I've always enjoyed reading small regional newspapers. Whenever I travel, I make it a policy to hit a newsstand and pick up the local sheets and see what's going on in the community. If anything, it humbles me in remembering that not everything we are agonizing over in this town is of the slightest interest in other parts of the world. One autumn, I was leaving for Boston the morning of the Million Man March (MMM.) D.C. media had been speculating about "what's going to happen." Resurrection City Redux. Getting over to National Airport was a logistics nightmare. That night I turned on the news and the MMM was a blip on New England radar.
When I used to spend longer periods of time in London, I would leave via Dulles with some political issue raging for weeks, then hit W.H. Smith for the newspapers (and London has many,) and their big news was that some low-end grass (snitch) and his son in Hoxton
had been run through a grinder, (including the little boy's teddy bear,) and whatever it was I had been hearing about in D.C., was two inches on page ten.
I subscribe to several small community newspapers in Massachusetts, and one of my favorite things to do is to read the weekly crime reports. There's always been a lot of DUI in these places; where the teenagers are intent on wrapping themselves around the unyielding trees of Route 6A. In the past ten years, my feeling is that crime has increased there, and I'm reading more about stolen iPods and GPS systems out of cars. For the longest time (but not anymore) the locals would tease me about locking my house door, or car door, and I always responded in pragmatic city girl tones that I had been securing these things all of my life. Why would I break the habit just because I'm in an allegedly safer environment? Bad behavior crops up anywhere.
One thing I learned over time in becoming part of a smaller community is that I can't disappear as easily in the city, and things that happen to people hit the chatter circuit with a rapidity that would put Google to shame. You have one too many drinks, you fall off the stool in Bobby Byrne's Pub, and the next day everyone knows it. Not only do they learn what occurred with lightning speed, but then that incident becomes part of your history. A bad deportment mark in second grade can follow you a lifetime.
You learn to be circumspect in discussing your personal business, and in what you say of others. Complain about a cashier at the Stop N' Shop while getting your nails done and the next thing you learn is you just told her cousin. The bar stool incident happened to the woman who does my hair. She told me this story and added that 1) if she's drinking, it's at home now; and 2) she doesn't have any close female friends because of this pervasive small town gossip circuit. Even though she told me the story herself? I heard it from others. "Who does your hair? Oh. She fell off a barstool in Bobby Byrne's Pub." We'll put this aspect of small town life in the "con" column.
I was reading last week's crime reports and I wish I could tell you it was abnormally off up there, but these are pretty much what you see when you read the news. I'm leaving out the bulk of the drunks and smash-ups and abuse and giving you some of my favorites:
...And One For The Road
M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Donkeys)
A forty-year old donkey was hit on 6A, near it's owner at Loring's Farm, when a man came upon the donkey at 12:35 AM. The donkey was standing in the middle of the road, and the driver was unable to stop in time. The driver was uninjured, but his car suffered extensive damage, and the donkey died on site. No citations were issued. (I would add--I know this farm and the road is Route 6A (oldest road in the country I think.) It's a twisty, turny narrow two lane country road. When you're out there at midnight it is dark, dark, dark, and you are always seeing critters run in front of the car. I saw a horse out once on Route 149 and chased it off the road, then went to the general store a few yards down to have the shopkeeper call the owner. That's another thing about small towns. You know whose horse it is.)
A resident at Lakewood Drive called the police at 9:57 PM to report a suspicious vehicle parked in front of her home. Police determined it was a Domino's Pizza delivery man. ("Put your hot pack down and step away from the vehicle." Knowing how things can go up there...she probably called in for pizza.)
A resident called police at 3:53 PM to report children throwing rocks at the old freezer plant (which they are tearing down, I might add.) Police found that it was not children, but the security guards who were throwing rocks.
A resident of North Shore Boulevard called police at 10:23 PM to report 50 to 60 youths drinking alcohol, urinating in the sand dunes and having bonfires. Six police were dispatched to the area, but the group had fled. The fire department extinguished the bonfires. (This road is a dirt road running parallel to a large body of water in a beach community. So much for Having A Wild Weekend.)
A resident of Greenville Drive called police at 4:50 PM to report a $600 table saw had been taken from his back yard. The resident called the police back a second time to report that his wife had brought the saw inside the house the night before and it had not been stolen.
A resident of Pondview Drive called police at 3:45 AM to report there was a group of youths playing basketball at the courts. Police spoke to the youths who agreed to go home for the night. (Don't you love it. Playin' some hoops at 4 AM. I guess it wasn't a school night.)
A resident from Shore Drive walked into the police station at 9:29 AM to report being assaulted by his roommate. The victim told police that he got into a altercation with his roommate because he drank his milk. During the altercation, his roommate bit him on the arm.
A driver called police at 2:15 AM to report a strange vehicle parked out in front of a store on Route 6A. Police determined it was a newspaper delivery man. (It is not easy making a living up there, I'll tell ya. Pizzas. Newspapers.)
A shop owner at Merchant's Square called police at 11:14 AM to report a woman was lying on the sidewalk staring at the sky. When police approached the woman and asked her to get up, she reported she was sunbathing.
I saved my favorite for last:
A resident from Tupper Avenue called police at 7:46 AM to report that her vehicle had been egged and also covered with yogurt and bologna. There was no other damage done to the car.
The Red Sox were playing for the Series, and the last game they played in Boston, fever was high. I saw banners all over town, and everywhere you went, that was the topic du jour. One night I was sitting in my house out by the water and heard a flare go off. A very distinctive popping sound. I saw the glare shoot across the water, and my first thought was "there's a boat in distress." Given as how I look out to where the big ships come in off the ocean, I had a long view to the horizon. The full moon gave me lots of light on the water, but I couldn't see anything of note. I hedged calling the police, but did it anyway. They asked me to go out on my upper deck with binoculars to look again. They also speculated if I should call the Coast Guard. We left it at that.
I think it's the bologna that did me in.
Now I'll tell you how I must have wound up in this newspaper last fall.
A short while later, another flare went off. Same thing. I called the police, checked outside trying to see if there was anything unusual. By the third time I asked the desk police, "Do you think it's possible some nitwit is shooting flares off his deck over the water every time the Sox score a hit?" He laughed and said, "Oh yeah. That could be it." We left it at that with me to check back if it happened again. By the end of the game, and many flares later (and, no, I didn't call back,) it was obvious that was it: celebration for the home team. What I didn't realize then, and now do, is that somewhere in this newspaper crime report archive is:
A resident called in at 8:12 PM, 9:34 PM and 10:05 PM to report flares going off in the vicinity of the Bay. Resident was asked to determine if a boat was in distress. Speculation is that there was neighborhood alcohol consumption and dune urination throughout the night. We're #1! We're #1!