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Freedoms are disappearing

August 08, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

"Mind if I sit here?"

"Hey, it's a free country."

No it's not. It used to be, but it's not anymore. And the above, time-honored wisecrack is now obsolete. Freedom as we once knew it is dead.

At least it is in Williamsport, where City Fathers have ruled that Judy Loiseau-Myers, the owner of the trendy little Blue Moon Caf, can't place a couple of chairs and tables on the sidewalk outside her new business so customers can enjoy the sunshine and a cappuccino.

Maybe Williamsport Fathers think cappuccino is Italian for "workers of the world unite" and this is all a communist plot. Whatever the case, even City Mothers aren't too happy with the City Fathers, at least to hear the mayor's wife tell it. She's among those who say they may sign a petition begging some caffeinated relief.

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Here's what I don't get. If it snows on the sidewalk, who has to shovel it? You. If cracks develop in the sidewalk, who has to patch it? You. If someone falls on the sidewalk, who gets sued? You.

But somehow it's illegal for you to pull up a seat on your own sidewalk outside your own place. Good thing the Williamsport council isn't in charge of Hagerstown, or they'd be rounding up half the populations of Mulberry and Locust streets and hauling them off to the caliboose.

No wonder the French think we're nuts. Close to 100 percent of the cafes there have tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk, and all day long you see people outside sipping coffee or eating a pastry, talking and laughing and enjoying the sunshine and enjoying life.

But here we are so confounded uptight that the thought of actually grabbing a bite OUTSIDE of a restaurant on a village street is enough to give the town leaders heart attacks. What can possibly be the matter? Aren't Judy's customers wearing any clothes?

My God, if they have the temerity to eat lunch outside the cafe, what might they do next? I mean, without nipping this atrocity in the bud someone might have the audacity to order dessert. And have a, dare I say it, have a CIGARETTE!

Which brings up another point. Since the state government now says it's illegal to smoke indoors, you have to go outside, where the Town of Williamsport seems to think it's illegal to impede the public right of way. I guess the only thing left to do is stand on the doorstep and lean down so you are technically still inside while your cigarette is technically outside. But if that gets out of hand, look for the county to pass an ordinance against bending over.

And as far as "impeding the public right-of-way," this is Williamsport we're talking about, right? So what public are they talking about? Those six people I always see when I drive through town? That's the public?

I don't see how a couple of tables are going to impede this particular public, unless they all get together and vote to walk broadside. But as is, I think they can handle it. Why I myself, when I come across an item in the sidewalk am liable to do something totally crazy - like walk around it. And I haven't been killed yet.

Geez, forget the terrorists winning, we've already lost. The Mandela in me (admittedly the less than 2 percent of recommended daily intake, like it says on the nutritional labels) wants to practice a little civil disobedience by going to the Blue Moon Caf, ordering coffee and then going outside to sit on the sidewalk to drink it.

They'd probably book me on one count of impersonating a table and the owner on one count of being an accessory to impersonating a table.

Granted, fighting for the right to live and work where you wish without fear of imprisonment or torture is a little heavier than fighting for the right to chug latte under a blue sky, but by golly if we don't take a stand here, pretty soon the government will be meddling with our own private cars to ensure they're running the way the government wants them to run, or telling us we can't walk our dogs in a public park, or forcing us to slap on all sorts of cumbersome safety equipment or detaining us in airports. And I'll be hanged if I'm going to let any of that happen on my watch.

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