Since our youngest daughter went to college, and we cut back on our very expensive cable TV package, we have been looking for diversions in the evening. One evening, along came an email from our RTM rep.

Michael Herley was planning a community meeting to discuss a few traffic issues in our area. One of the traffic problems mentioned in the email might affect us, and there would be representatives from town engineering, economic development and police. It was close by, at our kids’ old elementary school, and our TV selection was greatly reduced. We decided to go.

What we found at Mill Hill Elementary was America.

Before we entered the multipurpose/cafeteria/stage/gym, we went to look for the previous year’s class pictures and found both our girls’ class photos hanging in the hall. We entered the space and saw those one-piece folding table chair units pushed to either side. These units scream “elementary school cafeteria” from the 1960s onward.

We noticed that the hard beige metal folding chairs had not been put out yet and people were milling around, standing up. Apparently, there were some miscommunications, but someone found the long rolling folding chair racks that are always stored under the stage and rolled them out. (I remember racing these around with my brothers back in the day until someone lacerated a foot.) There was little chance of this happening that evening, as there were no kids, but I was tempted. But then I felt the phantom pain returning to my right foot.

A few people started to move the chairs, many bringing three or four from the cart for their neighbors. Neighbors who in a few minutes they were going to vehemently disagree with, but for the time being they were going to get them a place to sit. The chairs were put out and our meeting started.

Very little of it concerned us directly. Most of it centered around the intersection of Hulls Highway and the Post Road, where a new dining place, Organika, opened up a year or two ago, and was becoming very successful. Which means lots of patrons. The old store in the location never had that kind of business, as one person at the meeting put it. “He might have had six customers a week”

Where would these new patrons park? According to most of the attendees, these people were parking on the side streets and even on the lawns of some of the nearby neighbors.

Whoever said democracy was not pretty was right. Over the course of the meeting, emotions ran high. Everyone agreed Organika should not be forced out of business — actually, everyone but one. Some people came with their talking points scrawled out on yellow legal pads. Some had them typed and some just yelled out from the back of the room with no notes in front of them and not even recognized by the moderator. Herley and the department representatives gave presentations and tried to find consensus, but it was like trying to herd kittens.

At one point there was a show of hands in favor of sidewalks, then a show of hands opposed to sidewalks. It seemed evenly split, and I noticed the guy in front of us had voted for both. One neighbor accused another of honking at them as they walked near their car a few weeks back, and another shared photographic evidence of cars illegally parked. The Organika owner gave an appeal to his neighbors. Some things were agreed upon. Not a lot, but a few items that most people thought reasonable. Before we knew it, it was time to put the metal chairs back under the stage, until next time.

A few days later, we noticed the town had already implemented a few things the neighbors had agreed on. It made us feel good. However, we did call the cable company and re-upped the premium cable package.

Side note: If you are going to patronize Organika, which is a good new spot, enjoy the food, but don’t block the neighbors’ driveway, drive recklessly, park on their lawns or honk at them.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@