Levey The Investigative Reporter just walked over and counted, and there are 33. That's no misprint. Truly, honestly, cross my heart, there are 33 newspaper vending racks on the southeast corner of 17th and I streets NW.
That is 30 more than the law allows. But the law isn't being enforced, and it isn't about to be. The reason is a strange legal situation that could only be found in dear old Washington, D.C.
For the last several months, the D.C. City Council has been considering a change in the newspaper vending rack laws. The current law places a limit of three racks per corner. However, several news organizations have threatened to sue the city to obtain corner space for their racks, and city attorneys are quite sure the papers would win, on First Amendment grounds.
A source in the District Building says that the Council is expected to pass new rack regulations in the next three or four months. The new regs are expected to bump the per-corner rack limit up as high as 10. However, things are still in the drafting stage, the source said. Meanwhile, the three-racks-per-corner law has not been rescinded.
So you'd think the cops would rush right down to 17th and I and start writing summonses. After all, there are so many racks there that you have to dodge them to cross the street. And what if, while you were doing that, a car ran a red light, and you wanted to get out of the way fast? The best you could do would be to leap backward -- into a boxful of headlines.
However, even though the three-per-corner law is still on the books, the police have stopped enforcing it -- simply because it may soon change.
"Everything's on hold," explained one officer who is supposed to enforce vending machine laws. "The law is in a limbo state while it's being revised." Asked why there are laws if the police don't take them seriously, the officer said: "It is kind of ridiculous, I agree. But the issue here, I think, is allowing newspapers to make information available to people."
The issue here, I think, is uncluttering dangerously cluttered corners. The First Amendment gives newspapers the right to publish. It doesn't give them the right to create hazards on busy street corners.
"Since new neighbors have moved into the row house next door to ours, we have noticed the strong smell of tobacco smoke," writes a family of four from Adams-Morgan.
"We really cannot ask our new neighbors to stop smoking. Before we talk to them about the smoke problem, however, we would like to do what we can on our side to get rid of the smell.
"We have already tried fresh flowers, fragrant soaps and simmering pots of homemade soup. But the stale smell of cigarettes lingers.
"Do you or any of your readers have any suggestions on how we can quell the smell?"
The only ideas I can come up with would fall under the heading of Two Wrongs Trying To Make A Right. Rancid catfish sauteed in sour buttermilk would cover up the smell of smoke just fine. But I don't think the family of four would be too delighted by it after a few seconds.
How about it, readers?
Anyone who thinks kindness is dead and gone should follow the advice of Shlomo D. Katz of Silver Spring. Drive down into Rock Creek Park some weekday morning. Park near the Broad Branch Road intersection with Beach Drive, or the Beach Drive-Blagden Avenue junction a few yards away. And then feast your eyes.
If this were anywhere else, Broad Branch and Blagden drivers might sit there all day, waiting for a chance to merge into Beach, since motorists already on Beach have the right of way. But Beach drivers always seem to let them into line, without beeping or bitterness.
Donald Heilemann, a public affairs officer for the National Park Service, called the display "a spontaneous public courtesy between people in spite of the commuter rush hour." He added that the Park Police "checked their files, and there's been only one altercation reported there in recent memory" -- this despite a morning-rush flow past the two intersections of 3,000 vehicles a day.
Now tell me why the same courtesy can't happen on I-66? Or I-270? Or on the biggest running sore of them all, the Capital Beltway?
It's almost book sale time again at Stone Ridge School.
This year's sale, the 18th annual one at the Bethesda school, will feature 100,000 volumes in 83 categories. Proceeds go to the school scholarship fund. Dates: March 21 through 25. Times: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Monday and Tuesday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The school is at 9101 Rockville Pike. Further information is available at 657-4322.