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Along the Highway


Hallucinations on a
City Commission Meeting
By John Fleming

If there is special hell reserved for journalists, it surely consists of an eternal city commission meeting a torturous litany of motions and procedures, proclamations, recommendations, actions and inactions, ayes and nays, citizens both disgruntled and gruntled, committee reports, debates and delays, and a bottomless notebook filled with meaningless quotations and illegible scribbling of arcane symbols. A city commission meeting is a bladder filled with urine aching for a release which never comes, a frenzied bout of masturbation which is never consummated, a raw rubbing of skin on skin. An endless begging for release.

But every now and then there is a moment of enlightenment, a deliverance. The conditions have to be right, and one must be watchful, lest the catatonia of complacency cloud the moment. Because sometimes the clouds part, and a bodhisattva descends to the podium to inject some cosmic wisdom into the interminable debate. Monday, November 22, 1999, in the commission meeting room at Gainesville City Hall, the conditions were right. Nobody seemed to notice. Nobody, that is, except one lonely reporter sitting in the back of the room. A lone reporter who sat up and listened when David Chalmers began to speak.

"I'm David Chalmers. Madame Mayor. Commissioners." He nods politely. "I'm here to represent the middle. Or perhaps the muddle."

David Chalmers is an old man. He speaks with a voice that is slightly high-pitched, with a suggestion of merry bemusement in his tone. Some say he used to be a professor. In a previous life he was certainly a holy man, a possessor of the laughing wisdom of the Buddha.

"I want to say to you, if you are uncertain about what should be done here, if you change your mind a couple of times, that shows that you're thinking."

The debate to which he is referring is the evening's title bout, the so-called anti-rave ordinance. Two years before, Florida passed a law requiring drinking establishments to close at the time when they are no longer allowed to serve alcohol, unless local law allows them to stay open later. Gainesville opted out of the law. Prompted by police reports of late-night crime and drug use downtown, the city in November passed allow requiring bars and clubs to close at 4 a.m. Young people wailed and petitioned for their right to party, conservative residents pushed for a stricter 2 a.m. closing time. Tonight, the commission is voting on the first reading of a 2 a.m. ordinance. The meeting room is filled with a mix of party people in their teens and twenties, and older people from hale middle-age to doddering senility. Does anyone realize who is speaking, this wise man come down from mountain to speak in their midst?

"This is a problem about booze, bars, drugs and raves, and it isn't simple. There's no easy answer. If you think you know the answer absolutely, then I respectfully suggest that you're not thinking very soundly about it."

The reporter begins to feel a tingle, like a weak surge of electricity. Does anyone else notice it? He looks around, but everybody else seems to have the look of half-distraction they've had all night. Thinking of their own arguments, already set, not prepared to hear this. Chalmers continues.

"Raves are aimed at developing and experiencing a heightened state. Perhaps if you're really successful, an altered state. With sound and light, designer drugs and liquor too. What you're reaching for, if you can, is ecstasy."

As the reporter watches and listens, Chalmers begins to glow. A blue light suffuses his head, begins to pulse to orange, up to yellow, through green, back to blue. It has the look of fire. Wisps of the color begin to bleed into the air.

"I really don't want this to be a famous community in which people come from outside, are drawn here because something is going on in Gainesville that they can't have elsewhere."

Chalmers is growing, becoming a giant now. He stands 10 feet tall above the podium and his head brushes the acoustic tiles of the ceiling, but his height is like a crystalline shell and underneath there is still the small old man. The reporter blinks and the giant is gone, but he's still pulsing with light.

"What particularly struck me were the reports from the party, the rave, at the fairgrounds, in which of some 50 to 60 arrests for narcotics, I think 10 percent, six of them, were from Gainesville and the rest came from outside."

Chalmers voice is lilting music, the wind-blown strains of an aeolian harp, a sonorous melody. His pulsing aura has become streaming hair, blowing in an unfelt wind.

"There's a problem with raves." On the word "problem" his face jumps from his head for a moment, then snaps back as his skin sinks into his skull. For a moment he is indescribably old, in the next instant his face is as smooth and unlined as a teenager's.

"Designer drugs are expensive. Admission to the rave is expensive. And this only becomes worth your while to travel from a distance to come here and put together that amount of money if it's going to be able to go on for a long period of time. We're a young community, it's full of young people, and their habits are different from that of many who are older, and we've got to think about that, and keep that in mind."

Chalmers' brown suit has become a robe. And where did that beard come from?

"But the thing is you can't have everything you want. There are limits. Developers and cement plants and bass fishermen and residential neighborhoods don't get everything that they want. I say to the 13,000 signers of the petition, if you also say on your sacred, on your most personal honor that you promise not to have designer drugs and not to have binges, then I think a great many more of us would survive it."

Did the reporter hear that right? Chalmers is beginning to become transparent, he is moving to the next level, somewhere beyond. The harp is playing, the multicolored head still streaming, the robe flowing, but he is somewhere else, half in this world and half in another.

"And I don't think whatever we do, contrary to the letters, that we're going to be going into a fascist state, or that any member of the commission has sold out to the money, conservative, religious zealots, then let's cool our conversation about this, and see the real uncertainty, and perhaps compromise on this. Thank you."

The mayor immediately speaks up, "Thank you. Thank you Dr. Chalmers." A red light is winking on the room-wide commissioner desk in front of her. The spell is broken Chalmers is a small, thin old man in a brown suit again. The next citizen is called and the meeting continues.

The reporter smiles. Once upon a time an aged wise man came down from the mountain to speak. He walked the muddle path. Listen to him and be saved.

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Along The Highway
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