Even in this day and age there are rural counties whose claim to fame is that they don't do much of anything. Life moves at a snails pace because there are no factories, no corporate office buildings, no tourist attractions, just a string of almost empty downtown areas, one after another. There are dozens of crossroads, with the remnants of a different time all over those rural counties. Some of the counties are so poor and so wild they offer the perfect places to operate illegal businesses as well as legal ones.
One of those fly specks on the map is the crossroads town of Portage. Portage had never been a thriving center of commerce, but it was once home to a small market, a small farmer's exchange, and a service station.
All those business closed during the Peek of the Walmart era. The Restaurant had somehow survived. Probably because even country folks need a meal now and then.
The old service station became a tiny combination of all the stores which had closed. One could fill his gas tank, buy a pound of butter, even find a screw driver for sale at the Portage Market. Most likely you could also get a dime bag of pot as well. The former three bay service station made an acceptable country store. Though it still looked like an abandoned three bay service station with a face lift.
The law was enforced by several Sheriff's Deputies who roamed the county. If there was a major crime, the state police investigated it. It would have over whelmed the resources of the deputies. As I said, Portage was just fly shit on the big old county map that hung on the wall in County Seat.
On the first Monday of every month, the traffic in County Seat tripled as the circuit court came into session. Portage was just part of the whole sleepy 'God, guns, and pick up trucks, movement, that the politicians made fun of during non election years.
Over the winter the residents of Portage had seen a woman visit the old brick building several times. That building was last used as a small grocery store twenty years before. The building seemed to interest her enough to come meet with the Realtor twice.
On the last of those trips she brought what might have been her sugar daddy. The couple had eaten lunch at the Main Street Cafe. The Cafe was a reminder of the days when state roads ran through the countryside linking cross roads towns together. Along those rural state roads cafes sprang up to feed the motoring public. The state had taken the highway designation away from the road to Portage, but the cafe remained.
The food for the most part was fresh and tasty, if your taste ran to the simple things, as Greg's taste did. Since he was a retired enlisted Marine, he had never acquired a taste for the finer things.
The first time they ate at the cafe, Greg, and the much younger woman with him were on a mission. Their mission was to scout out a location for their businesses. The first time that they met with the local Realtor, They ate lunch at the cafe, then moved on to scout other locations.
By the time they ate in the cafe again, they had decided that they would settle either in Portage, or an equally small town several miles away. Since there were small buildings abandoned along many of the former state highways, their search had been long. The building in portage would require the least renovation, and the price was right. It also was in a designated rural service zone for the lady's business.
Greg had waited until after a hard rain to decide which of the two buildings he would make a lease, with the option to buy, offer. His motto had always been keep it simple stupid, so that was his frame of mind at the time of his lunch with Maggie.
He liked things simple because he was no spring chicken. He was a fifty-five year old man with a twenty-five year old daughter at his side. They had the lunch special on that early spring morning while they waited for the Realtor to show. Greg could see the empty former grocery store parking lot through the window of the cafe.
"Well Daddy, what do you think?" Maggie asked.
"I think your Momma would be proud of you," Greg said.
"Enough with the compliments, which building are you going to lease?" She asked.
"I guess it's the Portage in a pear tree," Greg said with a very infectious grin. "So are you going to miss the big city?"
"For about ten minutes, besides we can get into Lucille in ten minutes. Lucille has everything we need.
"Well I have lived in some pretty isolated places over the years but you haven't. You might find you miss the variety available in a larger place.
"Trust me, Colleges are pretty isolated. If not by miles by attitude," she informed him.
"Well it should be interesting, You sure as hell are not going to get rich in Portage," he informed her.
"No I won't, but neither will you," Maggie said.
"I don't have to get rich, my life is mostly over," Greg said.
"Let's just move the conversation along," she suggested smiling at her father.
Maggie had tried to explain her career to him a few times, he just didn't get all the intricacies of the new ACA. She had a masters degree in nursing from the state university, so under the new medical system she was entitled to operate a primary care clinic. She had explained ten times that her clinic would be the entrance gate to the grounds of the medical establishment. She was like a security guard, she explained.
She was there to help those she could, but also to send those who needed more help to the right place as efficiently as possible. For that she could bill the government a ridiculous fee. The government had provided the financing for the clinic.
From the stories she had been told about her type clinic, she learned that the government never let them fail. They also never allowed them to make as much money as they had before the ACA. She was trading a government financed and instantly approved clinic, for a lot of money down the line.
His business unlike like that of his daughter was going to take longer to get a foot hold. Nobody cared if Greg was a success or not. Unlike Maggie's clinic, the Federal government had no vested interest in his success or failure.
Maggie's clinic was up and running much faster than Gregg's bike business. There were at least two good reasons why.
One was simply the ACA promise of a huge improvement in rural medicine, so the pressure was on for clinics like Maggie's.
The second reason was that Greg had more things to physically do before he could open. Maggie on the other hand just unlocked the door, unpacked the equipment which came with the plug and play package from the Government. The price she paid seemed steep to Greg. He admitted that he knew nothing about the price of such things. So when Maggie told him the individual equipment would have cost if purchase separately he believed her.
The government most likely had no idea what the cost of the equipment was. They only knew that they wanted the clinic open. It was a campaign promise that every politician made. Improve health care and lower the cost. They were at least trying to throw money at the problem.
Two days after the clinic arrived on the back of a truck, it was open for business in the grocery store's parking lot. The availability of utilities quickly was one of the reasons the ACA administration approved the location so quickly.
Meanwhile the motor bicycle business was still in the building renovation phase. The two bathrooms were a mess and only one of them was fully operational.
Greg scrubbed the toilet and sink and thanked god that he had at least one functional toilet. The janitor's sink in the large storage room required a lot of cleaning but it was also functional.
Gregg and Maggie had their two week anniversary lunch at the dinner. "So Mags how is business," Greg asked.
"Well it didn't start with them lining the parking lot, but I'm going to stay open for sure. There are enough indigent people in the county and enough EMS evaluations for sure to keep the doors open. I have treated six patients brought by EMS and forward just as many on to the ER at James County General.
Strange that I get some of the Gang members from Lucille ten miles away. I have no idea why they would drive all this was to visit a clinic with less equipment and services," Maggie commented.
"I have no idea, but be careful with those punks. Most of them are high and it doesn't take much to set them off. Some of them are just mean, and some of them are radicals. One is as dangerous as the other."
"So what are you going to do about a place for us to live. Your little condo is too far away for us to keep commuting," Maggie said.
"I'm not selling it for sure," Gregg said. It's paid for and it don't eat."
"Mind if I made a suggestion," Maggie asked.
"Could I stop you?" Gregg asked her.
"Probably not," she admitted. "That storage room you have across the rear wall, turn it into an 'on call' room. Most hospitals have something like it. We could both use it. We could easily fit a couple of cots in there. And a cabinet with a microwave and dorm refrigerator."
"I could actually build that. I have all these tools here, so why not?" he agreed. "I will need a plumber, since you need a shower."
After that lunch it took three more weeks before Gregg even began working on a bike. He had amassed thirty broken or working bicycles and cardboard boxes of parts galore.
.... There is more of this story ...