My friend the cop called the other day. He was about to head out for an afternoon of busting jaywalkers at Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW. He was looking forward to it the way you or I might look forward to open heart surgery.
"You wouldn't believe these people," he began.
"Yes, I would," I said.
"All right, maybe you would. But I swear, I don't know who they think they are. They wait until the DONT WALK light is frozen red, and then they start crossing the street. I stand there and watch them. They could go during WALK. They could go when the DONT WALK starts flashing. But no, they have to wait till the last second. And then they wonder why I call them over and write them up."
"You want my explanation?" I asked.
"Sure," said my man in blue.
"This is a new species of 20th century mammal known as Officus Coopupicus. These beasts spend all day behind soft brown partitions, in work spaces that are lit with fluorescent bulbs and cluttered by computers. Ain't much daredevilhood in that. So they come blasting out onto the street, and the first thing they want to do is take a risk, test their moxie, get that adrenalin pumping."
"But the law says . . . ."
"Hey, man, they don't want to hear about some law. They realize they're not supposed to jaywalk. But the new downtown code is: 'As long as I wasn't killed, anything goes.' "
"So what do we do about this? The reception we get makes us feel downright unpopular."
"Listen, the answer is right in that ticket book of yours. I'm an old fashioned sort of guy. I say the law is the law, and you're there to enforce it. I'll come cheer for you some lunch hour."
"We could use it. Thanks."
Meanwhile, just up the street, another urban problem took an ugly twist on April 11.
As always, Karen Sumner emerged from the Farragut North Metro station that morning and began walking north on Connecticut Avenue to her office. As always, a street person was camped at the corner of De Sales Street. As always, he asked Karen for money. As always, she said no.
That is usually that. But this day, the street person became enraged. He grabbed Karen by the hair, ran his hands over her body and shouted at her. After a few seconds, Karen managed to wriggle loose. You may be sure she ran, not walked, the rest of the way to work, where she immediately called the police.
An officer came and listened patiently. He said this was a recurring problem. He said that he'd like to lock the guy up, but as soon as he did that, the courts would let him out again. He said that there was basically nothing he could do.
But he had some advice for Karen. Start carrying an umbrella, the officer suggested. If this happens again, give the guy a poke with the sharp end of the umbrella, and give it hard.
Well, that may sound like a solution, but I'm afraid it would be fuel on the fire. What if Karen poked an enraged street person, and made him more enraged? What if he came after her, took the umbrella away from her and did serious harm to her with it? What if the street person charged Karen with assault -- as he certainly could? Is this what the cops really want to happen?
Better idea: station an officer near regular street-person hangouts, especially during rush hours, when sidewalks are full. Prevention is what the police should be after in cases like this, not some Dodge City notion of getting even.
On that same April 11, the Washington Capitals were doing playoff hockey battle against the New York Islanders at the Capital Centre. The game was sold out, which always means a Class A mess in the Cap Centre parking lots.
If you didn't get there at least half an hour before the April 11 game began, you know what I mean. They directed you off into the Lower 40 somewhere, and they parked cars bumper to bumper to fit everybody in.
A reader of mine had an emergency, and tried to leave early. But her car was hemmed in on all four sides. So the attendant, a young man, began breaking into the neighboring cars, releasing emergency brakes and pushing the cars aside.
My reader remarked how easily the young man was breaking in -- about 15 seconds per car. He said it was really easy once you get the hang of it. "My grandchildren will never believe it," the guy chuckled. "I'm working my way through college by breaking into parked cars."
Wouldn't it be a lot nicer if he didn't have to?
The Cap Centre Car Crunch is not only a customer turn-off, but it could produce a horror show some night. Let's say a child is sick or injured at home, and Mom and Dad can't extricate their car. There's no reason for this -- and no excuse. Isn't it time for more parking out there?