1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    How would government react to uncharted town?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mallory, Dec 25, 2010.

    I want to do a horror novel (after I finish the one I'm on: 4K left to go!) about an uncharted town. The government discovers that there's a town where people have moved to recently and haven't registered the town name, paid taxes, adhered to government regs etc (People there don't make birth certificates and are under-the-radar). The POV character will be a census bureau worker or someone like that who ventures to the town after the government realizes said town exists to scope things out and get federal data. While there, he realizes the town is..."strange," supernatural, and people there have their ways of making sure they aren't interfered with. ;) It's meant to be a horror story that also pokes fun at intrusive government policies, overly high taxes etc (the reason why said people made this town in the first place).

    Now that I've explained the plot a little, here is my question. What types of actions would the govt take upon discovering a totally off-the-charts city like this? What would be standard procedure for putting the town on the map so to speak? I'm not sure what my government worker MC would be sent there to do exactly...thanks!

    Merry Christmas everyone!
     
  2. TokyoVigilante
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    TokyoVigilante Member

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    That would depend on the state/province, it's location (probably extremely rural), and the nature of the towns people. Are they a secluded band of survivalists? an Amish-esque religious community? If they're gun-totting bible-thumpers awaiting the apocalypse, the national guard will probably be called in (IE; see The Branch Davidians and the mess that was).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anarchist_communities#Freetown_Christiania_.281971.E2.80.93present.29

    Something that with less Pot, I'd imagine is what you're going for. :p
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    depends on where it is and when... and what it is... it wouldn't be a 'town' if it didn't have some official standing... how would the residents get goods from the 'outside' if no one knew it was there?... or have telephone service, or electrical power and other necessities?...

    enclaves without official standing in the us have brought down the wrath of the fbi and other authorities with disastrous consequences in the past, as noted by tv above...
     
  4. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    Unincorporated towns in many states within the United States are towns without any form of recognized self government. Residents pay county taxes and get county services. For some counties that means just county sheriff services. For others that can be sheriff, water, electricity, trash... many of the same things an incorporated town/city would provide.

    So your fictional town could easily be an unincorporated town in a state full of them. The town could be pumping well water, generating its own electricity, handling it's own trash, not doing any kind of commerce outside the town, and well off any established roads. With no recognizable footprint outside of the town itself no one would have a reason to know it's there.

    The federal government wouldn't initially care anyone was there. Township is a state thing, and in this case a county thing. The county would be very interested to know someone was living under their jurisdiction and not paying county taxes for county services, though I'm not sure who they would send. A county tax assessor maybe, accompanied by a sheriff?

    In any case a good place to start would be your county's government since it is the county who would likely be the first response to the situation. Florida has plenty of unincorporated towns in plenty of counties throughout the state.
     
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  5. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    As Jack said, it would primarily be a local issue.

    Not without (small scale) examples either. With Google and Microsoft making overhead photos free to everyone, township assessors have been using them to find cabins and hunting camps (and even some bona-fide houses) that were built on the sly. State and federal agencies could not care less about a camp in the woods, but the local township sure does.

    You did hit on the one type of federal employee who would be knocking on doors though - the Census Bureau. I work for the side of the USCB who does monthly survey work for the federal government. There are two operations where a census employee would be the first to find your town:
    a) AdCan (address canvas) of the 10 year census. Basically, they do a complete update of USCB maps.
    b) DAAL (Demographic Area Address Listing) for the other side of the USCB. They do spot checks of maps and re-map areas that have had lots of changes or mapping problems.

    If you have any specific questions, feel free to send me a message or even just ask here.

    -Frank
     
  6. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Oh - I should add a bit.

    If your MC is a Census employee, only the Census bureau would know about your town. Census workers are sworn for life to confidentiality - and we take that to heart.

    Your Census worker would do his/her best to get the cooperation the townsfolk to help in updating the USCB maps. If they won't help, the worker, if s/he felt safe, would do the job as best as possible. However, if s/he is at all uncomfortable, the standard proceudre is to leave immediately and call your supervisor for advice.

    If the census worker were actually threatened or attacked, however, all bets are off. The local police will be called.

