I am now convinced that planning what to use in my column is simply not working. I’ll have what I consider some great ideas, but when I sit down to do the story, something always distracts me.
For example, I was sitting at my home computer and looked over my left shoulder to observe the beauty of Elephant Park, across the street from the Veterans Administration hospital. As I enjoyed how green and colorful everything had become, a few cars and a few pickups drove past.
Usually when I’m watching the park, I’ll be distracted by families walking through the park with their dogs. A quick glance skyward will usually reveal an eagle, hawk or turkey vultures, in addition to the robins, sparrows and other neighborhood birds.
My dog and cats get excited watching the rabbits and squirrels at play above and below the deck. All these sights are part of the beauty of living where I do.
I live in a great city: great neighbors, great values and the best law enforcement agencies in the country ― from the U.S. marshals, the Highway Patrol, the Cass and Clay sheriff’s offices and the Fargo and Moorhead police departments.
Ha, now you are wondering what do all these pleasant things have to do with my chain of thought? The answer is simple (nooottt!). These sent me off in a different direction … and a letter to the editor in last week’s Forum created the background.
The few cars I referred to had dark-tinted windows all the way around ― front windshield, front and back windows and back windshield. The vehicles I spotted out my window looked like something out of a Mafia movie. You couldn’t see a darn thing through any of the windows. In both North Dakota and Minnesota, tint regulations rule that out.
You can look up the state laws on your own time, but let me give you some generalities. There’s very little regulation from the back of the driver’s seat to the rear of the vehicle ― in other words, no limitation on the back seat. For the windshield and front side windows, a view of the driver or passengers is required. A darker tint can be used if for health reasons. Regulation of tinting companies, though, is nonexistent, and enforcement of the tint requirement is either seriously lacking or nonexistent.
I’ve always been concerned with those dark tints, particularly with the dramatic increase in crime in our cities. If some yahoo wants to break the law in a tinted machine, I want enforcement of the law that will, in the end, make identifying the drivers easier. That’s one of the reasons that cars are licensed, after all, to track their owners.
Has someone in the vehicle beside you ever done something that startled the bejeezus out of you? If so, I’ll bet you looked in the windows to see who’s driving. By the time you’ve tried to spot the license plate, it’s usually too late to see it.
My point here is that I hope the powers that be either start to enforce the law or show the statistics that demonstrate it’s already being enforced.
Now, what about those pickup trucks? Every single day, I can be at home or out and about in Moorhead-Fargo and encounter what I call a bombing run by someone in a pickup. The driver will rapidly accelerate … roaring ahead in a vehicle with mufflers either cut out or otherwise modified. Usually, people at the wheel in the trucks, which when driven properly, make a normal level of sound. But when they suddenly accelerate, you’d swear the military was practicing a bombing run right beside you.
I live in north Fargo on a popular route to North Dakota State University. There is no reason these noise-making fugitives from the Florida swamps ought to be given a free pass! Our neighborhood has witnessed little to no enforcement of the vehicle noise ordinances. We are long past the time for the authorities to do so.
The same logic applies to motorcycles. It’s bad enough that so many cyclists don’t wear helmets. But many ― certainly by no means all ― spend thousands on a beautiful machine, troll quietly around the city … and then periodically stomp on it. Those finely tuned machines are capable of making even more noise than any truck or auto.
You can hear the cycles thundering all over town. Since there’s no enforcement to speak of, I truly believe many of the drivers don’t even realize what a pain in the ass they are to the rest of the population.
I am also aware that many law enforcement people ride their own personal cycles. Might they be just a little hesitant to cite fellow riders while on duty? But they should do so. It’s as simple as that.
Earlier, I mentioned families walking their dogs. I’m expanding this comment to anyone who has one. Most dog owners take great care of their animals … except when they take their dogs off their own property and into our public streets and parks.
The majority of the folks I see do carry plastic grocery bags to pick up the poop that dogs create. But have you ever jogged in a park or cross a grassy lot … then suddenly find yourself doing that goofy dance when you’ve hit something slippery, dancing around to keep your balance? I’ve fallen more than once because some lazy, inconsiderate owner ― who may be a lovely person in general ― thinks our streets and parks are fine places for their pets to poop.
How about an ordinance that requires any dog owner to have poop bags on its person whenever they are off property? Imagine the Poop Police pulling up as you stroll with your dog, asking you for proof you have the bag — but you don’t. Chances are that after you’ve paid a small fine of $25 or so, you’ll carry those bags religiously and help keep our cities clean.
The local park boards would be well-advised to re-post warning in those parks that need it ― Elephant Park for sure -― reminding users of their duty to pick up pet droppings. They could also provide some posts with bags on them while reminding visitors that motorized vehicles can’t be driven off-road on park property.
Oh, and one more reminder to post: Parks have hours.
Little things, all ― none of them costly. Yet these small steps would make our parks that much more “user friendly.”
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A shout-out for law enforcement: Our twin cities need more police officers. Our police departments shouldn’t have to beg for help. We all know from recent events how dangerous it is for our women and men in uniform. I don’t know about Moorhead, but I do understand that if Fargo is asking for five people now and five more next year ― it actually needs a total of 10 right now ― and perhaps more, if necessary. If you have worked in a short-staffed environment, then you can multiply your stress to infinity for those whose job is law enforcement.
Many of the things I’ve discussed here occur because staff shortages make it essential to set priorities. We’ve lived with the situation before from Vietnam through the Gulf wars, where our cities were short because of military call-up. It’s time to get our departments up to full force ― cost be damned. Look what was spent on Oxbow, and then tell me funds aren’t available.
I remember well when the city levied decent fines. Then Fargo got greedy. The Supreme Court stepped in and forced the city to use state fines, which were and are a joke. There used to be an outcry about our traffic patrols. When they actually cited people for traffic violations, critics charge it was being done to generate revenue. Instead of responding, everyone and their uncle ran for cover.
All traffic and court-generated fines go into the general fund of the city. There should have been no apologies and no cutback in enforcement.
Back in the day, Ed Randel, Gene Workman, Ken Graalum and others led the charge in what I think was called the Traffic Division. Ed and Gene built what I’ll call a hide-a-cop car. It was, as I recall, a Camaro that looked like a street-legal machine until a violation or reason for a stop occurred. Imagine the goofball ― usually a “he” ― who looks out his rear window and sees flashing police lights pop up! The law enforcement designation popped up, too, in effect going from a civilian vehicle to a fully operational police vehicle.
I suppose that nowadays, some of the good old enforcement practices wouldn’t stand up to legal tests. But they were effective. They did work! And the scofflaws who came into court because of them gave me years of enjoyment, listening to their sad stories of WTH just happened.
By the way, my wife wants me to remind everyone that the little stick-like thingamabob on your steering column is a damned turn signal ― use it. Amen.