Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back in the Saddle

After all that wilderness, coming back to terms with civilization is a little bit of a strain.

And when I say wilderness, it's tough to emphasize the isolation that is Lake Otatakan in northern Ontario. I did find the time, between fighting epic battles with enormous walleye and plowing through two 700-plus-page novels, to scribble down some musings in my old composition notebook. Those are posted below, in a different blog entry, and they're half a stab at capturing exactly what the experience was like.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that when we got out of the bush and back onto American soil, I was pretty quick to pull my cell phone out of my bag and peruse the accumulated messages of a week. But I certainly didn't miss it while I was out there.

So now I'm faced with the daunting task of catching up on a week's news, while still being forced to haunt coffee shops to get internet access. These are the chains of civilization, and I'll have to see if I can get my internets working this week, or I might go broke on coffee house prices.

But it is good to be home. My buddy Benny and I put my belief that Madison should encourage its denizens to canoe as an eco-friendly means of transport to the test this afternoon. I must say, I was pleased with the afternoon as a whole, but with an overall transit time of about three-and-a-half hours to get from his house near B. B. Clark Beach to the Memorial Union and back, it seems like I'll have to consign myself to taking the bus when I'm in a hurry.

It was an enjoyable trip, though. We put in at the park and paddled northeast along the Lake Monona shore, then upstream on the Yahara River Channel to the Tenney Park Locks. It's a little intimidating to be the only canoe in a lock full of six power boats, but it saved us a rough portage... Ben's canoe was clearly made in an era before man learned to craft aluminum, and it weighs a good twenty-five pounds more than any canoe I've ever carried in my life.

Out of the locks, we paddled southwest along the opposite side of the isthmus and pulled out at the Union, met a couple other buddies who got there by faster-but-less-interesting means and enjoyed some beer and euchre, then set out again for home.

All-in-all, a good afternoon, but given we spent only a couple hours at the Union, it's a good thing our means of transport was in itself an enjoyable form of recreation.

Peace and Quiet

*Taken from my old fashioned, reliable composition notebook*

8-24-2008 10:15 PM
Lake Otatakan, Ontario, Canada

I took a walk out onto the pier after dinner tonight. It was a little bit chilly, but after I ran down to get water twice, I had to stop and take a closer look at what I had seen.

The sun was an hour below the horizon, but there was still a faint, barely perceivable glow to the northwest. The stars were out, and without the light pollution that plagues any place with a population denser than one person per square mile, they were abundant too.

But what was more striking was the stillness. The winds that have been confounding us in our boats this past two days had finally died out, COMPLETELY, leaving the lake calm and smooth enough to pick out the reflections of constellations in the sky.

As always, the beauty of an unmarred night sky struck me dumb -- two-fold, because of its mirror image in the lake. I stood stock still, then realized how quiet it really was. Living in the city... hell, even a town or a farm... there's always some noise or another shooshing in the background. I hadn't realized how much my brain regularly tuned out until just then. There were no waves breaking on shore, no wind in the trees and even the mosquitoes were silent, subdued by the late summer chill.

My heart caught in my chest, and I listened hard. Could this be absolute silence I was hearing, perhaps for the first time in my life?

I cocked my head, and the shift in my weight caused the floating dock to creak at each successive hinge, moving from me to the shore. A door shut within our cabin, the only building for ten miles, which was two hundred yards away from me. My own blood, feeling hot in the cold air, rushed through my ears.

I decided then I needed to experience real silence, even if just for a moment.

I lay down on my back and glanced again at the impressive display of stars, growing brighter by the moment, but I couldn't get distracted. It took a minute for the dock to stop moving, but the harder I listened, the more frustrated I got. It seemed like my stomach was sloshing and splashing as it digested dinner, and somewhere on my right arm, a bulging vein pulsed, pounding the rhythm of my heartbeat against the sleeve of my fleece.

I cursed my own body for being so loud and began taking slow, deep breaths to soften my heartrate and slow my metabolism. After a minute, I switched to shallower breathing, after a tiny rattle deep in my chest, the remnant of a summer cold I thought I had kicked, became the loudest sound I could hear.

