Back when there was a strong police precinct system here, the following story never would have happened. But in the modern wonderworld of 1985, when the storeowners don't know the cops and the cops don't bother to get to know the storeowners, the only surprise is that this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.
The scene was 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The time was 3:30 a.m. Suddenly, Christine Zvosec was stirred from sleep by a burglar alarm at the carpet warehouse next door.
The alarm may not have been loud enough to wake the dead, but it did an excellent job on all the living within about three blocks. We're talking decibels that would make a burglar wish he'd gone to law school the way his mother always wanted.
But there was no burglar inside the warehouse. The police came and checked the building thoroughly, as most of the neighborhood watched in pajamas from windows. It was simply a case of a malfunctioning alarm system.
Fine. Malfunctions happen. So now you'll turn off the alarm system so we can get some sleep, won't you, officers?
Sorry, they said. Can't do that. It's not our property and not our responsibility.
Well, then you'll call the owner and have him come down and do it, won't you?
Sorry, said the police. We don't have any record of who the owner is.
Result: The alarm did its thing for the rest of the night. And no one in the neighborhood got another wink of sleep.
Shouldn't the police require every D.C. business owner to leave his name and phone number with them, so that alarms can be turned off as promptly as possible? The police say they strongly suggest this, but can't require it.
The police say there are practical difficulties. As one public information officer put it, "some of these businesses turn over every two weeks. It's tough to keep up with."
Come on, policepersons. Is it so tough for a scout car officer to drop into a business, ask two questions and write down the answers? So what if he or she has to do it every couple of weeks? Wouldn't this be a boon to police-community relations? And wouldn't a little extra work be better than an entire neighborhood losing sleep, and getting mad at the entire police department?
But let's save a few raised eyebrows for a certain magistrate in the D.C. Traffic Adjudication office.
Jack Taylor doesn't remember the man's name. But he sure remembers what the man said. To me, the pronouncement is one of the more remarkable ever to escape the mouth of a local official.
Jack found himself before the magistrate because he had parked illegally on 16th Street NW, near Caroline Street. Jack's car was duly towed away, and he was duly presented with a $75 ticket, which he decided to fight.
The magistrate reduced the fine to $50. But even though Jack produced evidence to show that there were no parking signs -- none -- in the block where he had been charged with illegal parking, the magistrate refused to dismiss the ticket.
Not only that, but he declared that it was Jack's "responsibility as a car owner in the District of Columbia to know that 16th Street is a major commuter thoroughfare."
Sorry, Mr. Magistrate, but there's nothing in D.C. law that says you need to know which streets are heavily traveled before you can buy a car.
You're claiming that Jack should have assumed that parking on 16th Street is illegal. In fact, it's legal, for most of its length, most of the time.
You're claiming that Jack should have known he was parked illegally even though there were no signs telling him so.
Which is another way of saying that Jack should have been a mind reader.
Which is not a condition of car ownership in the District of Columbia or anywhere else in the civilized world, last time I checked.
Thanks to Caroline Foty of Northwest for a cute yarn about Type A Behavior behind the wheel.
Caroline was heading south on Connecticut Avenue from Chevy Chase Circle during morning rush hour when she pulled up beside a shiny navy blue BMW. Its pilot was "a yuppieish businessman" who was obviously in a large hurry.
All the way down Connecticut, he would zip through intersections as soon as the light in the opposite direction turned yellow. But Connecticut is a bad street on which to try to make time this way, because the lights aren't synchronized. So the impatient BMW would zoom a few hundred yards ahead of Caroline, only to be grounded by another red light. And another. And another.
At the third or fourth red light, as the Yup sat fuming, Caroline noticed his license plates.
They read: JRK.
She'd like to know why the state of Virginia left out the "E" between the "J" and the "R."