11 August 2006

It's a free country... Isn't it?

I grew up in a place where private property is still private, at least for a few more years. A place where you could put a car up on blocks and let the grass grow up around it if you wanted. A place where you didn't get a ticket if you refused to replace the mailbox that got bashed with a baseball bat every weekend. Now, your neighbors might anonymously leave a new mailbox on your doorstep and hope you got the hint. But the cornerstone of civilized society should be that you don't try to legislate manners.

That world is disappearing. We have witnessed a citizenry all too willing to relinquish civil liberties to secure safety from terrorism. We are equally willing to give up our individual rights to secure our property values. It's a movement that has reached full force here out west, but I have little doubt that, like everything ugly out of California, it will gradually creep into every corner of the nation.

In case all this is a little too abstract, let me tell you a story. A few months ago I moved my Airstream trailer from the park where I had lived for about a year and a half. Beforehand, I called the city of Chandler, where I was moving, to see what regulations governed the parking of recreational vehicles and trailers. I found I could not park it in my yard on an unpaved surface but was told I could park it on the street. I then paid close to $200 to have the trailer moved.

I guess in Chandler the people who make the laws and those paid to enforce them have what you would call a failure to communicate. Some weeks later, when my trailer was repeatedly ticketed as a result of complaints from a neighbor, after many conversations with neighborhood volunteers and police sergeants, I found that yes, my trailer could be parked on the street, but only for 48 hours.

Now, the law cited on the tickets the police keep pasting on my trailer refers to "abandoned vehicles." After 48 hours, the police are allowed to tow any vehicle that has been abandoned on the roadside. I fully understand the importance of such a law, because otherwise Phoenix drivers would have nowhere on the roadside to pull over after they rear-end each other while driving their SUVs 75 miles an hour less than a car length behind someone.

In no way is my trailer abandoned. We go in and out of it every day or so, maybe for no other reason than to open and close the vents. To satisfy the regulations volunteer neighborhood patrolmen were now lecturing about every week, we started moving the trailer a few feet every time it was ticketed. That worked for a while, but the lectures got nastier, and we were then told (in contradiction to previous information) that it wasn't enough to move it a few feet. We were even given the name of the company that would be towing and storing the trailer if we didn't move it.

Now, part of the reason I had parked the trailer there in the first place was that I had been unable to find a storage facility with a vacancy for a 31-foot trailer in the whole East Valley. So I was mighty interested to know that the police had contact with someone who would not only tow it, but could also store it.

Funny thing. Not only did the tow yard they referred me to not have room to store my trailer, according to the woman who answered the phone, they didn't even have a vehicle capable of towing a trailer that size. When I spoke once more to the police sergeant, he told me it was doubtful the trailer would be towed, but he did admonish me for defying the spirit of the law, even if I had been adhering to the letter.

I should have stopped him right then and there and told him to wait just a cotton-pickin' minute. What truly is the spirit of a statute allowing for the towing of abandoned vehicles? I don't believe this law was written to prevent citizens from parking their property on the street, so long as no thoroughfare or driveway is blocked.

It strikes me that both the complainant and the volunteer brigade for neighborhood beautification are abusing the letter of the law with their definition of abandonment. Simply because an object has not been moved does not make it abandoned.

After a brief respite while one of our neighbors recovered from a stay in the hospital, we have now been ticketed again. (The complaints are, of course, anonymous; I don't mean to suggest anything more than coincidence in relating the sequence of events.) We've been told again that the city could have it towed at any given moment. I'm just about ready to let them do it--that is, if they can. I sure haven't had any luck.

Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to equate my ability to park an Airstream where I please with the civil liberties we have sacrificed under the Patriot Act and other travesties committed in the name of homeland security. But we might also attend to Edmund Burke when he wrote, "The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts."

For the time being, at least until I can sell it, my Airstream still sits in front of my house. Or at least it was there this morning. Feel free to contact me if you're in the market. Just make sure ahead of time that you have somewhere legal to park it.


talen7 said...

if it gets too bad, we may be able to park it.

lorelei said...

That's right neighborly of you. You's good people.