I don't know how long I lay there like that. As my pulse slowed and my blood pressure fell, I had only the tick of my wrist watch at twenty second intervals to tell time.

And then, between one of those intervals, it happened. Silence! I allowed myself a flicker of self-recognition to celebrate, then closed my eyes to block out the noisy stars and sample the sensation in its purest form.

No light. No sound. My other three senses fell away like crutches, and I was left in a maddening, howling, lonely vacuum that was really quite pleasant at first, if overwhelmingly awe-inspiring. I strained to draw out the experience so I could come to terms with it, but that was about as easy as accepting eternity.

The thought crossed my mind, "This is what the universe was like before the Big Bang happened 16 billion years ago." It's no wonder a god would set things off into motion, he or she couldn't take it. Even if god is more of a force, a balance, than a sentient being, the Big Bang must have happened just because a whole lot of something was needed just to spite the nothing.

A water pump grumbled to life near the lake's edge, and I opened my eyes. Half a mile across the water, some creature (presumably a moose) grunted in a hooting, plaintive bark three times.

Each time, it echoed from the trees at each bank, caroming from shore to shore and traversing the entire lake. Then, it was quiet again. The silence didn't bother me, but I coughed, experimentally, three times in response. As I listened to it echo around me, I realized for the first time that for me, god and that moose, when presented with all that nothingness, it just felt good to fill it with something.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gone Fishin', BRB

Interpret this post as one of those signs shop owners hang in the window with a little clock: "Closed, back at..." Except my clock is a calendar, and I'm back on August 29.

I've been on the job with WTDY for about for about six months now, and as our morning anchor Tim Morrissey is prone to blurting out, "I've had about all I can take! I'm leaving." I love the job, but I've been "go-go-going," for about six months straight now, week in and week out, and I feel like a clock that's been wound too tight.

(This is where Morrissey would point out that I've never owned a winding alarm clock in my life, and he'd be right).

So I'm heading north for some quality time with my Dad, his Dad and a bunch of fish. The idea is to get as far from civilization and its accompanying internets, television networks and newspapers as possible, so we're literally going to drive north until we run out of road, then get into a pontoon plane the next day and fly further north.

I've done this trip to Lake Otatakan once before, and for a nature-lover stuck in the city, it's amazingly cathartic. The routine is simple... up with the sun, fish, eat lunch, fish, take a nap, fish, eat dinner, read a book, play cards, drink beer and pass out before the mosquitoes carry you away...then dream about fishing.

It's gonna be nice. I don't even think I'll be bothered by not knowing Barack Obama's VP pick.

I feel like a different person entirely when I'm unplugged, and to prove it, I'll take along a notebook and revive the old practice of writing writing... as in actually sitting down with a pen and slowly, methodically composing one's thoughts instead of vomiting them out through the keyboard. If what ends up in the notebook makes any sense at all, I'll post some of it when I get back.

In the meantime, stay classy and stay tuned. There's a lot going on this fall, and I'll be ready to deal with it when I get back. I'm elbow deep in a couple of exciting projects outside work, including a new place to blog from courtesy of my buddy MattRock. There will be more on that on the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Grammar Aneurysm

It's a curse.

Those who know me will attest that poor grammar is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to me. I have been known to use Sharpies to add an apostrophe where it's needed or delete it where it's not, simply for my own peace of mind. The larger and more noticeable the violation, the more agitated I get.

So when I can't fix the situation physically, I find a brief, passionate rant... a flaming, in the parlance of our times... is the best way to preserve my sanity. And in the case of the bumper sticker I saw today, physically fixing the situation would have involved arson, so I guess this post is my best shot.

The offending sticker, affixed to the back of a Subaru Outback on Schroeder Road, read, very simply, "Women make GREAT LEADERS! Your following one."

-- To which I responded, "No, I'm not, I'm following the grammatical equivalent of a fourth grader who doesn't know the difference between the contraction of "you" and "are" "you're" and the second-person pronoun "your," and she's probably responsible for setting back the cause of women's lib by ten years because of this one grammatical obscenity!"

