We Have an Army Camp!

TOWNS are queer things. My towm is queer too.

We have an army camp now. Everybody and everything in town — the Chamber of Commerce, the Boosters Club, the newspaper, the City Dads, the wholesale grocers, the bankers, the landlords, the salaried fry — nearly burst buttons off trying to talk Uncle Sam into locating a camp here. It would be a fine thing for the town, they said. It would give the town a big payroll — a thing it lacked. It would pull us out of the red. In fact, an army camp — please give us an army camp - was the cure for the town.

When Uncle Sam said, ‘O.K., boys, raise $125,000 and we’ll locate her there,’ an extra came out, and the town mighty nigh burst the remaining buttons off celebrating. Everybody was put on a committee to solicit donations from everybody else. A huge thermometer was erected on a conspicuous downtown corner. ‘The town’s fever’ it was called. Every time any considerable amount was raised, down the street clanged a red fire wagon. The delighted citizenry rushed to the spot, and the firemen, with the aid of the ladders and red paint, ran the city’s fever up.

Meanwhile the wet-blankets leaned against the lampposts and observed, ‘The town’ll be sick of this army camp before it’s all over.’

One afternoon the town’s fever went so high that the mercury spilled over the top. A delirium resulted. The full amount was raised! All buttons had already been burst off, but hats could be thrown into the air and backs slapped. Hurrah! And huzzah! A $5,000,000 army camp! And a payroll! A big payroll!

While the mob was still celebrating, the landlords slipped unnoticed back to their offices and started raising rents. The salaried fry dodged the crowd and rushed over to the employment office to look for a job with better pay. The banker hung out an ‘Open on Friday Night ‘ sign. The real-estate agents grabbed some surveyors and tore out nine miles to the camp site and staked off some cotton fields into town lots and drove a few stakes here and there with ‘ Sold ‘ painted on them. Owners of vacant business property multiplied by two the rent previously asked, announcing, ‘Will remodel to suit tenant.’

The wholesale grocers snatched the telephones and hired new salesmen to solicit the mushroom cafés and restaurants that would inevitably spring up near the site. One enterprising merchant had already secured the franchise to operate passenger buses to and from the camp. The red hook-and-ladder wagon on its way back to the fire station almost ran over the buses already plying down the street with their destination marked ‘Army Camp.’

A telephone company pulled out its maps and started charting a line. Hotel managers sent rush orders for supplies of cots. ‘Cot houses’ sprang up. Everybody who had a one-story garage summoned a skilled carpenter and figured on adding a second story to rent as a garage apartment.

The little settlement itself near the site woke up, bought a batch of ‘Bedroom For Rent’ signs, and everybody tacked one on his house. The Santa Fe passenger train started stopping there for the first time in a decade.

In a few days captains, majors, all kinds of quartermasters, contractors, architectural engineers, and what not were thick. Soon contracts were let and actual construction was ready to begin. A few carloads of lumber were set, and bang — the building started!

The appearance of the downtown area was immediately changed. The street loungers since 1881 (the town’s birth date) had been peculiarly American, but from the length and breadth of the noses now in evidence the town might have been a seaport. Long lines of men garbed in work clothes crowded the sidewalks and streets near the employment offices. The town was verily seething with job hunters. Soon more than 4000 were at work, then 6000. What a payroll! And what a town on pay night!

Trailer houses in droves descended on the community. Girls must be careful not to be out after dark unescorted by a male. People must lock their doors tight and keep them locked even when at home. The town had an army camp under construction! It had a payroll! It had an epidemic of petty thievery!

Then the graver side of the situation suddenly began to dawn. When the camp was completed and the soldiers moved in, the town’s population would be almost, not quite doubled. What provision had the city for the wholesome entertainment of 20,000 extra men? To be exact, there were five picture shows already in operation and one under construction, all of which were limited on Sunday to matinees; one bowling alley; one skeet shoot; one athletic club; one night club of limited capacity and unknown rating and that was about all. The county and city were dry. That is, they voted dry, but the town was alarmingly wet for a dry town. The dry-voting inhabitants had learned with embarrassment from a December statement of the Board of Liquor Control that the county’s consumption for that month averaged per capita more than any other dry county in the state with one exception.

The City Commission had to do something about the entertainment situation, so they introduced an ordinance to permit Sunday night picture shows, (Sunday afternoon shows had been voted several years before despite desperate opposition and much bitter feeling on the part of the ministerial association and the presidents of the three local religious institutions.) Word of this Sunday night show matter seeped out at remarkable speed, for, almost before the Commissioners could adjourn, the ministers were in session. The day the final vote was to be taken, the preachers, the college presidents, and the curious filled the meeting chambers and the corridors. An angry session ensued. Everybody talked.

Pleaded one minister, in substance, as he pounded the table: ‘We should be unfaithful to our trust to the youth in our colleges here if we countenanced the evil of Sunday night picture shows.’

One layman dared speak for the issue - a druggist: ‘Sunday night shows will help to keep the boys out of the honky-tonks.’

Another indignant minister sprang to his feet and barked: ‘Young man, there are not going to be any honky-tonks here.’

The squelched druggist meekly lied: ‘I had reference to the honky-tonks in the neighboring counties.’

The vote was taken. Three for, one against. The wet-blankets leaned against the wall and said, ‘I told you so.’ The town had an army camp! A payroll! An epidemic of robbery! And Sunday night shows!

Someone in a muffled whisper cautiously asked, ‘Where do you want the red-light district?’ ‘That,’ said the authorities, ‘is something else we are not going to have in this town.’ The wet-blankets smiled, ‘Maybe not.’

The town had an army camp! A payroll! A wave of robbery! Sunday night picture shows! And perhaps a — well, a smug town could not think of that!

In another two months the soldier boys will be here. What then?

Yes, even towns are human. I must remember that once I wanted something very badly, and I have been wondering ever since I got it what I should do with it. I yearned for a piece of rent property all my own from which I could collect and keep the revenue — my payroll! That was what I needed, too. I hinted, begged, wheedled, demanded, until finally a deed was handed me, I too burst buttons with joy — an income! The wetblanket in my payroll, it painfully dawned on me, was that I must reroof the house and pay the upkeep, insurance, and county and city taxes out of my income.

Towns are queer things, but then there are queer people living in them.