Yesterday I spent an hour squabbling with the phone company over our bad connection. Finally, when my voice apparently faded away completely and the woman from Verizon was saying, "Hello? Hello? Can you call me back from a different phone?" I gave up.
We live kitty-corner from the City Hall, so I walked over there to see if maybe they had a pay phone. The City Manager greeted me and said, "Hey! How are our newest residents doing! Are you all moved in?"
I laughed a little at that idea and told him I wish, but no...we're still threading our way between the boxes.
I explained my phone woe and asked if they had a pay phone at the City Hall. He said no, and asked me if pay phones still even exist...they're pretty much antiques now. The clerk offered me the use of her cell phone and I made a couple of calls, then I asked them about the local phone service.
"AT&T is the land-line provider and Verizon is the only cell service that gets a signal here.", said City Manager.
"Really? No one else has service here? Are they planning to?"
"No", he said, "You gotta have people for that. We ain't got any people."
At first I thought he meant you have to have important people who will lobby with state government and utility companies for better infrastructure and services, but after a minute it dawned on me that he really meant what he had said literally. We have no people. Cairo is a town that went from a population of thirty thousand in the 1960s to twenty five hundred today. That's a loss of more than 90% of it's population in 40 years.
We have no people. In my head, "people" is turning into a word that should be capitalized. The Holy Grail of dying small towns in the Midwest. People.
The last thing he said to me when I was leaving was, "If you know any people looking to move to a nice little town, you tell 'em to come here. We need people."