Nails on a chalk board, man. I'm about as far from a misogynist as they come, but I wouldn't follow this lady's lead any farther than I could see myself, lest I get led off a damn cliff.

I take two basic issues with the fact that this bumper sticker was affixed to the car. 1), the obvious issue, is that Madame Subaru either didn't notice (bad) or didn't care (worse) that the wrong form of the homonym was used on her bumper sticker, and 2), that bumper sticker made it all the way through the chain of command at some bumper sticker manufacturer without getting fixed (worst), or, it was right to begin with and some "editor" changed it to the wrong form (worse than worst).

None of this would be an issue if we had laws on the books allowing corporal punishment for the most flagrant abuses of the English language. I mean, come on, English in America is more prevalent than porn on the internet. Let's take a little bit of pride in the language we speak and learn to speak it correctly.

And I would wager, whoever was in the Subaru, she probably voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary as well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

the Crotchety 23-year-old

First, I start losing my hair. Now, for the first time in my life as a semi-political-animal, I find myself in agreement with Wisconsin State Senator Alan Lasee (R - De Pere). My God. I'm only 23, but it looks like I'm on pace to be drinking prune juice and bopping about in Depends by the time I'm 30.

Don't worry, it's not on some politically-charged right-wing issue like abortion or voter ID or dismantling the University of Wisconsin system that I find myself coming to this chance concurrence with Sen. Lasee. Unfortunately, it is an issue that makes me look every bit the dinosaur I'm afraid I'll turn into some day: those damn kids and their text messaging.

It seems the people in my phone book have dragged me, somewhat unwittingly, into the text message revolution. I fought the trend as long as I could. I went on a couple dates with a girl this summer who, it seems, was uncomfortable with any means of communication besides text messaging. Needless to say, we are no longer in regular contact.

Excepting situations where a telephone conversation is impossible (loud concerts, busy days at work, city government meetings), I see no reason to even bother with a text message - an exchange that would take thirty seconds via voice call is slowed to a ten minute button frenzy, sans the subtleties of a phone conversation. But it got to the point where someone would send me a text and then act surprised when I called them instead of testing, or annoyed that I didn't message them back within minutes.

So even though I now send the occasional text, I'm still with Sen. Lasee when it comes to the whole phenomenon, though I'm not nearly as crotchety about it as he is yet. "My attitude is, if you want to talk to somebody, it’s bad enough to talk on the cell phone," Lasee told me.

Neither Lasee nor I take it as a personal affront when someone texts in our immediate vicinity, but I find it just as alarming as he does to see someone cruising down the interstate at 75 miles an hour, eyes down, phone up, keys a'clicking. That's why Lasee has been a leader in the state legislature in pushing for a texting while driving ban in the state of Wisconsin.

Early in the text message era, when I had maybe a grand total of half a dozen text messages under my belt PERIOD, I chanced to visit St. Louis with my buddy Clinton in our most recent blitzkrieg tour of the Midwest. We stayed with a friend of his there, who was an all around decent guy, and was even good enough to drive us around the city.

Yet after a near miss on the outbound I-55 while the guy was literally engaged in a full-out text message conversation with his girlfriend, I opted to drive myself for the rest of the trip. Maybe I'm high-strung, but just riding with the guy was a white-knuckled experience as I spent more time watching the road than he did.

I guess I'm just not talented enough to safely drive and text... I wouldn't know, actually, because I've never worked up the nerve to try it - and I'm the guy who once perfected the art of downshifting around a corner while talking on a cell phone, eating a taco and balancing a Big Gulp on the steering wheel.

But at the beginning of the month, our simple neighbors to the northwest took one small step for a legislative body, but one giant leap for safety's sake...and this may be the first time I've EVER advocated something "for safety's sake." Minnesota's texting while driving ban went into effect August 1, meaning they beat us at something for the first time EVER.

This is in spite of Sen. Lasee's best efforts to push a similar ban through our state legislature during the last session, which, in his defense, wasn't exactly noted as their most productive session ever. But Lasee says the leadership in both the Republican-controlled Assembly and the Democrat-controlled Senate wanted nothing to do with a texting while driving ban - and he has some good theories as to why.

