Having been out of work for over a year now I was becoming a little frantic. I had done everything I had been advised to do by all of the organizations out there attempting to help stem the joblessness in our economy. I had joined self-help groups, resume writing seminars, you name it. No one was hiring a city planner right now, or in the near future. The ones with jobs were not leaving unless they had a job in hand. The ones without were in the same boat as I.
It seemed to be a true blessing when I found a letter in my mailbox from a headhunting company. It was a firm offer to come to a town in the middle of the state of Kansas and fill the position of city planner. It seems the town had been established by a man of great means to house his own labor force, and all the people needed to give them the services they needed. I had never heard of such a thing.
Oh, I had heard of company towns, but they had gone out decades ago. This was an oddity indeed. A whole town founded by one ultra-millionaire just to produce his products and keep his labor force happy and well taken care of. I jumped at the offer. It was for all expenses in the town, including a free place to live, and all the other necessaries one would need to live happily. There was an extra stipend of several thousand dollars that one could just bank if one wished.
The next odd thing I discovered was that the only way into the town was on the train. It made two stops per day just for the folks in this town. It picked up the products being manufactured, and dropped off materials needed for the work done in the town's only factory. It also dropped off new arrivals to the growing population. I was one of them on a bright morning in June.
As I dismounted from the train, with the help of a porter, I noted up on a hill above the town what appeared to be an open air theater. It must be used to put on plays during the warmer days of spring and summer. I was greeted by a gentleman in a summer suit and a somber manner. He shook my hand with his left hand. His right hand had been lost somehow. He introduced himself as John Jennings, and I reminded him of my name, Bill High. I didn't find it too strange that he was one-handed. In farm country you see many with such losses.
He was gracious enough to take me to my hotel in the little electric car that seemed to represent the transportation means in the town. They were supplemented by a trolley system running on the major surface roads. While we slowly passed through town I noted several more handicapped persons on the streets. Some were limping and using canes, others had full head coverings, or carried themselves as if they had lost parts of their bodies. It was strange, but perhaps the owner, Mr. Kocker, had hired people with handicaps as a philanthropic gesture.
As we were driving he pointed out the main features of the town. It had, in addition to the open-air theater, a downtown Opera House. It was very retro. I liked it. I liked the whole town and was eager to begin my duties. Apparently I would be helping in the expansion of the town now that it had been established. John told me that I would not be starting work until I had seen several plays put on by the townsfolk.
This was another strange thing. What in the world did plays have to do with my work or this town itself? But, when I questioned John he waved it off, with his one hand, as an eccentricity of Mr. Kocker. It seems that the owner and patron was a great lover of Shakespeare, and all the townsfolk were required to see a certain number of plays each month or lose their jobs.
It was my duty to begin my life in the town by seeing some of Mr. Kocker's favorite plays. At the end of the week I would have completed that rite of passage, so to speak, and would begin my duties as the new city planner. So, it was a given. I had to do what I was told if I did not wish to get back on the evening train and leave the town for good. That was simply not an option. I needed this job too much.
John left me at the hotel where I would be staying until a real house was ready for me. Not a problem, of course. The desk clerk limped up to the counter and checked me in. He did not smile. The porter who carried my luggage up to my room also had a limp. He was using both hands to carry my baggage. He refused a tip. He did not smile either.