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Monday, November 29, 2004

Now That's What We Call a Boom Town 

In a recent decade our mother-in-law made a pilgrimage to a small town in what was then Yugoslavia, where the blessed virgin Mary had reportedly manifested herself to the locals -- in a fountain, we believe (although it may have been a soda fountain, especially if there was a grilled cheese sandwich involved). As you know, one miracle leads to another, and when word of Miss Mary's appearance spread, the previously-impoverished village became a tourist destination, descended upon by thousands of (relatively) well-heeled, (relatively) free-spending visitors seeking a brush with Divinity. Both the residents and our mother-in-law were quick to cite the sudden revitalization of the town's economy as further proof of the blessed virgin's indisputable charity and grace.

All of which leads us to wonder how the equally lucky residents of Playas, New Mexico, must feel about Osama bin Laden. From the Palm Beach Post, courtesy of our always-reliable colleague Rorschach at No Capital:
This former company town on the edge of New Mexico's economically depressed Hidalgo County is about to become the first U.S. community devoted wholly to the war on terror.

In late September, without much fanfare, the Department of Homeland Security helped a subcontractor, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, buy Playas root and branch for $5 million to convert it to a fully integrated counterterrorism training center.

Since the whole town is now in the hands of homeland security experts, they will be able to use it to stage mock bombings, hostage takings and water supply poisonings, as well as anthrax and chemical weapons attacks, officials said.

They can even explode a make-believe "dirty bomb" to see how "radiation" could spread over still-impeccable lawns, adobe-colored houses and the outlying rattlesnake-inhabited plain.

The first exercise featuring simulated suicide bombings, scheduled for Thursday, will involve all of the largely abandoned town, which boasts more than 250 homes, a community center, a clinic, an independent water supply system and the local pride and joy: the Playas bowling alley.

"Nobody expected this turn of events," says a laughing Tommy Townsend, the jovial former city manager and one of the local old-timers. "But everybody is happy we are getting the jobs back" . . . .

Townspeople, meanwhile, are counting the days to the moment they are "bombed" and "poisoned" because all of that means federal dollars for the cash-starved community. And that translates into jobs.

"We've been waiting for these jobs for so long," says Tricia Townsend, wife of the former city manager. "It's time for them to finally start hiring."

The smell of the homeland security pie has spread far beyond Playas as businessmen scramble for a slice.

Asked whether Playas' new line of business is generating concern among neighbors, one mustached man said, laughing: "You're kidding me. Bring it on!"

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