    Under any other circumstance, your Census MC would (should) not tell anyone what was found though. Hmm - so long as the MC understands the town is unknown to others maybe?

    I suppose that if the MC assumes the town is known to the outside world, there may be a "I'm looking for information about Creepytown" talk with the assessor/rural-mail delivery person/road commission driver.

    Sooo, let's say I had an assignment "Red cabin at end of 2-track". I get to the end of the two-track and, in the years since the maps were last updated, a community has grown. I think "Hmm - I never knew this was back here" and try to get help locating the cabin.

    If the people there won't help, I would go to the equalization department and ask their help to find the owner of the property as per tax records (but can not tell them why I need the information). They give me the name and contact info, and I try contacting the owner.

    If I couldn't get hold of them, I'd likely ask the local postal delivery person "can you tell me where the red cabin is back there - or if it has even been torn down?" In your situation, s/he would likely say "I don't know - I've never been back there."

    So, I can't think of a situation where I'd ever have to actually say "You know that new neighborhood back there...".

    And if I knew they were living in secret, I would make doubly sure not to let it slip. That could actually make for some interesting plot points - the one who discovers the town can't tell anyone except other Census employees who have a "work related need to know" - SFR (local supervisor) and that survey's office at the Regional Office.

    Now, this brings an interesting possibility. If their area were rural, then would the population of their town be large enough to make the 10-year census data for their census tract look "off"? A census tract contains, roughly, 4000 people. It's the base unit of census data - small enough to be precise, but big enough to make data mining impossible.

    Would there be anything about their demographics that stands out in the pooled data? And if so, would the local officials say "didn't expect that..." "...guess we grew more than we thought." or "...maybe we should find out why." or "...'bank error in our favor' I guess."

    Well, just some thoughts.

    -Frank
     
  7. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find it hard to imagine an uncharted town/city simply because of the high volume of people it takes for somewhere to qualify as a town/city. I'm not sure how many but I know a place has to have a specific number of residents for to qualify as a city it needs to have something like over 1,000,000 people. How would a place that size escape the radar?
    Maybe a village or hamlet would be more realistic and more believable.
    As to how the Government would react on the discovery of such a place, one can only speculate.
    Here in the UK I don't know about 'The Government' but I imagine (local government)-the 'poll tax' boys and the 'TV licensing authority' would have a field day.
     
  8. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    Mallory,

    I say you can go totally fanatical and call in the National Guard and declare marshall law until everyone's taxes are paid up. You could totally go Red Dawn with this plot.

    :)
     
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  9. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    Calling a population a town or a city in the United States is just a state-level legal exercise. Hempstead, New York is a town with a population of 750,000 people. Woodland Mills, Tennessee is a city with a population of 290 people.

    Some states in the US have specific population requirements for a town or city. Some states define a city by the government structure over the specific population. Some states don't care what a population calls itself.

    It would be entirely possible for a community of a hundred people or more to unknowingly exist if no one had a reason to look in that direction. Then the population is in... Alabama, where a town is any population less than 2,000.
     
  10. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi1 SJ
    So it all depends on whereabouts the story is set. That being said, because we are talking fiction I suppose almost anything goes.
     
  11. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    Yuppers.

    I don't think that has to be the case. The town could be made more realistic by being on a map, happily paying county taxes, and just as happily being left alone solely because there is no reason for anyone not from the town to go there. Then introduce any situation to upset that happiness.

    The county has decided to open its land up to development for commercial use and the town is the perfect entry point, ideally situated off a highway or near a river or whatever. Enter in a whole team of civil engineer types.

    A nearby metropolitan area has grown and expanded to the point the town, now unincorporated (without any local government or services) will soon become attached to the growing city. The town will come under the thumb of already elected officials who believe the town is in dire need of a dose of civilized life. More civil engineers, tax assessors, police and fire representatives. Who knows.

    There are more than 3,000 counties in the United States so the possibilities even in real life are endless. It's just a matter of figuring out how the story should work and figuring out which county it would best work in.
     
  12. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thank you so much for posting! I really appreciate everyone's insight on this. Very helpful.

