"Timmy! Get a move on. We're going to be late."
"Don't worry, Dad. I wouldn't miss Lisa's graduation for the world."
"I know, son, but the ceremony's going to start in 15 minutes. Good thing we found a parking spot so close. And in the shade, too. Didn't used to be this way. Springfield's sure changed a lot in the last 20 years."
"Well, a few years before you were born, this part of town was deserted – just a few bars and restaurants and lots of empty stores. Now look at it. You can buy just about anything you'd ever want. Moving the university downtown was the best thing this city did since putting out the welcome mat for Abraham Lincoln."
"It wasn't always here?"
"No, Timmy, it used to be way out in the middle of nothing, where Realitrix is now. It was a good deal for everyone. The city needed jobs, Realitrix needed a headquarters and the university needed students – otherwise, it was about ready to dry up and blow away, just like downtown. It was a gamble, sure. No one knew that a couple of college dropouts would start a company that would end up putting Microsoft out of business, but Springfield didn't have much to lose at that point. Heck, they just gave them the land and buildings for free, didn't even talk about a TIF."
"What's a TIF?"
"A TIF is when the government gives money... Never mind, Timmy – it's complicated. That kind of stuff doesn't happen anymore."
"How did things get so bad?"
"It didn't happen overnight, son. For years and years, Springfield, in fact the whole state, just kind of limped along, barely paying bills and piling up debt and watching while people moved away. Then the pandemic hit."
"I read about that in history class. Didn't Springfield go bankrupt?"
"Yep. The state did, too. After Donald Trump got re-elected, he was so pissed off at governors that he got the law changed so states could declare bankruptcy, just to make them look bad, and Illinois was first in line. Really, though, it was a blessing in disguise. A lot of things about that coronavirus pandemic were."
"Sure. After the second wave hit and more people got sick, everyone switched to mail elections. Before that, you had to vote in person, even if you were sick or there was a tornado."
"Nope. Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? You used to see politicians waving signs on election day and sending vans to nursing homes to collect voters like they were harvesting corn. Now, a lot more people vote and a lot less money gets spent. In Springfield, it pretty much saved the city."
"Before, less than half the voters in Springfield would vote for mayor, back when we had a mayor. It was a lot easier for unions and party bosses to control things. Now that we have elections at the same time everyone votes for president, more people vote, and that's a good thing."
"Well, for one thing, do you see that power line over there?"
"That's because there isn't one. See, when we had a mayor and most people didn't vote, City Water, Light and Power kept burning coal to make electricity even though it was costing millions more than buying power. Once everyone started voting, it was a pretty easy sell for Mayor Manar: Elect me and cut your power bill. The other candidates didn't wake up in time. They kept using words like 'crown jewel.'"
"Manar – he became governor, didn't he?"
"Yes, and he campaigned on his track record in Springfield, which had never happened before. Once he took over city hall, he shut down the power plant and used the savings to put all the power lines underground. Made things look nicer and saved a ton of money in the long run – no more tree trimming or outages when the wind came up. Realitrix might never have come here if we'd kept burning coal. With 20,000 employees plus a server farm, that place uses a ton of electricity, and they got it cheap.
"A lot of folks think the best thing Manar did was working himself out of a job. After he fixed CWLP and moved the university downtown and Realitrix came along, there wasn't much left to do except run for governor, and he got a boost by backing the ballot measure that put a city manager in charge of Springfield. No one wanted to go back to the way things were before."
"Hey dad, we're almost there. Can we sit anywhere we want?"
"I don't see why not – there's plenty of space on the green."
"The program says Michael Madigan is going to deliver the commencement address. Who's he?"
"He's a monk. He used to be the most powerful man in Illinois, but he had an epiphany when the pandemic came along and moved to Bangladesh. This is his first time back in Illinois."
"He looks like he's 110 years old."
"Yes son, but in Illinois, some things never go away."