"There’s support there, on both sides," he said. "It’s just the leadership doesn’t want to deal with it. I think they do it. They text message and drive."

And while I couldn't get Lasee to name names, he promised me he will bring the issue back up during the next session. Which is good, because until there's a law against it, I'm just going to sound like a prematurely aged old coot every time I rave about someone I see committing what I consider to be a more heinous offense than speeding in a school zone.

Now get the hell off my lawn!

...PS...This post hasn't been proofed yet, because I'm told this coffee shop is closing in two minutes. I'm about to enter my second week without an internet connection. I will continue posting this week via work and coffee shops, and then it's off to Canada for a week. After that, I'll consider getting my own internets again. Thanks for bearing with me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Moving, Sans the Shaking

There are few things I detest more than moving, because it's like a hybrid of some of my least favorite things in existence. It combines all the heavy lifting and elevated heartrates of exercise with the forced anal retentiveness of getting organized. Scrubbing toilets down with bleach when you've got an open drummer blister (thumb side of the index's how you pick drummers out of a hand line-up) is at once more painful and possibly more dangerous than regular cleaning, which is bad enough on its own. And then there's all that dust that gets kicked up into the air, which is enough to have anyone wheezing like an asthmatic pack-a-day smoker.

Oh, and it takes up all of one's time as well, which is why I've been light on posts lately. I've got some good ones in queue, so you'll just have to take my word for it that they're golden.

I will share a couple of anecdotes about this move, however. When I started my packing over the weekend, I discovered, buried deep beneath my stairwell, about a box and a half a stuff that I had NEVER UNPACKED from my previous move. It was maybe the most depressing moment of the summer. I think the general rule of thumb is that's the stuff you're supposed to throw away before making the next move, but A) I only lived in this last house for a year, and B) it was stuff I'd been looking for that entire damn year...some of it anyway, and I did throw the rest of it out.

So that was frustrating, but I also had the occasion to do a little gleeful dance as I packed as well. Dork that I am, I have a very large bookshelf I keep stacked from top to bottom with my collection of reading material. The only time of the year I regret having that bookshelf is when the time comes to move, because packing books is a real damn chore.

As I muttered and grumbled my way through that chore last weekend, a few leafs of paper fell out of an old textbook and fluttered to the ground. I gaped for a minute, then siezed them up. It was the letter my Dad had written to me the night before I left home for college, which I had been convinced got lost when I moved out of the dorms freshman year. Packing and cleaning dropped from my mind as I plunked down on the hardwood to read the words of wisdom my Dad had written to me five years ago.

Some of them don't apply any more - I've outgrown them. Some of them will always shape my life. And some of them are probably partly responsible for getting me where I am today.

At any rate, I'm glad to have that letter back...if only I can remember where I bloody packed it.

Posts will be hit or miss for the next couple days. Between the unpacking and getting the internet set up at my new place, I'll try and sneak a few in where I can steal wireless.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I'll Give You a Diatribe!

I won't lie, my original post tonight was going to be about text messages, and how they may very well spell the end of society as we know it, and how THOROUGHLY creeped out I am by the fact that I finally agree with Wisconsin State Senator Alan Lasee on ANYTHING. But when I sat down to write, I took a look at the comments posted on my last piece, and I found this *gem*.

I take exception to your quote:

"But if the city strips him of the livelihood he's made for himself since 1992..."

written near the end of this diatribe of yours against the City of Madison, along with the basic premise of your story.

Madison existed before this guy came to town. To quote the old Tammany Ward Boss George Washington Plunkett, "he saw his opportunities and he took 'em."

Well, Jin took his opportunities and also took parking spaces away from Langdon Street area residents that badly need them. Not bad, if you think you can get away with it.

We don't exist in a vacuum, yet you make it seem that Jin is the David in a classic "You can't fight City Hall" battle against Goliath.

Jin wouldn't have his business if Madison didn't exist, so it is proper for the city to set down rules and regulations when one wants to operate in the city.

If Jin can't play by the rules, maybe he should set up shop some where else where the residents don't mind him taking up a parking space or two. I doubt that will happen when presented the facts.

