Mr. Mills

Nothing Happened in Coronation


I lived in Coronation, an Alberta village in Canada, until I was 18. This is the 4th of 25

Coronation stories & essays.

Mr. Mills

They say nothing ever happened in Coronation but few people ever sat in on Mr. Mills’ fifth grade class, my home room teacher.

Mr. Mills, would look out the second-story window of our red brick schoolhouse as a car sped by and ask, “I wonder what that driver is going to do with his extra two minutes?”

Since Coronation had less than a thousand people and was barely a dozen blocks long and the speed limit was 25 miles per hour, even the fastest driver in the world could not save more than a few minutes by driving like a madman.

Mr. Mills and his wife travelled in the summer holidays and his classroom lectures and observations were related to his journeys. He was the first person I ever knew who had been to Egypt.

He reported back to the class that the pyramids were so precisely constructed that you couldn’t wedge so much as a butter knife between their two-ton blocks.

(Later, I went to Cairo with a butter knife. But that’s a different story, even though it had its roots in one of Mr. Mills’ lectures.)

Great Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre

Mr. and Mrs. Mills travelled to Japan and returned with fascinating stories of riding on fast trains. He told us that the trains were so crowded that when it rained, the authorities increased the number of passenger cars by 10 percent to accommodate the extra raingear that commuters wore.

He said that there were “people packers” to jam everyone into the cars before the train left the station.

I thought this was hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing. My laughter caused several of the other boys to laugh. Mr. Mills stopped the class to give them “the strap.”


The strap was a leather strap a yard long that was used to sharpen straight razors. After Mr. Mills strapped the bejesus out of my fellow miscreants, he cried.

I don’t know how I managed to escape the strapping. It may have had something to do with the fact that my parents and the Millses were friends.

Much later in life, I dated a Japanese gal and explained to her about the Japanese people packers and the extra trains to carry the commuters who wore raingear.

She laughed and said she had never heard such nonsense. She said that the reason the transit authorities added more passenger cars in the rain was because fewer people walked in wet weather. They took the train.

If Mr. Mills were alive now, he’d be about 120 years old. I wonder what he would think of the modern-day world.

What would he say about the oyayubizoku? This is the Japanese “thumb tribe” — a culture that uses cell phones and Palm Pilots and GPS devices and TV sets embedded into eyeglasses.

Members of the “thumb tribe” range from Flin Flon to Florida to Frankfurt. Everyone is connected with chips and uses their thumbs to key information into their gadgets. Gadgets that are too complex for many.

Right now they are working on all sorts of great gadgets for the future — gadgets such as a plane that will fly from Los Angeles to Japan in two hours. The X-43 features a “scramjet” engine that will hurl it across the heavens at 10 times the speed of sound.

On rainy days I wonder if they’ll add 10 percent more X-43 planes. I think about something Mr. Mills asked. “I wonder what the driver is going to do with his extra two minutes?”

Obviously the driver and his oyayubizoku passengers will save more than two minutes as they zoom halfway around the world.

So what will they do with that extra time?

Figure out how to go even faster and save more time?



It doesn’t matter how fast you go or what kind of gadgets you use. You still live about the same number of years as people did when the Bible was written centuries ago.

Three score and ten. That’s what Mr. Mills used to say.

Of course, he lived to be 100 but he never tried to save time. He hardly ever wore a watch and savoured spending lazy summer days on slow boats to China.

Where did he get his money? It was simply a matter of priorities. He thought anyone who would spend extra cash for power windows was nuts. “I’d rather buy a boat ticket,” he’d say, “than new-fangled windows.”

Today Mr. Mills wouldn’t buy a Kindle or iPhone when he could purchase a ticket on a slow boat to China for the same price.

How do you start such a voyage?

Mr. Mills never had the Internet.


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