By Mort Malkin
The scene was the Pennsylvania boat access at the Narrowsburg Eddy on the High Delaware River. The last day of summer before Labor Day was glorious with a display of sun and 75 degrees on the thermometer.
My companion, CPGSJ (her initials, exclusive of higher degrees), and I came to greet the paddlers in the Flotilla to Protect the Delaware. We parked in the access area to visit with the kayakers at the finish of the event. Afterward we went over to a rock at the shore to sit down and dangle our toes in the water. OK, so we immersed our feet up to the ankles. Not five minutes into our triple enjoyment of the season, the weather, and the River, an official van pulled into the access area and stopped right in the middle near the entrance. Out stepped two uniformed officers of the Fish and Boat Commission. One of them came over to inform us that we were in violation of the regulation that reserves the access area for boaters and fishermen. I noted that: there was only one fisherman, there were several empty parking spaces, and we were not creating a disturbance by splashing the water with our feet. He explained that if we were allowed to engage in such unauthorized activity, others would come and have picnics, play frisbee, and Heaven knows what else.
I thought for a few seconds about staying, receiving a citation, and challenging the officer in court. With luck, I might serve a prison sentence. A second option was to drive home, strap my kayak to the car, and return to the access area. With a kayak on the car, we could legally sit on a rock at the shore and discuss whether to paddle north or south … or we could just hold hands.
The history of such rules and regulations reminds us that the Delaware River is a special exemption to Pennsylvania’s requirement for canoes and kayaks to be registered … at $28 per. Nevermind that New York, Maine, and many other states welcome the tourism that comes with canoeing and kayaking free of nuisance registration. Pennsylvania’s registration regulation for canoes and kayaks, after many years, was amended to allow unregistered paddling on the PA half of the Delaware River. Too late, all the boat rentals, camping, and economic activity remain on the NY side of the River.
Rules and regulations seem to pervade every aspect of life, common sense included. At another PA time and circumstance, parking restrictions during winter months are enforced to clear the streets of snow, whether or not it has snowed.
Rules and regulations are not exclusive to Pennsylvania, nor are the officials who enforce them. In Boston, the home of Paul Revere, a peace rally was restricted to a “free speech zone” during the Democratic Convention of 2004. The First Amendment didn’t apply anywhere else in the city.
Everyone can surely cite a rule or two devoid of common sense.
A saving grace is the lack of a sense of humor among the officials who have the power to enforce the rules. They consider themselves as the keystone of the Establishment, the System. Recently, a parody-wielding group of street performers has freely challenged the tea baggers in many cities. They are the Billionaires For Wealthcare. They wear top hats and tuxedos and smoke cigars — all to satirize the super rich executives of the Insurance industry and Big Pharma. They carry signs that read “Delay, Deduct, and Deny.” The ultimate satire is that many of the enforcement officials take the “Billionaires” seriously as representatives of capitalism and cheer them on.
The tea baggers, too, have lauded the “Billionaires.” It is all a lesson to bring satire in all its forms to bear in the political discourse. There are many venues: Town Hall meetings, the halls of Congress, the streets of cities and towns, and the pages of newspapers. Many are the ways to make fun of all public officials and reactionaries who deserve it.