I was assigned the task of going to city council meetings and answering any questions that might come up. So, I went after work the next Wednesday to be of service to the council. The meeting was called to order. I was astonished to see that the room was full—people were even standing in the back. My table was to the side so that I could see the council and the spectators. I looked at my agenda.
First up was whether a trailer could be put on someone’s property. An older Hispanic gentleman got up. “I need a variance to put a single trailer next to my house.”
“I’m sorry,” Councilwoman Gallegos responded, “but we need more information to allow something like that. Why do you want to put this trailer on your property?” She was looking down her nose at him. Her glasses were perched on the end of her nose making her look like an owl. Her hair stood up in tousled spikes. I would definitely have cast her as one of the witches in Harry Potter.
“My daughter just moved out of her boyfriend’s house. She and my granddaughter and grandson need a place to live. So, I’m going to put a trailer next to my house for them.” I could see that this was totally logical to him. He had no idea that they could or might say no. He was just showing up to have a stamp of approval. I pitied him because I could see from the looks on the faces of the spectators and the downward glances of the council members that he was not likely to receive his variance.
“What does the city planner have to say?” Madame Councilwoman asked. “This is not an acceptable variance. The plot of land is only two-thirds of an acre. It is not large enough for the size trailer he is proposing. It is zoned as a single family home. We are recommending that this variance be denied.”
Mr. Gallegos was shocked. I saw his mouth fall open and his eyes widen. I felt sorry for him, but on to the next one, I say. But it wasn’t “on to the next one.”
“Comments?” Madame Councilwoman looked out at the crowd.
A line began to form behind the microphone. First up was an elderly woman wearing patched overalls, boots and a red bandana around her head. It was the perfect outfit for a farmer, and I was enthralled by all the details. She was dusty; her nails were worked down to a nub. I could see I could never be a farmer. I looked down fondly at my long nails lacquered in “I’m not really a waitress.”
“Thank you kindly. My husband and I live two plots over from the Gallegos place. A trailer would be too unsightly sitting there next to his house. We do not want you to grant this variance.” She nodded in finality. So much for neighbors getting along, I thought. Mr. Gallegos would never accept a package for her again.
Next up was a man in a three-piece suit. He looked completely out of place here among mostly farmers and ranchers dressed in jeans and flannel shirts. His shoes were shined like mirrors. I figured he must be ex-military. “We have just purchased the land to the south of Mr. Gallegos’ property, as you know. It is slated for development over the next five years. We worked long and hard with this council to set the terms of the development from septic tanks to making certain roadways accessible through our own monies. A trailer would change the entire demeanor of the area. We object to any variance being given.”
OK, I thought, it is clear that everyone is against the variance. You don’t need to hear from everyone. Moving on. Surely the councilwoman would tell the other people to sit down. The decision was all but made. But, clearly, that wasn’t the way things were done. Each person was given a chance to speak. They might repeat themselves ten times, but no one interrupted, no one suggested we move on.
I could feel myself drifting. I looked down at the agenda. There were six items on it. We had spent nearly an hour in this room, and we were still on the first one. I didn’t think I would be able to make it. I tried to discretely pull out a fresh sheet of paper. At least I could be productive with this time. I jotted down a quick list of things I still needed to do for the wedding. This weekend I was going shopping for a dress. Then I could pick bridesmaid outfits. I still needed a florist and a photographer. Then, we needed to do a menu tasting before the end of the month. I thought that was it. I looked up and realized everyone was looking at me.
Oh no! I think they asked me a question when I wasn’t paying attention. What should I do? Look stupid and ask them to repeat it? That was probably the safest route. I couldn’t give advice when I didn’t know the question.
“I’m sorry,” I said nervously, trying not to let my voice shake, “I didn’t hear all of what you said, could you repeat it?”
“Is there a reason we can’t vote on this variance tonight?”
“How should I know?” I wanted to say, this is my first meeting. I haven’t any idea. But, instead, I figured I would just make a decision. Besides, all I wanted them to do was get this over with. No need to revisit it another time.
“No, go right ahead and vote.” The council seemed pleased with this response. I hoped there was no reason they had to wait. Nothing like giving advice when you have no idea what the answer is. After the vote, the council called for the next item on the agenda.
I glanced at my watch, a quarter to nine. I might not get home until midnight at the rate they were going. But here was the big issue: how was I going to get out of doing this again? I couldn’t sit through another one of these horrible meetings, and I certainly couldn’t do it every other week as I was slated to do.
The next man came up with a huge drawing. He sat it on the easel. “Here is my proposal. I want to build a ten-car garage in my backyard. I collect vintage automobiles. I need a place to store them, so I am asking for a variance to build another building on my property.” I could see that this was going to go the same route as number one on the agenda. I was surprised to see that wasn’t clear to number two. He looked just like number one before anyone began speaking—this is just a formality. I’ll tell them about it, then go home and do what I want to do. Think again, I wanted to shout, but I just sat there and watched as the line to get to the microphone grew to the point that it was outside the room we were in.
Tonight might not make me live any longer, but it was certainly going to seem like I had lived an eternity. I zoned out but tried to look alert. If I wasn’t looking down writing a list, maybe they wouldn’t catch me off guard the next time. The next two hours ticked by second after second. I watched each tick on the clock over the heads of the council members. My contacts were so dry from staring; I knew I was going to have to pry them off my eyeballs. I was completely exhausted. It was ten minutes until midnight. I dragged myself out of the meeting and home to my bed. My only thought was how I am going to get out of doing that again?