A tight-skirted Pinkerton Academy has batted her education eyelashes at Hooksett, and the town is ready to abandon a solid, decades-long relationship with Manchester — the city that educates her high school students — for this upstart from Derry.
Wanting to prevent this break up, I visited Mayor Ted Gatsas and suggested he handle it the way most couples do who divorce — make them pay. Build a tollbooth, I said, on Bypass-28 just south of the Massabesic traffic circle, and get Hooksett kids on their way to Pinkerton.
He said the city can't do that legally. For four years, Gatsas said, he's been trying to convince Hooksett to stay with a good thing — Central and West high schools.
Well it appears the mayor's wooings haven't worked, so allow me.
At first glance Pinkerton Academy looks impressive. She has new and old brick buildings, spacious parking lots and an auditorium with impeccable acoustics. I think I'm at a community college.
But Hooksett is not just selecting a school, it's selecting a community partner.
Hooksett and Derry will be sharing football games and school concerts. Parents will mingle at PTO meetings and booster clubs. Hooksett teenagers will be dating, even falling in love and marrying, people from Derry.
So to be blunt, are you crazy, Hooksett? You are going to terminate a committed relationship with the city that is the business, social, sports and entertainment capital of New Hampshire? For Derry?
Before you dump Manchester, consider these side-by-side, totally objective comparisons of the two communities.
No highway runs through Derry. You have to get off the interstate and drive a few miles on crowded roads to reach the middle of town. And that's the easy way. Most Hooksett parents are going to schlep their kids along the endless Bypass 28 (perhaps through my toll booth?) to get to Pinkerton.
Manchester has three highways that bisect it: I-293 through the middle of the city, I-93 on the eastern end of town, and Route 101 along the southern underbelly. Now that's a city on the move.
Manchester has Gen. John Stark, the Revolutionary War hero who saved Massachusetts at Bunker Hill, beat back the British in Vermont and coined our state's motto: Live Free or Die.
Derry lays claim to Matthew Thornton, a doctor, judge and politician who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Derry's guy signed his name to a 1,328-word paper, which he didn't write, that declared himself free and independent. Stark fought — rather brilliantly — for that freedom. And he used four words to pretty much sum up all the fancy language Thornton put his name to.
(Both were born in portions of what was then known as Londonderry. Thornton's area of town eventually became Derry; he left at an early age and never came back. Stark left Londonderry and ended up living and dying in portions of the town of Derryfield that eventually became Manchester.)
America's most celebrated poet, Robert Frost, lived in Derry from 1900 to 1911 while teaching English at Pinkerton and raising chickens. His farm is a historical landmark. (You can find it on Rockingham Road, right across from the Frost Resident Cooperative mobile home park.) Frost moved away and eventually settled in Vermont. (Do I sense a trend here, people leaving Derry?)
Manchester has Grace Metalious, America's tawdry author of the 1950s. She grew up in Manchester, but wrote the then scandalous and best-selling "Peyton Place" at her new home in Gilmanton. Her later novels were based in a Manchester-like milltown. Of course her native city commemmorates Metalious in many ways — um, ahh, yeah. OK, forget about that.
Derry can't forget Robert Frost; Manchester won't remember Metalious.
The criminal mind:
Manchester has its share of grisly crime. And over the past two decades, two criminals come to mind. The murders by Vaclav Plch and Chris Bernard were the kind of gruesome, bloody killings (beheading, torture) that keep CSI teams busy for weeks.
Derry murderers are much neater. Pam Smart seduced a high school student to kill her husband in their Derry condo. Jay Brooks is a Derry native and millionaire who hired a hitman to off someone he had a grudge against.
Now that's outsourcing for you.
Derry was the boyhood home of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. (Now that's getting away from your hometown.) After his quick roundtrip, Shepard ended up settling in Houston and Pebble Beach, Calif.
Dean Kamen is the inventor who created insulin pumps, water purifiers and the totally overhyped Segway. He was born in Long Island and now lives in Bedford. But his signature endeavors, DEKA Research and FIRST, make their home in the Manchester millyard.
Manchester's downtown thrives on drugs — the legal kind that is. Downtown coffee shops are outnumbered only by restaurants, bars and nightclubs where alcohol flows. Squeezed among the coffee shops and bars are firms in the fields of law, finance and communication; a bank headquarters; music stores; cigar shops; jewelers and a few pawn shops.
Derry's downtown doesn't dispense drugs, it needs them. In particular, it needs a cure for its schizophrenia, because Derry downtown doesn't know what it wants to be. It has five guy-oriented barber shops within a five-minute walk. Its two-story feed store is within site of an Apple computer lounge. A Cumberland Farms in all its cinder-block beauty sits right on the main drag. There are down-home restaurants ($4.99 for an Angus burger, one advertises) and an American Legion post. The First Baptist Church is catty-corner from a D'Angelos. One block has six empty storefronts, but the biggest sign of economic distress is parking meters — there aren't any.
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He lives in Manchester, and his children appear happy at Central High School.