    Frank, about the CB/map update stuff:

    So let's say that my MC is working with the fed and his job is to update maps. So he's cruising through the rural county, checking off the towns that ARE on the map, and he stumbles across this place. But, due to the confidentiality stuff (which helps my plot), he can't go blabbing about it to anyone except his colleagues/supervisor, but he's got a jerky supervisor who hates him and he's in danger of being fired as it is for stuff he's done. So, to make his own life easier, he keeps his mouth shut and tries to scope out the town on his own.

    Would this be realistic? It's the angle I'm slanting for now. What would his official work title be, and what about that of his supervisor? What kind of deadline would he be on? Would he be a suit-and-briefcase type or someone in casual attire? Thanks!
     
  13. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I like it and I like the themes.

    Some friends of mine moved near the Nevada boarder and there's a semi-hidden Meth addict town established in an old ghost town. So, art imitates life.

    Answerish:

    I immediately thought of southern "moonshiners" when I read your question. They were making booze for themselves and the small number of people in their area and had been doing so for ages. The gov suddenly decides to make it illegal and the moonshiners did not agree and kept making the product. The gov sent in FBI guys to hunt them down and destroy the stills. I'm sure they also engaged in propaganda to paint these people as evil criminals when just yesterday they were your neighbor.

    If your story was true, that would happen and the town leaders would be sued for tax evasion and a horde of gov agents would be there ASAP. However, that would only be if the town appeared to be doing well economically. If it were a collection of poor or homeless people, they would do next to nothing.

    Idea:

    There's the old idea of Shangri La, and others I could tell you about, where the city is a mystical paradise that phases in an out of reality depending on various forces, such as social and personal attitudes. The town could be like a Libertarian version of that.
     
  14. zaphod
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    Not sure about a "lost" town a la "Brigadoon". True, many unrelated people could move onto a piece of land where someone built houses and little streets and to some limited extent that is none of the government's business. But ultimately, even in the most libertarian states, it would come down to that land being on the tax roles and how it is counted as someone's residence, etc. Also, if one tried to sell off parcels without property surveying and or filing a new plat where they've subdivided the land,no real formal title going to the buyer, that is not legit and is going to get them accused of fraud or running a scam. And the census takers will come and knock on doors if they have to, if only to count the population as part of the larger county/district/whatever that the town is located in.

    So yeah, its called SQUATTING. No taxes, no proper real estate transaction, trying to hide and pretend someone doesn't live there=authorities will notice eventually. It will be the tax man, the sheriff, or someone's lawyer, all that matters is its 2010. One of the jobs of local government after all is to keep up with lots of maps and GIS databases that survey every inch of their jurisdiction and if new remote sensed images show a weird shantytown by the creek, it is only a matter of time until the sheriff's dept is fowarded that picture.

    ...

    However, nothing says one couldn't do what is required by law to create an officially recognized subdivision of homes and businesses that forms an unincorporated community....And such a place could of course desire privacy. There are gated neighborhoods and apartment complexes after all, and if those are legal then it would be possible somewhere to create a kind of commune that operates as a business or organization that is gated as well.

    I assume you mean a town in the sense of a cluster of homes, businesses, and industries, right? Or do you mean a full-fledged local government with a police department, taxes, ordinances, etc? The former would not require any kind of official charter or the creation of a special district, and in any case these are not too impossible to obtain. Little suburbs that consist of one neighborhood and a few hundred people make themselves into "cities" all the time and its not unheard of for a dying town to disincorporate or disband their government. Actually, you may even live in one and not even know it. Suburban sprawl often grows outside of municipal boundaries and there are tons of unincorporated places around metropolitan areas which may even have sizable populations literally in the hundreds of thousands. In some states like Texas, counties don't do a whole lot(they can't really get too much into planning or zoning or say where you can or can't built just because).

    Also government functions like taxation and land use policies can be replicated through other kinds of fees and property covenants to create a private entity capable of town planning. The Woodlands, Texas is a master planned suburban community that is managed by a corporation, not a real local government. As for other services, I am certain that private fire protection is allowed in certain places. To a very limited degree, some elements of policing can be managed by private security companies. Schools, well there can just be a private school system(example-catholic school systems in Chicago or Philly) that everyone goes to.

