Prairie Lights: Adding an area code is only the start for Montana

I know some people were upset last week when they heard that “406” will not be Montana’s only area code forever.

Ed Kemmick

Others were relieved that the day of reckoning had been postponed from 2019 to 2031.

I say it can’t happen soon enough. I know it’s quaint and all to have just one area code for such a huge state, but 10 other states and the District of Columbia also have just one area code. And one of those states is Alaska, which is more than four times larger than Montana, so it’s not a major distinction anyway.

What we ought to be concerned about is how others view this so-called distinction. No one expects tiny states like Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Hawaii, Rhode Island or New Hampshire to have more than one area code. Ditto with Alaska, which exists out there on the fringes like a sparsely populated separate country.

And D.C.? Who really understands what a “district” is, anyway? As for the rest of the states with only one area code, there is not much to recommend them: besides Montana, there are only the two Dakotas and Wyoming.

I love Montana — please put down the torches and pitchforks — but I’m here to tell you that everywhere else in the United States, we four lonely high-plains states with just one area code are considered economic basket cases. We are looked upon by the other states as empires look upon colonies — as resources providers to be plundered but otherwise ignored.

Getting our hands on a second area code won’t immediately jump-start the economy, but it will open the door to three, four, even five area codes. We can look forward to the day when Montana is considered an equal of other powerhouse states, a state that makes the news for something besides fire-breathing militia members, hermit bombers or U.S. House candidates moonlighting as World Wrestling Federation walk-ons.

If we want to attract high-tech companies, wealthy young entrepreneurs and Amazonian warehouses the size of Malta, we need to get with the 21st-century program.

So let’s look at multiple area codes as the first of many long overdue improvements.

For starters, we need to scrap “The Big Sky” slogan. We like to imagine it has something to do with our vastness, but people elsewhere think, “The sky? That’s all they’ve got to brag about? Why not “Plenty of Dirt,” or “Grass Galore”?

I suggest we play on our grandeur, but take the extra step, marketing-wise, by adopting this slogan: “Montana: Wide Open … for Business!” In the alternative, to attract tourists rather than investment, how about: “Montana: Everything You Can Imagine, Plus Butte!”

Here are just a few other suggestions we ought to look at implementing if we want to be considered a civilized, up-to-date state. I’m sure our readers could think of many more.

♦ Henceforth, the terms “you bet” and “you betcha” will not be used in a public setting. Depending on the context, citizens would be required to use one of the following substitutes: “Most certainly,” “Without question” or “Yes, absolutely.”

♦ No more dogs in the back of pickups, unless they are in a pet crate securely lashed to the body of the vehicle. Don’t even think about letting a dog ride on a flatbed trailer. Dogs riding inside a vehicle would still be allowed to stick their heads out of open windows or sun roofs, pending recommendations of a panel to be appointed by the governor.

♦ Fines will be imposed on users of wilderness trails if said users are attired in jeans, tennis shoes or cotton T-shirts. Users must be decked out in name-brand outdoor gear, preferably Patagonia, Columbia or Arc’teryx.

♦ This recommendation might touch a few nerves, so rather than making it a requirement, we would merely suggest that more people be encouraged to wear shirts or display bumper stickers emblazoned with the words, “Tofu, it’s what’s for dinner,” to counter the stereotype that were all raving carnivores.

♦ Speaking of bumper stickers, let’s get rid of “Where the hell is Roscoe?” It almost seems to suggest that we as a people are tolerant of vulgarities. “Where in tarnation is Roscoe?” would get the point across, if there is a point, just as well.

♦ This one is a bit smaller and more specific, but every little bit helps: Anacondans will have start pronouncing the name of their little burg correctly: Anaconda, not Andaconda.

For our new area code, by the way, I vote for what is already the prefix down in Fort Smith, Mont.: 666. Now, there’s a memorable distinction.

Ed Kemmick has been a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist since 1980. Except for four years in his home state of Minnesota, he has spent his entire journalism career in Montana, working in Missoula, Anaconda, Butte and Billings.