Parking enforcement exists to give all of us a fair shake at finding a parking spot. If Jin wants something permanent, maybe he should do what most other business people do in Madison and the rest of the Western world: Rent a space.

It's so easy to complain about getting a parking ticket and getting a sympathetic following.
This feeble attempt to generate outrage as if you were Upton Sinclair won't win a giraffe award (for sticking your neck out, get it?) from me.

Keep in mind that Jin has no right to "own" a parking spot, and I for
one am glad the city is throwing the book at this piker.

Sincerely yours,

Adam Young

P.S. Alderman Verveer is a very good friend of mine.

Try as I might, I couldn't overcome the urge to hurl some invective back at the guy. The end result ended up being postworthy, so I'll talk about Lasee some other time. The remainder of this post is my response to Young's comment.

... ... ... ... ...
Mr. Young, it seems you won't be joining us on the fence, which is unfortunate. Perhaps a second perusal of my "diatribe" is in order, for a trifecta of reasons.

Firstly, as well read as you seem, you failed to take away from the piece that there is no such person as "Jin." There is a very colorful story behind that name, and I'm sure Jeff Okafo would be happy to tell it to you if you were to so much as attempt to engage him in conversation. Then again, if you're the type that doesn't associate with "pikers," "rule-breakers" or "black people," google up an article I saw by the Badger Herald about his business, and you can get all the information you need without associating with any "undesirables."

Secondly, I too consider myself a friend of Mike Verveer's, which is why I felt comfortable consulting with him before I wrote this story. I'm sure I don't know him as well as you do, nor have I known him as long, but I went so far as to note the respect I hold for Mike, undermining the very "argument" you seem to think I was making. I weighed his opinion heavily while I crafted this piece, but in the end, I decided Mike's perspective is conveyed everywhere else you look: in city policy, in the minutes from the Vending Oversight Committee meetings and in people like you.

Which brings me to my third point. A "diatribe?" Seriously, is that what passes for a diatribe nowadays? No, Mr. Young, I was telling a story that I thought people might be interested to read. I gauge this based on the fact that I was personally interested to hear Mr. Okafo's perspective, and as a "people" myself, I can generally figure out what they would like to read about.

A teacher and inspiration of mine, Steven Walters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, once told me, "Everybody's got a story they're just waiting to tell. They're just looking for someone to tell it to." Jeff Okafo was happy to impart his story to me, relieved even. Then, as a story-teller, I had to ask myself, "Is there a value to this story?" I sure think so, if as nothing more than a cautionary tale, but also to outline the inherent dangers any kind of institution can pose to individuality.

I'm not personally waving the flag of anarchy, and I'm not condemning anyone here. From my honest, common-sense perspective, while a six month suspension may be a little steep, Jeff Okafo ought to come under some kind of scrutiny to ensure that he finds a way to make his living without breaking city laws.

But, for the sake of conscience, I simply chose to outline a perspective many people may not have considered in this story, and the fact that you perceived it as a diatribe and reacted in such a kneejerk fashion tells me you have firmly entrenched yourself on one side of the proverbial, aforementioned fence. As such, humanizing someone like "Jin" kind of turns your whole worldview upside down, doesn't it? It makes you uncomfortable. I get the feeling you're still struggling to figure out if the whole "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" cliche isn't just some kind of play on words.

In closing, let it be known that when I write a goddamn diatribe, you will know it as such. I hope I have made clear what my intentions were with this piece. I hope that I have not offended you to the point where, when we meet in person (because this town's not that big), we can't order a round and argue it out further in person. And I don't really think you're a racist, an elitist or a simpleton, but it sure was easy to perceive you as such based on the 321 words of florid prose you vilify you and dehumanize you, as it were.

But mostly, I hope I've conveyed a broader message. The hardest skill I've had to learn in my line of work is the suspension of judgement for someone I may think clearly deserves it. I'm still learning it. There are days I'm sure I've utterly failed at learning it.

So, simply put...lighten up, dude.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hell's Parking Enforcement

When I first moved to Madison, I'll admit, I was inherently suspicious of any food that's served out of a shack. The same goes for trailers, carts, wagons, trucks and wheelbarrows.

