Hey Rocky, Watch Me Pull a Rabbit Out of This Hat!

As Memorial Day rolled around, I had a problem.

I'm captain of a Relay for Life team, raising money each year for the American Cancer Society. My friends know this is a very personal issue for me, as cancer seems to strike so often. I am lucky that it has not struck my immediate family. But just in this last year, I've seen several close friends undergo treatment for cancer. Just last week, a co-worker died of cancer, only five years older than I am.

Our goal for the year was $3,000 - seemingly achievable, considering we raised a little over $2,700 last year. It seemed less achievable as about half my team dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As May drew to a close, we had raised less than $1,000.

This was a problem.

Oh, I knew there would be some last-minute donations. Some people only donate at the very last minute. Some forget to send in checks. We sell glow necklaces and toys at the event; that usually brings in some cash. We had been in talks with Dairy Queen for a fundraiser.

Still, I was looking at raising $2,000 in a little over two weeks. Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat! Chomp.

The deal with Dairy Queen went through, and is scheduled for Tuesday - a mere three days before the Relay. All was well and good, except for one little stipulation from DQ - the patrons have to physically hand them a coupon in order for us to get credit. And no fair standing out in front handing them coupons or leaving a pile by the register. Apparently that's cheating.

The coupons were approved and printed (courtesy of my friendly neighborhood print shop, thank you AIM Mail Center!) on Thursday. That left me with ….

Four days. Four days to get as many coupons as I could possibly manage into people's hands. Oh, I can hand them out at church on Sunday. But it's summer, and the crowds will be thin. No, I need to hit the town.

So after work today, I went on a little spree. I can't do it on duty, of course, and while someone suggested putting them on people's windshields, I think that's more "annoying and littering" than useful. Also, there might be an ordinance.

I drove to the library, but they were closed because today is the Route 66 Festival. Our Town is on the old highway, and the festival is in high form, with live music, bounce houses, food booths and all the usual conundrum. I rolled down my windows to hear the music, and stopped instead at my Friendly Neighborhood Comic Book Shop.

Hometown Comics graciously agreed to put out a stack of the coupons. He also showed me the setup they'd had for the creator of Mystery Comics, who had been in for a signing on Tuesday. His shop looks better than ever, and he's bringing in the big names - next month it's Cullen Bunn, creator of THE DAMNED.

Next I went to my favorite bookstore: Afterwords, on Main. This little new-used shop wasn't supposed to last six months, but I recently was honored to attend their one-year anniversary bash and raise a glass in honor of the terrific service they provide. Don't get me wrong: I'll do the Borders-and-Amazon thing. But I'll always check Afterwords first, and not just because they carry the complete works of Elizabeth Donald. Afterwords also took a stack, even though they were technically closed by the time I got there. That's service, man.

I intended to stop next at the Avon store, for the double purpose of dropping off coupons and picking up some sunscreen/bug repellent. I walked in and was shocked to see no Avon! What happened to my Avon store! Nothing, the owner assured me - a vibrant lady with a strong personality who was from California but grew up in Massachusetts and is the single mother of a child with special needs.

Wait, what? Yes, apparently my lifetwin runs the store that used to be Avon. Now instead of being Avon on Main, it's Bella Ragazza. Get this: it's a consortium of women business owners, artists and crafters and franchise owners who usually live off web site and personal sales, and now they rent space in Bella so their stuff is available on Main Street.

Kind of like Literary Underworld, but for craftswomen? Yeah. And we talked for quite a while, hitting it off instantly. Not just because of our bizarrely mirrored life stories, either! She took a stack of coupons to slide into the goodie bags for the party they're about to have.

Regretfully, I had more stops to make. So I bopped next door to the bead shop and art gallery run by church member and dear friend Kathryn Hopkins. It's easier to guilt an Episcopalian, so Kathryn kindly put a stack of the coupons by her front door even though she was in the middle of an art opening - new exhibit this week!

Finally I made it to my favorite coffeeshop: Sacred Grounds. And I write this as they deliver my Sicilian panini - all vegetarian, no meat shall cross the doorstep of Sacred Grounds - and my Highlander Grogg coffee is waiting for me. There's a stack of my coupons by the register now, and the barista is doing card tricks for the regulars.

As I sat here, I marveled that in one short hour, I experienced the warm, friendly generosity of a printer, comic shop guy, bookseller, woman entrepreneur, art dealer and barista, all within one mile of each other. I haven't even gotten to the fair-trade import store across the street or the local-harvest grocery down the block. The old theater is still in renovations, but the farmer's market will be open bright and early on the courthouse steps tomorrow morning.

And maybe it's only striking me now because the city TV station chose to anchor its news from Our Town today. I remember that because the ice cream shop on the other side of the library had a sign out front welcoming them and the mayor was too busy to talk today.

Or maybe it's just that I recognize how very lucky I am to have found this town. We humans usually don't realize the wonderful things until we lose them, but I've lived in so many places across the country that I recognize how very special Our Town is. It's a place with almost no crime, clean streets and a sense of community that just seems lacking in many towns in which I've lived. Oh, it has its problems. But when I call it Our Town, I really mean it.

Thank you, Our Town. I'm glad to be here. If we do manage to pull this very cantankerous rabbit out of a hat, it'll be because you rock.