Tens of thousands of people crammed into Headwaters Park the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2062.
It was a beautiful Saturday. The temperature was 75, pleasantly cool for a November day. The St. Marys River was practically glistening with fresh water released from the Kekionga Dam, and park visitors were amazed at how full and clear the river looked.
The park had grown fourfold since its inception, now including the Old Fort property, what used to be called the north river property where an old auto salvage yard once stood, and the riverbank all the way to the convergence of the three rivers. A huge stage had been erected on the west side of Cesar Chavez Way, formerly known as Clinton Street.
Lines formed at the water fountains scattered throughout the park. Though water was relatively plentiful in Fort Wayne, it wasn’t cheap, and police strictly enforced a one-pint rule as people brought their pinters – made from corn- and hemp-based green polymerastics – for refilling.
Henry Manufacturing had become the world’s leading maker of the bioplastic container and had been lobbying government officials and land barons not to develop the remaining farmland on the east side of the county, where corn and hemp fields produced the basic ingredient for its product.
Kids stuck close to their parents and caregivers, looking in awe at the river. Many progressive leaders worried about the lack of socialization of children after education moved to online private schools, and with so many new people in town, protective parents kept a close electronic leash on their kids.
Mayor Roberto Gonzalez teased Shelby Loredo’s boys as they rode in the limo from the Winfield Moses Jr. Government Building at Calhoun and Berry toward Headwaters. You boys are going to be stars today! he told them.
The boys giggled, then looked in awe as Gonzalez gave them old toys called Game Boys, which quickly captured their attention.
It’s going to be a great day! the mayor said.
But Deputy Mayor Angelica Lewis wasn’t so sure. The northern sky looked ominous – almost all sudden storms came from the north. The last thing she needed was a derecho ruining this big day.
The city’s most popular band, the Beef Manhattans, was winding up its show. Gonzalez insisted that the Manhattans provide the music – their music appealed to all ages, and the group had been together in various forms for decades. They offered consistency and reassurance in this age of constant change.
The crowds parted from the pathways as the mayor’s limo crept to the Geoff Paddock Stage. Supporters of Gonzalez cheered; backers of his opponent, Mia Brown, hissed and jeered, shining Brown for Mayor holograms in front of him as he stepped from the car with the Loredo boys and their mom. Deputy Mayor Lewis followed them toward the stage, but she went off to the media area.
The media in 2062 was a strange grab bag of professionals who strived to be objective, professionals who had clear agendas and amateurs who posted neighborhood news on their Taus, the hand-held devices that replaced computers and phones.
The Fort Wayne Journal – like other media – had gone through countless changes in its 199-year history.
Earlier in the 21st century, many Americans started giving up on objective media and sought out biased sources that presented news with the political slant they supported. Newspapers nearly died off in the 2020s, but the widespread power failures and the death of the Internet in the 2030s brought new life to a product that could be printed on newly invented mechanical presses that required no electricity.
Then the advent of the i-Quark – the reading device that turned words into pictures and sounds using Internet 7 – allowed savvy newspaper owners to continue, sending news out by paper, with video and audio online.
As the number of truly objective news sources dwindled, conservatives dominated the media. But Americans grew increasingly suspicious and wary of the conservative media in the 2030s as they continued to dispute that global warming had seriously disrupted so many aspects of life. When the Washington Post disclosed that Daniel Mourdock, the first Tea Party president, had covered up countless reports of power outages, floods and storms, Americans largely rejected the conservative media.
But, as often happens throughout history, Americans swung on a pendulum to the other extreme, electing a Progressive Party president and supporting liberal media, until they, too, failed the public. By 2050, independent, objective news media returned to favor, and The Fort Wayne Journal took advantage of the region’s growth to become a media powerhouse.
Two reporters and columnist Frank Gray from The Journal attended the big ceremony and were surrounded in the media area by about two dozen independents, all striving to report the story with their own brand of spin.
I remember when there was a car dealership here, Gray told whoever would listen. And there used to be a junkyard over there. And I remember a hubcap store right down this path.
Some of the media people started asking Gray what a hubcap is when Gonzalez spoke into the microphone.
Good afternoon, Fort Wayne! Isn’t it a beautiful day to be downtown and watch the river flow?
The mayor never got tired of giving speeches, and he had a certain charismatic aura that was so likable to so many voters. And it didn’t hurt that he always kept his speeches short and sweet. He called it his William Henry Harrison rule. And, as Win Moses himself taught him, Gonzalez could work a room and a crowd with the best of them.
And we have a million reasons to celebrate today!
In short order, Gonzalez charmed the audience with praise for the city’s milestone of reaching a population of 1 million. He introduced a reticent but poised Shelby Loredo, officially citizen No. 1 million, and her photogenic kids to the cheering crowd. Loredo read the script Angelica Lewis wrote for her, accepted a new house bot from Wayne Robotics, and waved to the crowd.
As was his custom, Gonzalez invited questions from the media, but he never took more than three. The first came from an amateur who asked when the city will hit 2 million people. The second came from a Mia Brown supporter who asked how much the city was spending on this party.
The skies were turning dark and the winds whipped up from the north. The crowd started to scatter. By custom, Frank Gray always asked the third and last question.
Hurry up, Frank, we got to go, Gonzalez said to the cranky but trusted writer.
Why, Gray asked, is the river level going down so fast?