    So if your story is just about some growing, unregulated community that is effectively just another part of the unicorporated county, then yeah its nothing that isn't common in real life. If you mean something like those religious compounds or something weird and creepy, they have the right to exist in the manner of a private organization or business. Still, in any case there will always be informal, popular protests and political issues surrounding anything like this. Rural dwellers might be unhappy with the siting of a new Wal-Mart. there's the fundamentalist/orthodox jewish community Kiryas Joel in New York which some fear is growing uncontrollably.

    But...

    "Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control.

    -"Dillions Rule", a legal concept.

    Ultimately, these communities fall under the jurisdiction of the county or state, or some equivalent. The law of the United States and of the State applies. There will never be some completely private community where a cop, a judge and a prison warden can arrest you, charge you, and lock you up for something that isn't a law in the rest of our society. There will never be allowed some kind of commune or town that engages legally in fraud, in crime, in other unlawful things.

    ...

    Anyways, "informal settlements" and "illegal subdivisions" are the very essence of slums, or strange places, etc, in the real world.
     
  15. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thank you guys for the info! :D
     
  16. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Glad I could help, Mallory. Hope I can answer the other questions you have.

    I'd like to ditto Zap's comment of "nothing says one couldn't do what is required by law to create an officially recognized subdivision". I live in a rural area, and we have MANY "lake associations" and "hunt clubs". These are not code words for anything untoward - they pretty well describe what they are. All are private, and many are gated.

    That may be an idea for you to explore, though it would blow a hole in your idea of being unknown. Such organizations are well known to tax offices (who LOVE when they build new buildings) and to owners of neighboring lots. It would be easy to do secret things inside the gates, but everyone would know that something is back there.

    Now, to your questions. Sorry if I get boringly detailed.

    Actually, the Census Bureau does not map towns - we map places where people do (or could) live, and the roads needed for Census employees to get there. The reason we do this is because one never knows where/when a new subdivision will be built, plus the fact that hermit loners need to be counted too.

    The year before every 10 year census (ie 1999, 2009, and next in 2019), the USCB hires a dozen or two temporary workers per county. They are told that violating confidentiality will get them a punishment of 5 years &/or $250,000, then are trained in "Ad Can" protocols.

    These workers are assigned a series of "Assignment Areas" (AA). Each AA is composed of one to several blocks. In urban areas it will be a few city blocks, in rural areas it may be up to a few miles on a side or even bigger.

    The worker is taught to circle each block clockwise, always turning right. If you encounter a drive then turn right, walk down the drive to the end, and come back. If, while on the drive, you encounter another drive, repeat. While doing this, place a spot for each Housing Unit (HU) on the map (this is called, imaginatively enough a "Map Spot", or MS), and also add/correct any roads or major drives that are wrong.

    While working for the decennial census (or any Congressional mandated survey), census workers are allowed to ignore gated drives. Certainly, when it comes to occupied homes, we try not to go barging in and try to respect privacy. If your MC encountered a gated drive and thought it was for a hunting camp, though, s/he would likely walk around it and look for cabins down the drive.

    As an aside, 1n 2009 I did some Ad Can work and we got to use handheld GPS mapping thingies (not an official term), which made the job SO much easier and quicker than in 1999.

    Anyway, given that this happens every 10 years, any development older than that should be on the maps. There are a couple possibilities that come to mind.
    A) dumb luck - the past couple times around the worker assigned that area was just plain lazy ("Aw - I know there's nothing back there so why bother looking?").
    B) conspiracy - maybe the Ad Can Crew Leader the past couple times has been sympathetic to that community and gave the assignment to another sympathetic census worker.

    Official titles for decennial field work are "Crew Leader" (local supervisor), "Crew Leader Assistant", and "Enumerator" (even for those who do mapping work).

    For regular, monthly survey work, the titles for local workers are "Senior Field Representative" (supervisor) and "Field Representative". For the monthly work in rural areas, the SFR may be responsible for a huge swath of countryside. In Michigan's entire Upper Peninsula, of example, we have all of a dozen FRs, with one SFR located near Marquette. We all lived here before getting the job, and it's a part time job for everyone except the SFR. She may even be officially part time, but I know she puts in full weeks (and then some unofficially).