Maybe it was part of coming into my own as a UW freshman, but I did eventually get adventurous and try some of the food vendors who set up regularly on Library Mall. Ingrid's Mad City Meatloaf converted me from a cautious mobile cuisine dabbler to a shameless promoter and rabid fan of the entire food cart community.

But then again, Ingrid's meatloaf could probably turn Vegans back to carnivorism, if she didn't offer a hefty selection for Madison's lettucehead population as well.

Nonetheless, one of my greatest failures as a UW student may have been neglecting to visit "Jin's Chicken and Fish" shack even ONCE after a night out at the bars. And now, if the City of Madison Vending Oversight Committee has its way, I may have less than a month to do so before it's gone for at least six months.

At a meeting last week, the VOC voted to recommend that Jeff Okafo, the proprietor of Jin's Chicken, be stripped of his vending license for six months. His offense? A stack of parking tickets and a run-in with a Madison Police officer that resulted in Okafo being on the business end of a taser / pepper spray barrage.

When Okafo told me about the taser part this morning at Indie Coffee, I nearly doused the guy in a mouthful of black coffee. I CCAPed him in preparation for our meeting, and I was aware of the Obstructing an Officer charges pending against him for a little kerfuffle from last spring. But the cavalier way he described having chili derivative sprayed in his eyes and upwards of 15,000 volts of electricity coursing through his flesh nearly floored me.

I would not mess with Jeff Okafo, even at bartime. The city of Madison, on the other hand, swings a decidedly heavier hammer than I do.

One can certainly make the argument that Okafo has damned himself in this whole situation. Wracking up 29 parking tickets in a year is of itself a feat worth some note, perhaps even a record of some kind. The alleged fight with a parking enforcement officer in May is even more damning, as are the Operating After Revocation tickets he's earned along the way.

But then again, put in his same situation, I can see myself winding up even worse off. It's not much of a stretch.

Okafo makes his living selling food out of a cart late at night. The city has not granted him permission to set up on Library Mall or State Street, where he would be out of the way when parking push came to parking shove, so he has to battle for spots on the one street they have given him permission to use: Frances Street, where the spots are scarce and metered.

The meters, of course, aren't monitored after six o'clock in the evening, but the spots there are filled up long before then by people hoping themselves to park overnight. In order to be assured a spot, and thus an income for the evening, Okafo needs to get there by the middle of the afternoon... Which means plugging the meters... Which means risking a ticket.

29 tickets in a year still seemed extreme to me, until I realized that I myself have amassed seven or eight tickets in the past year for various parking infractions. As a reporter, I certainly spend more time tooling around in a car downtown than most people, but I certainly don't make my living parking out on the streets like Okafo does. For him, parking tickets are almost just another business expense.

The tickets are of course a hair-tearing inconvenience, but it's when they stack up that they become a major problem. When you amass as many as Okafo has, it's only a matter of time before a few slip through the cracks and remain unpaid. This runs up the amount owed, and eventually suspends your registration with the state.

But when your livelihood depends on driving a cart downtown to set up for the evening, a suspended registration could certainly look insignificant compared to having no income until the troubles are cleared up...that is, until those blueberries and cherries show up in your rearview mirror.

As to Okafo's alleged run-in with the police last May, it's tough to work out what actually happened. He says he came upon a parking enforcement officer writing him a ticket, had some words and the police got called. In what he describes as a complete police overreaction, he ended up down for the count and under arrest.

Okay. Who hasn't gotten a little heated when they discover they've received a visit from Madison's Parking Ninjas? Judging by my overreaction to getting a parking ticket in June, I'll be bound over on attempted homicide charges if I ever catch the actual parking goon in the act, though I'm convinced they're equipped with some kind of stealth technology.

