Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mifflin... another year already?

I have a new goal in life, one that should make my parents proud. I hereby vow never to miss a Mifflin Street Block Party so long as I live.

I know it seems like a bold vow, but I was speaking with Madison City Council veteran Mike Verveer this evening, and he told me that he has been to every single block party since he was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. Now, not that Verveer's a dinosaur or anything -- he's consistently stood up for student rights and lobbied for a student agenda, and the UW community reveres him for it -- but that's a damn impressive streak. I figure as long as I'm living in Madison, I don't really have any excuse NOT to go.

So I have four Mifflins in a row under my belt, and I'm well on my way to a streak every bit as impressive as Verveer's... that is, if the Madison Police don't find a way to put the party out of commission, which I'm beginning to suspect they're intent on doing.

In the course of my duties today, I spoke with Lt. Joe Balles at the Madison Police Department. It seems they're going to be putting up more cameras at this year's block party. Before I go on with the post, I must directly address the kindly webwriters at WKOW. First of all, gentle writer, YOU DON'T NEED FREAKIN' APOSTROPHES IN THE PLURAL FORM OF "cameras." YOU MAKE THAT MISTAKE THREE TIMES. I WORK IN RADIO, AND I CAN GET IT RIGHT! SO IF YOU CAN'T LEARN TO USE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE CORRECTLY, PICK UP A FIFTH GRADE ENGLISH TEXTBOOK AND GET BACK TO BASICS BEFORE YOU GO AROUND POLLUTING MY INTERNET.

And on a less rant-inducing note, the Mifflin Street Block Party is NOT "notorious for getting out of hand." Since the riot that occurred in 1996, contrary to the way this story is written, the block party has been a bastion of goodwill between police and students. People show up at eight, they get drunk, a few get out of hand and are promptly, deservedly carted away by the cops, and after twelve hours of drinking, the need for a nap sets in and everybody goes home with a smile and some sunburn. As a student, in fact, the block party was the only time I wouldn't drop what I was holding or run the other way when I saw the UW or City Blues arrive on the scene. Poor reporting by the folks at 27.

But back to the cameras. I didn't know that there had previously been video surveillance, but Balles tells me they've had a single camera up on top of a tall apartment building in the area for years. Fine. Great. But now, they're adding two cameras to be mounted twenty feet above the ground at the busiest points on the street. According to Balles, these will be wired live into the police "Command Center," and they'll dispatch police to trouble hot spots via radio.

This begs the question, why do they need these new eyes? And what will they use them to do? It's well known, for instance, that the block party was a generally acceptable place for people so-inclined to "pass around a joint," so long as it wasn't blatantly in view of the police. But everything is blatantly in view of cameras mounted twenty feet from the ground.

Another thing that Balles the Buzzkill told me: "More people are starting to post their property down there for no trespassing, and we will be enforcing trespassing. So if (revelers) see pink trespassing signs, and if they're trespassing on private property, they can expect to be arrested." And he sounded like he meant it too, which makes me sad. It sounds like Balles, at least, wants nothing more than to swing a nightclub into a couple undergrad skulls come the first weekend in May. Maybe he's just mad because no one asked him to play Flip-Cup last year.

I just hope these new developments don't mean the police are out to kill the block party, now that they've neutered Halloween on State (I refuse to ever call it "Freak Fest"). And if they are, they're armed with a few more reasons to drag kids off in plastic wrist-ties.

There's a meeting, led by Mike Verveer, slated for next Tuesday night to tell students exactly what the changes mean for the beloved block party. I'll be on assignment there, and then of course, I've volunteered myself for "on-the-street coverage" of the event itself. Whatever happens, I'll be there, notepad in pocket, microphone in one hand and a beer in the other. I even got Verveer to half-promise a "City vs. Media Showdown" over the beer pong table, so it promises to be epic.


Andy said...

You have made a certain former English teacher very proud.

What a bunch of idiot's.

jballes said...

Hi Dustin,

Just an FYI... if you really knew me you would know I'm not a total "buzz kill"... and I enjoy a beer w/ friends just as much as anyone... stop by the Echo Tap sometime and I'll buy you one. I also do not enjoy seeing "force" (handcuffs and whatever else) used to control an unsponsored college drinking party. If you ever want to do a ride a long on the MPD side of the fence...let me know... I think the experience will change your perspective a bit... it has changed many others'...

Lt Joe