Commissioner Randy Leonard missed the March 19 City Council vote on City Ordinance 374, the measure he sponsored to prohibit the use of duct-tape or other markers on public property as a means of reserving space to view parades. Though he missed the vote, I imagine the Commissioner, aboard the bicycle carrier PSS Tom McCall, declaring â€œmission accomplished.â€
I donâ€™t like parades. I attended the Rose Parade once, in 1980, wearing a mask to protect against Mt. St. Helens ash. But I worked for thirty years in an office overlooking MLK, Jr. Blvd., and each year watched as folks blocked out space on the sidewalk with tape, chalk or string, and perhaps a lawn chair or two, reserving each his own personal observation deck for the Rose Parade. This would begin a week or more before the parade, and on the last day or two some people, the less trusting, would take turns occupying their spot, negotiating neighborly boundaries, all for the sake of a parade. I admit that the junk-art collagist in me also liked walking the streets the next several weeks, observing how remnant markers faded and melted away, especially the duct-tape, which as it disintegrates turns into a delicate web before disappearing altogether.
At first I assumed the law authorized this ad hoc reservation system. When I realized that this was just neighborly folk law in action, I was amazed, and still am, that for the most part people respected each otherâ€™s taped dominion. I always highlighted the practice for visitors, a charming sign of Portlandersâ€™ mutual respect and good will. â€œSomething there is that does not love a wall,â€ as Robert Frost said, and that something was your everyday Portlander, satisfied to have a marked venue with a view.
Iâ€™ve heard the plaint: â€œWhat makes folks think they can save a prime view of the parade simply by laying down a strip of duct-tape?â€ What indeed! For no reason other than itâ€™s the custom of the country.
Iâ€™m reminded of the â€œSut Lovingood Yarnsâ€ by George Washington Harris, in particular a story called â€œBart Davisâ€™s Dance.â€ Bart hires a band, his wife Peg fixes a bunch of food, and they invite the Kentucky countryside to the dance. A preacher shows up. Welcomed good-naturedly by Bart, the preacher says, â€œYu is hosspitabil,â€ to which Bart wonders if he should take exception, asking Sut, â€œI bâ€™leve Iâ€™se been â€˜sulted in my own housâ€™; didnâ€™t that durnâ€™d preachin mersheen call me a hoss?â€ Sut is always â€œsloshinâ€™ aboutâ€ at such affairs, and loves to stir the pot. â€œSartinly,â€ Sut tells Bart, â€œpitabil is a sorter Latin tail stuck tu hit so yu moutnâ€™t onderstand; hit means pitiful hoss in Inglish, anâ€™ ef I wer yu, Iâ€™d see that his stumack wer spiled fur Pegâ€™s fried chicken anâ€™ biskit.â€ Violence and hilarity ensue.
See, I think a Rose Festival visitor observed the ceremony of the tape, was as amazed as I was, and happened to mention to Commissioner Leonard that she thought it very hospitable on the part of Portlanders to allow such a practice.
The Commissioner was not going to take that sitting down, as Iâ€™m sure heâ€™s entitled to do, in a parade seat reserved for dignitaries, in a prime parade viewing area set aside for such purpose. And I suspect it rankles that an activity like this, not sanctioned by Authority, should actually work, more or less, certainly more than, say, the water billing system (yes, I know, different commissioner), but less than â€“ well, I canâ€™t think of a thing at the moment. Moreâ€™s the pity, hoss.