For Jim Bennett’s suggestion box

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Dear Honorable Jim Bennett:

My name is Mark LaFlamme. I used to be a crime reporter around here until you chased all the bad guys away. Now I write largely about cats rescued from trees. Thanks. Thanks a lot. I notice that you gleefully fight evil on our city streets, yet you still have not done anything about the creature that lives in my closet. Please refer to my early letters complaining of this problem.

I am not writing you today to gripe about those matters, however. Today, I have a helpful suggestion that I believe will boost the local economy and get those downtown grouches in better moods. Have you noticed how grouchy people are downtown? They are stuck in traffic, hanging out on hot street corners waiting for buses or resigned to using those freakish scooter things to commute to work.

The solution is obvious. We need a subway system, just like in the big cities. We need rails that run underground, whisking our people from the downtown to the malls, from their homes to the Colisee, from the crack houses to the brothels. Come to think of it, we need brothels, too.

Mr. Bennett, I earnestly believe digging should start at once. Think of the hundreds of jobs it would provide and imagine all those cranky folks getting off the streets and going underground. More importantly, a new subway system would give me a new place to hang out, now that you’ve torn down most of the tenements and put up stupid colleges where dark alleys used to be. If you are not going to exorcise the demons in my closet, Mr. Bennett, you at least owe me this much.

I think you will all agree that the above is an eloquent and informative letter. But when I sent it along to our esteemed city leader, all I got for a response was this:

Dear Mark:

Do I really need to remind you of that restraining order, which forbids you from any direct or indirect contact with this office? Please, please, please stop sending us these letters.

OK, Mr. Bennett didn’t really write that letter. But I have a sneaking suspicion that my subway idea would be treated with similar dismissal and scorn. Which is really unfortunate because I think I’m onto something here. If there is a city that weeps for an underground rail system, it’s Lewiston.

I was in Boston the other night for reasons I won’t go into. I love Boston. I have no idea what it’s shaped like or how big it is because I ride the rails from one end of the city to the other. A person loses his natural ability to assess the geography of a place if he spends a large portion of his time underground.

It was on a subway platform in Boston where I saw my first drug dealer many years ago. It was down in those dark, dusty depths that I encountered my first panhandler. I may have seen my first hooker there and probably my first lunatic. Is it any wonder I fell in love with Beantown and with subways in general? Aboveground in the light there is baseball and culture. Down below the earth, there is man with his base urges and many vices.

Key to this plan will be the rail that shoots under the Androscoggin River and into Auburn. At the latest count, 7,547 people were stuck on bridges and streets between the cities. Those people began what they expected to be short drives more than a year ago! Their families have not reported them missing because they, too, are stuck in the full nelson that is intercity traffic.

And imagine: sailing beneath Sabattus or Lisbon streets without the coffee-spilling jolt that comes with traffic lights spaced 15 feet apart. Down on the hard subway seat, stained only slightly by a mystery substance, the only thing you will have to worry about is the man beside you who is having an angry conversation with you, and the drunk guy across the car who looks like he’s about to share the lunch he ate an hour ago.

And so I urge you to write Jim Bennett and extol the virtues of this plan. The man is so adept at bringing new things to the city, I sometimes suspect he’s shoplifted them. The Colisee and the brawling team to play inside it. The colleges, the flower parks, the free rides in helicopters that take off from the top of the city building clock tower.

Next week, another letter to Bennett: why we need free helicopter service based out of the city building clock tower.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

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