“Thanks for biking with me to this Earth Day thing,” Claire said to Ned.
“Yeah, well…this is going to be fun,” said Ned as he shivered in the cold wind.
“You really don’t have to, you know,” said Claire as she downshifted so Ned could keep up.
“No, I think (puff)…Earth Day (gasp)…is great,” said Ned. “Tell me again…why are we celebrating…Earth Day in March?”
“Because Mayor Dick is a total idiot. He didn’t realize Earth Day is in April and by the time he figured it out he was already booked for that day. So he declared Earth Day in our city to be on March 22nd because it fit his schedule.”
They pedaled along to the sounds of Ned huffing and puffing. As City Hall appeared, booths and food vendors filled the streets and the great lawn in front was almost empty. On a stage was a band playing some country rock song about how incompetent the government is.
“Let’s head over that way,” said Claire as she nodded toward some booths. “I want to see if Charlotte is volunteering.”
Claire and Ned locked their bikes to a rack and headed over to find Charlotte. They passed the Trees of Hope and Food Fit booths. Claire was looking ahead for the next booth when Ned noticed the attractive women at the Food Fit booth. He took a leaflet they were handing out about healthy food, along with recipes. Ned thanked them and said he may come back later because he liked healthy food. “Awesome!” the young women replied.
They passed the Robo-Green Revolution, Not In My Back 40, Garden Yourself, and the Solar Collector Collection booths before Claire finally saw Charlotte. She was working at the local progressive AM radio station booth, WGRN.
“Hey, Charlotte!” said Claire.
“Hi Claire. Hi Ned,” said Charlotte.
“How's it going?” asked Claire while Ned just stared at Charlotte with a silly grin on his face.
“It's been slow – no crowd at all. It's not surprising since the whole event was moved up a month. It's freezing out here!” she said as she blew into her hands and rubbed them together.
Upon hearing Charlotte's words, Claire's eyes widened with anger and she began a diatribe. “Can you believe that? Mayor Dick is such a...such an...idiot. Forgetting Earth Day is in April and moving the city's celebration to March. Oh, it steams me! I just can't imagine what would possess him to be so arrogant – so backward about these things.”
“I think he didn't want people to show up for the real Earth Day, so he moved it.” said Charlotte. “His record on the environment has been pretty bad. This is worse than not acknowledging Earth Day at all. Look, there's hardly anybody here.”
Wanting to impress Charlotte, Ned said, “Yeah, maybe he really didn't want them to show up. And...and...” He was looking for something to say that would sound intelligent. “Maybe he wanted to toot his horn about his new small business initiative that is supposed to help reduce carbon emissions.”
“That initiative doesn't do anything to reduce emissions,” said Claire. “He just says it does. It will actually increase emissions because it allows larger businesses to create more under a cap and trade agreement.”
“Yeah, and he could toot his horn next month if he wanted anyway,” added Charlotte. “When its warm out.”
Ned shrugged his shoulders and changed the topic, “Are you and Topping going to garden with Bartholomew?”
“Yeah, I'm so excited. This is going to be fun. I've never gardened before, have you?”
“No, not really,” said Ned. “My parents had a small garden but I never helped them with it.” Neither of them asked Claire that question, because they knew her parents really liked gardening-- and they even raised chickens. As Ned began to wonder why it was that he never helped his parents garden, he noticed several crows flying toward a tree behind the stage. Then he noticed that the tree, which looked like it had leaves, was actually full of birds.
The band stopped playing and a woman's voice rang out, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome! Welcome all of you to the Great Earth Day Celebration!” A few cheers rose from the pitifully small crowd as people turned to face the Deputy Mayor.
“It is a great honor to have you all here. It's a little chilly, but seeing all of you warms my heart,” said the woman. Applause rose from the crowd, mostly to keep their hands warm; a couple people whistled. “Let me delay no longer. I have the great honor of introducing to you the person most responsible for this Earth Day celebration. A person without whose leadership and guidance this city wouldn't be the spectacular place it is. Ladies and gentlemen, your mayor and your friend, Mayor Dick!”
There was no applause or cheers from the smattering of cold people standing around. The word “moron” was heard inside some muffles coming from somewhere back by the display booths.
“Thank you, thank you,” boomed the voice of Mayor Dick. The mic was too loud. “What a great honor to be with you all here on this beautiful day – Earth Day.”
“But it’s not Earth Day!” yelled a young woman's voice.
