Saturday, August 19, 2017

sign of the times

This sign is not in Mexico.

You probably already guessed that. If only by the language. And it is another example of why I enjoy living here. In Mexico, that is.

The sign is posted at a rest stop on I-5 in the upper Willamette Valley -- just north of Cottage Grove. With a name like Cottage Grove, you would expect a bit of rustic, down home hospitality. But not from your host: the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Let me set the scene. This is a rest stop. A place to get a free cup of coffee from the VFW or a soft drink from a vending machine that looks as if it is caged to protect it from grizzlies. Or to simply seek relief from digestive pressures.

And, because this is Oregon, the well-maintained facilities nestle in a copse of Douglas fir. It is the type of place you might like to spend a little time just -- well, resting.

But, don't rest too long. You might be accused of loitering. And that is just not to be tolerated. Along with a brain-numbing list of other restrictions.

The sign of regulation caught my eye for two reasons. Its size (yuge, as our president would say) and its font (tiny). The font size is necessary. God was satisfied with ten commandments. The Oregon Department of Transportation needs almost two dozen. And I suspect there are probably another hundred or so littering the desk of a middle level manager -- just waiting to be displayed on a series of placards that would put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to shame.

The dirty two dozen are gems in themselves. Running the gamut from the obvious (no setting fires or discharging firearms) to the exotic (you cannot operate "a concession selling services" -- one can only imagine) to the just plain baffling (a prohibition against "removing garbage").

And the punishment for violations of this Santa Claus length list of naughtiness? Exclusion from rest areas for one year. Talk about your Sisyphean struggle. You just try driving up and down the freeway system without toilet privileges.

I find these signs amusing -- on several levels. The first is the usual government-blindness to reality. The delusion that posting a sign will make bothersome behavior go away. The great evil of communism somehow failed to change the Russians into Soviet Man. I doubt the Oregon Department of Transportation's sign will have much effect on any miscreant prone to "using a bathroom to bathe."

The sign itself is worse than the terms and conditions we click through with every new bit of software we install on our computers. No one reads these things -- except for churlish writers who need to divine the depths of humor.

And I did get a good laugh from the sign. But it also made me sad -- because it is a perfect reflection of where American society is headed. If you think the sign is bad, you should see the regulations for Oregon's much-touted Medicaid health system. (Yes. You know the one. The system that a recent study found that people using it suffered worse outcomes than if they had had no insurance at all.)

The reason I know the sign is not in Mexico? No one here would be silly enough to post a sign people would ignore. What's the point? Or, the greater danger, giving people ideas they would never have on their own -- like removing garbage.

But that may be a good idea. Plaster the beach with "Do not remove garbage" (No retire la basura). It is a regulation whose time may have come.

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