Every once in a while, life offers up a pleasant surprise. Such was the case on a recent Sunday evening in Cincinnati.

Pam and I had tickets – courtesy of Jim and Judy Graham – to the final performance of “Wicked” at the Aronoff Center. (The center is named for lawyer, former state senator and occasional imbiber Stanley Aronoff, but that’s another story.)

Along with 3,300 of our closest friends, we packed the house. Those in attendance and those working at the Aronoff were surprisingly, well, nice. I don’t know any other way to say it. This was a very nice crowd. And a very diverse crowd.

As soon as we entered off Walnut Street (by the way, we parked at an on-street lot for 10 bucks next to the Hustler store, which I didn’t know existed in Cincinnati), a very pleasant young couple asked Pam to photograph them in front of a large “Wicked” poster. After that, we sat down at a table for four in the lobby. Another couple joined us. They live in Cincinnati but had a relative who owned a farm years ago just north of Hillsboro. We talked about farming, baling hay, cutting tobacco and other fun stuff from our respective backgrounds.

As we entered the theater, they sat just in front of us. Seated next to us were a grandmother who works for Duke Energy and her 9-year-old granddaughter. However, instead of having adjoining seats, the granddaughter initially sat to my right with her grandmother seated in the row directly behind us. I offered my seat so they could be next to one another. The grandmother politely declined, but then switched seats with her granddaughter so the youngster could have a more elevated view of the stage. The center also provided seat cushions for the younger attendees to improve their view.

It occurred to me as I spoke with and watched the Aronoff staff interact with many of the 3,300 in attendance, these people get it. They get what customer service is all about. They get what employers are most impressed by: Customer service, productivity, pleasantness and an evident willingness to work well with their co-workers and those ultimately paying their salaries.

Each and every Aronoff worker with whom we spoke was not only polite and helpful, but also CHEERFUL. How about that? Cheerful workers. Amazing.

In an era where so many of us seem almost pre-conditioned to be unhappy and dissatisfied with our work or with our employers, the Aronoff staff couldn’t have been better.

Since I tend to notice all things related to business, I noticed the ages of these associates. Some of the ushers appeared to be in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Some of the bartenders looked to be in their 20s and 30s. They all displayed one thing: They were welcoming and cheerful. OK. That’s two things.

Somewhere along the chain of command, someone has done a remarkable job of getting good people and getting them to understand what customer service is all about.

As far as the performance itself, well, it wasn’t a John Wayne movie, but the three-dimensional effects were fantastic. It was almost as if we were at a live show. OK. That probably wasn’t near as funny as the first time I told it.

Seriously, the actors, singers, dancers and musicians were outstanding in this sort-of-reversed “Wizard of Oz” play presented from the wicked witch’s perspective. Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda was most impressive. I also noticed from the playbill that my friend and former boss Mark Policinski is a member of the Season Patron Club. No surprise, there. I always knew he was a thespian at heart.

After “Wicked,” we walked a block and a-half back to our car in the 10-dollar parking lot next to the Hustler store. That’s when it dawned on me that Cincinnati had a downtown light show (Blink) going on all weekend. It’s estimated that 1 million people attended Blink in its first year of what surely will become an annual event.

The attendance for Blink surpassed Opening Day crowds for the Cincinnati Reds, Taste of Cincinnati crowds and Octoberfest crowds. Think about that. Downtown Cincinnati managed to hold a four-day weekend event with minimal interruptions or serious problems with 1 million people packing the downtown district.

Now, back to our on-street parking lot (yes, the one next to THAT store). As soon I started the car, I said “We’ll never get out of here.” Vehicle traffic was lined up as far as the eye could see. So was pedestrian traffic. We were going to be melting – yes, melting – away in that parking lot. I knew it.

But I was wrong. And I am not making this up. The very first oncoming car from our left on Vine Street stopped and motioned for me to pull out. This being downtown Cincinnati, I suspected it was some sort of a joke, maybe a precursor to a road-rage incident. I thought (as Robert Earl Keen famously said) “I don’t want no fights, now.”

So I sat in the parking lot. The oncoming car did not move. A pretty lady on the passenger side put the window down and waved for me to merge into the line of traffic. I eased off the brake, but didn’t dare touch the accelerator. Not yet. This could be a trap. Meanwhile, the horde of pedestrians had stopped as well. Everything was in slow motion. I pressed the gas pedal. We were safely on the way to Liberty Street and I-471.

Such nice people. A million of them. In Cincinnati, Ohio. Who knew?

If a city the size of Cincinnati can close a few streets and entertain 1 million people over a weekend, and if many other cities, towns and villages across the state and nation can do the same, surely Hillsboro can have an enjoyable three-day festival over the July 4 holiday.

I was in Bainbridge today as the setup for the annual Fall Festival of Leaves was under way. There were yard sales on every street, people milling about, vendors getting ready and Tim Koehl (who may or may not have voted to approve the bill file at the Oct. 18 county commission meeting) working outside the Paxton Theatre, where I almost hit him with the Oct. 21 Highland County Press. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the beautiful autumn weather while talking with their neighbors.

That’s what communities are all about.

Hillsboro used to be like that. And then two geriatric men – joined at the hip – showed up from California. Today, one of them is awaiting sentencing. Good riddance on that count. Maybe their local enablers are starting to wake up. Maybe. Hillsboro deserves better. The citizens and taxpayers surely deserve better.

While the recent administrative announcement by #4 (i.e. Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie, the fourth man to hold that position in the last five years) to move the popular Festival of the Bells has gotten considerable attention, another significant issue has not.

The city administration is considering joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, thus burdening city property owners with the district’s 5.5-mill tax levy and further burdening workers in the city who already may be paying the 5.5-mill levy on their respective properties outside the city with a double tax for the same service.

Hillsboro has an earnings tax that was earmarked for EMS services. Anyone who works in the city is subjected to this tax. Those who work in the city and also have property within the vast PCJEMSF District must pay the 5.5-mill tax in addition to the Hillsboro earnings tax – for the same service.

Prior to voting to join the PC district and prior to selling Hillsboro’s new fire station to the PC district, City Council President Lee Koogler is now called upon to answer three very easy questions.

1. What will be the city’s selling price on the new North East Street fire station?

2. What is the city’s current debt on the building, property and any equipment?

3. Should the city join the PC district, when will you introduce legislation to end the city’s earnings tax?

I have asked these questions repeatedly. Thus far, the council president has not responded.

As I told Lee a long time ago, I have zero respect or confidence in receiving anything close to an honest answer from the mayor’s office. In fact, I am no longer critical of the mayor. I think he’s doing a great job of stonewalling and bamboozling the taxpaying public. He ought to have a statue in front of the county courthouse, he’s that impressive with what he does. Really.

But Lee is a lawyer, who has taken an oath that really matters. I’m hopeful that the council president will provide answers to these elementary questions. Soon.

The divisiveness created by the kingboy must end. Lee can bring the community together again. It’s not going to be easy, but he has the knowledge and experience to do what needs done. Now, it’s only a matter of intestinal fortitude. Good luck, and let me know if I can help.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.