    Recommended attire in dress casual, though as I'm a bit scruffy looking, flanel, jeans and hiking boots looks more honest on me. Most of my co-workers wear dress casual though. If s/he were going down ATV and logging trails, dress would be appropriate for possible hiking. Census workers do not have briefcases either - they have laptops. If your MC does carry a satchel, however, it would likely contain "trying to reach you" door hangers, confidentiality notices, and a county road map. Maybe an energy bar or soft drink too.

    Deadlines for various phases of the decennial census are a month or two, though individual assignments should only take a few days to a month.

    For regular monthly work, deadlines are usually two or three weeks (giving the SFR a week or two to work on difficult cases).

    If you're still interested in having your MC be a census employee, and need them to make repeated contact, I've got a couple ideas to throw out.

    First, there are several phases of the decennial census. Maybe the same worker is (un)lucky enough to get assigned that area for a few of these phases over the course of a year and a half.

    Second, many regular census FRs work multiple surveys. Maybe your FR is (un)lucky enough to have houses in that community come up on a few surveys, starting with DAAL. An especially interesting possibility could be "Survey of Income and Program Participation" (SIPP). It tracks the effectiveness of welfare, foodstamps, etc. Households in your hidden community would be unlikely to meet the survey participation guidelines, but you could take artistic liscense. With SIPP, a household is tracked for a few years to see whether they are using government programs and if those programs are helping them or not. Meanwhile, by chance, another house comes up on the American Community Survey, and a couple months later another household comes up on the National Crime Victimization Survey.

    Third, you can have the MC work for both the 10 year census and the regular surveys.

    Well, I think I've rambled enough. You've probably learned more than you ever wanted about Census Bureau Employees! If you do want to know more, don't hesitate to ask - I love the job and love talking about it.

    -Frank
     
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  17. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thanks a ton, PM on the way!
     
  18. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I don't think that the MC would be going there alone.

    Firstly, I'm assuming this town is at a modern level and has organization to it. If so, it must have a city government which follows the constitutional laws of the land. That means a criminal justice system and so on. A state or city can make its own unique laws, but they can't have ones that violate federal law. It sounds like this city wouldn't have any of that.

    If the government found a town that did not follow the laws of the land it would be crimnal and so the FBI would be on the scene. If nothing supernatural was going on, the town leaders would be arrested and fellow citizens would be brought from other towns to lead that one.

    This kind of thing happened down south in the 60s when police and town officials refused to honor rights for black people. The movie Mississippi Burning covered the actual events of some activists who got murdered by police, and FBI agents were sent in.

    Another loose relation is the war on drugs. Drug production and sales are a business that provides "jobs" for many and recreational products for all people not destroyed by said products and that's millions if not billions of people. However, it is not a legal business in spite of the above and so the government will kill and jail whomever for their defiance. I'm not personally arguing for or against, but I know for a fact that dealers and users view the situation as unjust.

    My point is that a government needs to be legit, and they do so by destroying anything that challenges core policies.
     
  19. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thank you. :)

    So - what would be the most believable way for someone to stumble upon a town in the middle of nowhere and then have reason to not tell anyone about it? Would the census bureau thing even work? I want to have my MC stuck in Creepytown, but I don't want to go the route of "family who goes on vacation in a ghost town and gets stuck there" because that's been overdone by dozens of cheesy horror movies. :)
     
  20. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    How about your MC is also a privately licensed pilot. So he's flying his little two seater plane and emergency crash lands on their air strip because of some mechanical problem on his way to D.C. for a census bureau conference before kicking off the census season?
     
  21. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    Or he's driving from one town to the next on his "census mission" and gets lost on the way and finds this town.
     
  22. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Oooh. Excellent idea. Thanks :D He'll get lost.
     
  23. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    Anytime :)
     
  24. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    Just make sure his GPS doesn't have a signal wherever he's at :p
     
  25. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    'Course not. ;)
     

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