Were the officers' actions appropriate in dealing with the situation as it unfolded? That's a gray area. As anyone who was on State Street during either of the last two so-called "riots" following the Halloween festival will tell you, our department has an affinity for quickly deploying teargas. And if you believe Okafo's account, it sounds like his situation wasn't much different:

"I went to go talk to the police officer to complain about the parking enforcement officer. Meanwhile, the guy is yelling at me to get on the ground and put my hands behind my back. I didn’t want to put my hands behind my back because I didn’t want him to think I had a weapon, so I put my hands over my head. Then he tasers me. I felt the taser, it didn’t take full effect, I grabbed the dart out of me. I’m standing 10-15 feet away from him, he says he’s gonna call another officer. I say that’s a good idea, and he interpreted that as a threat. He made it sound in the report like I was screaming in the middle of the street, which is completely untrue."

(By the way, that previous link is why you don't meet with a source in a coffee shop frequented by student journalists with laptops and nothing better to do on a Tuesday than eavesdrop your interview and scoop you before you can get home from work and do your writing. Get a job, and get off my damn lawn you kids! ( kidding...) )

I'm not making excuses for Okafo. I have nothing but respect for Mike Verveer, who sits on the Vending Oversight Committee. I have occasionally disagreed with him, but I think he's an admirable leader with sound judgement. And when I broached the topic with Verveer tonight, he assured me the city is within its rights to do what it's doing. He also went to bat for the officers on the scene, saying Okafo "picked a fight."

A friend of mine who's familiar with the case admits, "Jeff has made mistakes and handled himself poorly, but I agree with him that it seems unfair that he may lose his vending license because of this. Parking tickets come with a penalty already."

The city is taking a hardline stance with Jin's chicken, and it could set a dangerous precedent for the other street vendors that make downtown Madison the colorful, vibrant place it is. In a sense, Okafo is being doubly punished: he's taken the steps to pay off most of the parking tickets, and he says he spent over $3,000 to get his license and registration reinstated. He pays a nonrefundable fee to the city for the privilege of vending food on the streets, but they're looking at taking that away from him anyway.

And if a court indeed finds him guilty of obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct, he will pay the associated penalty. But if the city strips him of the livelihood he's made for himself since 1992, what reason does he have to reform, to break out of the funk he's stuck in?

As he told me very plainly, "Nobody else I've ever met's job is threatened by parking tickets."

And don't even get me started on those maniacs down at parking enforcement. How many cities have you heard of where the meter masters literally have the power to drive a man from his livelihood?

Monday, August 4, 2008

In Summation

Madison Police Public Information Officer Joel Despain sent out a wrap up from last week's press/police face-to-face, heart-to-heart last week. He echoes a lot of the sentiment I expressed in my posting from last Wednesday. I'll post it here for your perusal.

In other knock-down-drag-out news, the Packers preseason is going to feature Favre V. Rodgers, duking it out for the job of Packers God. I, for one, can't wait to sit back and enjoy the show. It's going to be one for the ages.

From: Joel Despain, MPD PIO


TRUST: Both MPD staff and media members believe there has been an erosion of trust between reporters & police. There seemed to be a clear commitment among most to work toward improving relationships between reporters and police. Many thought this meeting was a good first step.


Decentralization of MPD (reporters have greater challenges in building relationships with police).
Decreased media staff (fewer reporters running beats, meaning less face to face contact and perhaps fewer police sources).
Perceived lack of information disseminated in recent high-profile stranger homicides.
Media publishing/airing questionable stories about MPD staff members or cases.
Failure by other public entities to disclose information about internal investigations that have connections to MPD cases.
The need to uphold suspects’ constitutional rights & not to impede with DA’s ability to execute “successful prosecutions”.
Allowing citizens to access areas near crime scenes where media has been cordoned off.


Some reporters indicated it is a challenge …

1. Getting access to information after PIO hours.
2. Finding MPD staff for “on-camera” interviews after PIO hours.
3. Getting Incident Reports posted after PIO hours.


All agree more face-to-face interaction is needed. Setting up smaller, but more regular meetings between reporters and MPD could accomplish this. For instance, brown bag lunches could be held once a month – a different district each month – where command staff, neighborhood officers’ etc. could talk casually with media members.

It could also be that media members could meet with Det. Lt.s to explain what type of access to scenes they would ideally like to have.

Additionally, Officers In Charge can be given better guidance on posting Incident Reports.

MPD personnel working second and third shifts could be identified for possible on-camera interviews.