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Send the Tired Masses Yearning to Breathe Clean Air

From time to time I write about the attractions of America’s remaining small towns, hoping to cause some Angelenos to pull up stakes and remove to the hinterlands.

It is obvious that life in our once pleasant city is strained by overpopulation. There are more people than our streets and schools and public places can accommodate.

This is the sort of absurdity that overpopulation causes: We are urged to use less water, because the water supply is low. So we do. And the water department says it’s selling less water than it used to, so it has to raise the price.

That’s the sort of no-win situation that makes us want to move to someplace like Mesquite, Tex., or Grass Creek, Wyo.

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It is a fact that many small towns throughout the nation are not overpopulated, but in fact are in need of more people. The defection of young people from small towns to the city has left their high schools half empty and their main streets boarded up. There are places where even the saloons are going broke.

Naturally, when a town loses population and income it also loses crime. There’s no use robbing a bank in a town that’s bankrupt.

Tom Potts has sent me a clipping from the Hamilton (Mont.) newspaper reporting the entries on the daily police blotter. According to my atlas, Hamilton is in the southwestern corner of the state on the Bitterroot River below the Bitterroot Mountains, between Corvallis and Grantsdale. Its population is 2,499.

Following is the complete police department log for two days in early August:

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“Aug. 5--Officers responded to a complaint of loud music on South Seventh Street. A band was practicing and they turned the music volume down at the officers’ request.

“David Matti of Stevensville was cited for making an improper right turn when he turned from Fairgrounds Road onto Highway 93 and struck a vehicle driven by Janell Bourgeois of Hamilton as she was turning north onto Highway 93 from Adirondack Street.

“Officers responded to a barking dog complaint in the 600 block of North Fourth Street.

“Aug. 6--Officers responded to Shop and Go to investigate a report of a suspicious person who entered the store in an apparent intoxicated state and shouted ‘Can I get arrested’. The suspect left the store before officers arrived.”

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The general tranquility of Hamilton may be deduced from the fact that its police responded to nothing more disruptive than an orchestra playing too loud, an apparent drunk and a barking dog.

Taciturn to a fault, the report does not tell us what kind of music the band was playing. Was it rock? Country? Sousa? The kind of music that Hamiltonians are disturbed by might tell us something about their lifestyles.

I wonder too whether the musicians increased the noise level of their practicing after the officers left. Evidently not, since there was no further complaint.

The most serious crime, certainly, was that error by David Matti in making an improper turn from Fairgrounds Road into Highway 93. After striking Janell Bourgeois’ car, however, he evidently stopped, so there was no hit and run involved.

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The barking dog, of course, was routine. I imagine that you could find barking dog complaints every night on the blotter of the Los Angeles Police Department. Sometimes these complaints even get into the courts.

I don’t know what to make of the person (sex unknown) who went into a Shop and Go, evidently intoxicated, and shouted, “Can I get arrested.” Although the remark was in the form of a question, there is no question mark in the report. So we can only wonder at the person’s intent.

It does suggest, though, that Hamilton has its homeless. I suspect the person wanted to get arrested because at least he or she would then have a place to sleep.

One looks in vain on the Hamilton blotter for complaints of drive-by shootings, burglary, rape, armed robbery, embezzlement, auto theft, assault, arson and murder. Evidently no one was even arrested for blocking access to an abortion clinic.

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Of course, one would want to make further inquiries before moving to Hamilton. Are the schools good? Is there local option against liquor? What are the cultural advantages? How is television reception? What is the cost of housing? What are the opportunities for employment?

I have never been in that part of Montana, but I imagine the scenery is gorgeous. There is probably plenty of hunting and fishing for those who like such sports, although I imagine one might have to travel many miles to reach the nearest concert hall or theater.

Still, one wonders what that orchestra was practicing for.

If I hear from the Chamber of Commerce, I’ll pass it on.

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