Mayor Dick didn't notice the comment or the few robins and mourning doves that began to circle overhead. He continued, “I am as proud as anyone of the great strides our fair city has made under my mayorship toward a greener and more vibrant city. I, and the city council and city staff...” a “boo” was heard from the crowd... “have worked tirelessly to bring this city into the greening of the 21st Century. It is with great pleasure that I read the following list of our accomplishments. First, an additional four acres of green space in our residential neighborhoods...”
“Due to foreclosures,” the young woman's voice interrupted.
Ignoring the heckle, Mayor Dick continued, “...for our children to play in. A new local food vendor for our public schools...”
“Donkey Burgers are going to make them all fat!”
“...that will provide healthy, nutritious food for our children.”
“Donkey Burgers cause heart disease!” said Claire as she moved toward the podium. The sun now dimmed as numerous birds flew overhead. Robins, mourning doves, crows, chickadees, warblers, cardinals and even a few chickens created a massive dark cloud that became noisier with each proclamation by Mayor Dick.
“The city fleet has reduced its gas consumption by fifteen percent.”
“Due to job loss!”
Mayor Dick refused to acknowledge Claire, but directed his comments to other people in the crowd. “We have created a small business plan that will reduce small business carbon emissions by thirty percent.”
“But it will allow large businesses to increase their carbon emissions by forty percent,” said Claire as she stepped up next to the stage.
Mayor Dick scowled her way and continued with agitation in his voice, “Citizens of this fair metropolis, fear not of the future, for I and the council will continue always to protect our land, water and air while also protecting our high-quality way of life.” He paused for a moment as he witnessed a single white dove feather fall down from the sky and land on Claire's dark green beret. The sound of chirps and calls grew louder
“You're a liar!” yelled Claire only a few feet from Mayor Dick.
“Now that is not fair!” yelled an offended Mayor Dick directly at Claire. “nothing I have said is a lie.” A cacophony of squawks, chirps, calls, crowings and gobblings almost drowned out the interchange between Claire and Mayor Dick.
“Well, it hasn't been the truth either,” Claire yelled back.
“You, my dear, are the liar here. And I will not let you deceive the fine people of this city with your misguided understanding of what is important and what I have accomplished. It is I who has been elected to be the protector of this fair city from the misinformation and cynical enviro-propoganda you are espousing,” replied Mayor Dick.
Claire did not give quarter. “Donkey Burger is not going to provide healthy and nutritional meals to our schools. The only reason they make burgers out of donkey meat is because donkey meat isn't considered a food item by the FDA. They do it so they don't have to follow regulations – so they can cut corners and MAKE MORE MONEY!”
“I will not stand here and listen to you slander my good friend Gerald. He has run his Donkey Burger business above board and with great success for many years.” With this, the birds descended-- as a single organism-- to within five feet of Mayor Dick's head. Hundreds of birds were flying en masse in figure eights and diving to and fro just above his head, but still he paid no attention. He only could see Claire, her red face and angry eyes.
“Gerald? Gerald? Above board? Do you have any idea what he buys his daughter for Christmas presents?” said Claire in disgust.
“Whatever he buys her has nothing to do with what kind of man Gerald is. “You obviously are not here because you care about Earth Day...or the earth. Someone please remove this girl from these festivities,” said Mayor Dick as he signaled to a security guard.
With that, Claire ran, and the birds flew off to distant rooftops, trees and places unseen. Claire wanted to blend in with the crowd and disappear too, but there was no crowd. She headed toward the booth where Charlotte and Ned were standing.
“Help, they’re coming to remove me!” said Claire.
“Quick, you can hide under here,” said Charlotte.
“If they want us to leave, why don't we just leave?” asked Ned.
Claire's voice came from under the table inside the WGRN booth, “Ned, go get our bikes and then we can get away. Bring mine here. I need to hide!”
Ned's face folded up in a look of “Do I have to?” But he turned and went to fetch Claire's bike. He was back in a few minutes.
“Ned. Put it by the back of the booth,” said Claire's voice. Ned did as he was told. “I'll meet you back at Madeline Park by the water fountain. Then let's go get some lunch.” Claire shot out from under the table, got on her bike and was gone.
As she saw Claire disappear over a hill in the distance, Charlotte said, “That Claire. She is amazing how she isn't afraid to stand up to them. She is so inspiring.”
Ned wasn't feeling inspired. He thought about going back to the Food Fit booth and talking to the attractive women. But he wasn't feeling right about that. He thought about talking with Charlotte a while and getting to know her better. But he wasn't feeling like doing that today either. He mounted his bike and slowly pedaled away from the Earth Day celebration. Ned suddenly realized what he was feeling – he was feeling alone.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Matt Wells
To see the full color flipbook version, click here.