If both make it to Jul. 1, 2016, and are reelected on that day, they'll become only the second and third County Board members to have served for fifty years.
Ashby has seen financial decline and lowered morale in recent years. High school graduation rates and class numbers are sagging; small businesses lining Route 119 in the center of town are barely hanging on. It's a similar situation for many other surrounding rural communities, but most of them sit to the west of Ashby in bordering Worcester County. That makes Macklemore one of the few members of the Middlesex County Board to represent blighted central Massachusetts farming communities. Furthest removed from Cambridge, it can sometimes feel as if the issues debated on the floor by powerhouse members such as Wakefield's own Bradley Ravell, Pete Lehrer, and Ivan Pittman, Burlington's Kennard Wave, Stoneham's Davidson Mooler, and Tyngsborough's Rosa Leinenkugel are miles away from the sorts of closer-to-the-bone matters Ashby's citizens entrust Macklemore to tackle.
"Towns are run by Board of Selectmen and cities by Councils," Macklemore says. "The County Board is more of an arm-waving pit of people the towns and cities have appointed to call out for the county's help on issues that can't be settled at a municipal level." But Macklemore says that the arm-waving frenzy is lost by rural communities in the northern and western portions of the county. "It's all Malden, Somerville, Cambridge, Melrose, Woburn, Wakefield," Macklemore says. "My towns and my surrounding towns that are in the County, we really get lost in the shuffle. I'd say that 9 times out of 10 an agenda item concerns a municipality or has been proposed by a representative for a municipality that is forty-five minutes to an hour from where I live."
And although he is venerated both in and out of County Hall for his longevity, members themselves will often be the first to admit that it's difficult to see things from his point of view. "It's not his fault," Ravell says, "nor any of ours. The county borders were drawn in an awkward way that makes it hard for out of the way communities to get recognized down here. But sometimes he'll get up on the podium and start talking about county funding for tractors and combines and education grants. Three-quarters of Ashby residents born today won't graduate high school. That sounds like such a strange world, such an improbable world, for those of us over here in the Boston suburbs. So it's easy for us to dismiss it and say, 'Oh, boy, that doesn't sound like MY county'--but it is. And I'll be the first to say that my fellow representatives and I need to listen to him a little more than we do." In a way, Ravell says, "Rural towns like Ashby and Townsend [Ashby's eastern neighbor] are almost more real, authentic Middlesex County than Wakefield is."
He's constantly pouring his heart and soul into the good of Middlesex County, Thom Macklemore is. He shows up at 7:30, leaves some days at 6:30, and every Saturday morning he walks three miles down the town's main drag to meet personally and shake the hands of local business owners.
"Saturday mornings are what we call Tommy days," says Petey Amaggio, owner of a struggling Ashby pizzeria. "He comes down and shakes all our hands. He's the salt of the Earth. But he obviously doesn't get listened to enough down in Cambridge."
One recent Saturday morning, Macklemore touted to a gathering of small business owners on the Town Common about plans for additional business money through a grant. The Ashbyers roll their eyes when they hear the same old song again--though they don't roll them at Macklemore.
"For twenty years he's been saying he'll get more money for us," says Patsy Bennett, a consignment shop operator whose family has lived in Ashby for 175 years. "It's still yet to happen. Not Tommy's fault, though. Down in Cambridge? A poor old man like him from a rural community like ours will always lose the arm-waving race."