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In some ways, small towns more dangerous than Pocatello

May 6, 2019

Perhaps I should check all the locks on my doors, turn on the home-security system, and release my pet alligator in the yard. Reading the recent newspaper article “Pocatello ranked as state’s most dangerous city” makes me a bit nervous.

The Gate City earned the dubious honor on the 24/7 Wall Street news site based on 2017 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

I’ve never perceived Pocatello as a very dangerous place to live. That is, except for the rare occasions when I foolishly happen to be driving in town during the local high school’s lunch hour and have to dodge teenagers attempting to drive while eating a burger in one hand and texting friends with the other.

Of course this ranking is a serious issue which I’m sure will result in some careful analysis. One aspect of the ranking that I question is the fact it omitted cities with less than 20,000 people, which eliminates most of the state’s towns. I am familiar with life in small communities which, in its own unique way, can be more dangerous than Pocatello.

In fact, based on my own experiences in several different states, I would go so far as to suggest that the smaller the town, the more “dangerous” it is. Let’s take a typical village of around 300 people as an example.

First of all, if you ever move from the city to a small town, one of the first things that you need to catch onto is that everyone in the town is related. This is nice in a way, but also creates a dangerous situation for those who are unaware. It took me a while to figure it out, but I eventually learned that when I tell Susie that I can’t stand Mrs. Jones, odds are better than even that I’m talking to Mrs. Jones’ niece.

Another small town reality that I observed is that it seems every tiny hamlet has that one “strange” family that everyone knows about and local folks regard with scorn and a tinge of fear. Sort of like the Forrester clan in “The Yearling” or the Ewells in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

You can easily spot that particular family’s home with its cluttered yard and its own personal Cujo ferociously barking nonstop while tied to a tree with a three-foot piece of rope, along with some other unidentifiable critters roaming around in the shadows.

Town lore is filled with scary tales of nighttime escapades witnessed at the family’s dwelling, leading to residents crossing to the other side of the street when walking in the dark.

In small towns the main street is often a state highway, which makes crossing it a matter of life and death. Then there are some with railroad tracks on the edge of town. It’s even possible to have a home with a highway out the front gate and a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals right out the back gate — now that’s dangerous!

You know how some people in large cities complain about winter snow removal from city streets? Those people need to spend a winter in a small town.

In villages where I’ve lived they plow the snow into a huge pile which runs the entire length of the middle of the street — that’s “street” singular, as in Main Street, the only street plowed. By February the snow is piled so high that only in a small town can a resident die in an avalanche while driving to the post office to pick up his week-old newspaper.

Another aspect of small towns that could be regarded as dangerous is the fact that, at least in some where I’ve resided, you can take three steps out your door and instantly be lost in a cornfield. No big deal, you say? Well, I’ve read and seen “Children of the Corn” and, yeah, it’s a big deal.

Speaking of children, in most small towns there is no 55+ community like you have in or near big cities. Don’t get me wrong, I like kids. But after raising my three I pretty much try to avoid them at this point in my life. And in a small town, that’s nearly impossible because kids ride up and down the streets on ATVs, dirt bikes and, most dangerous of all, horses!

As far as jobs go in small towns, there are certain ones that can be quite dangerous. Not in a physical harm sense, but “dangerous” in other ways.

I have a brother who was mayor of a village with around 200 people. He was “elected” mayor when three people approached him and said, “Hey, Dennis, why don’t you be mayor?” And he, apparently thinking how hard can this be, foolishly responded, “Okay.”

Well, I’m glad to report that he recently retired as mayor with his sanity still somewhat intact after spending four years of daily encounters with each and every one of the 200 town inhabitants.

Walking down the sidewalk he would be confronted by folks with inquiries like “Why can’t we have hamburgers instead of hot dogs at the Fourth of July picnic?” and “What are you going to do about Smith’s rooster that keeps waking me at 4 a.m.?”

As mayor he was also the animal control officer, which was normally not dangerous. One exception was the night someone snuck in and released 13 feral cats that had been captured and were being held in the slammer.

For some reason, the catching-cats category was not included in the “Most Dangerous Cities” criteria.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist whose articles are syndicated by Senior Wire. He recently published a book titled “Tortoise Crossing – Expect Long Delays,” which is a collection of 100 of his favorite columns. It is available on Amazon.com.