Sunday, October 02, 2005

Rules? We don't need no stinkin' rules!

My friend, Wade, says I have a problem with authority, a need to oppose rules and break them whenever possible. He insists that rules are made for a reason, and that I should learn to live with them.

He’s wrong, of course.

Some rules have good, solid foundations. They have a true purpose, like speed limits or stop signs. (Some would even argue against these. A co-worker calls them ‘cave’ people – citizens against virtually everything.)

I object to rules imposed for the sake of having rules. Some people in positions of authority have a real need to dick with our lives by trying to get us to follow stupid, arbitrary rules – ones that are in place not because they have a genuine purpose – but rather to display one’s power. In those cases, I find it hard to resist bending, breaking, or otherwise circumventing their rules and authority.

Lots of times, these are no more than petty BS, like the insistence on providing a telephone number when making a cash purchase. “Could I have you phone number, sir?” asks the pretty clerk. I’m old enough to know she doesn’t want it for social reasons, and it’s not terribly likely she’ll call looking for my companionship on a lonely evening. Besides, I taught She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed to shoot straight and hit her target. I do not want to BE her target!

Now, the clerk is just adding demographic information to her company database, but there’s no valid reason I should have to provide my phone number. Some of the clerks at a well-known chain actually get snotty when I refuse. Tough. I can do snotty too, and I have more experience.

I’m annoyed when they ask for two forms of identification when I pay by check. They always want a credit card in addition to my driver’s license. I never provide a credit card. Instead, I’ll hand them my union card or even my library card. (I’ve got a library card and I know how to use it!) One clerk refused the union card and said he couldn’t process my check without a credit card – obvious BS, so I handed him my AA flight card. It looks like a credit card and it actually gets me on flights as a non-revenue passenger. He dutifully wrote down all the numbers and processed the check.

This discussion about rules came about due to an incident on Saturday. I drove my daughter to work at 7AM, and found her cell phone lying on the seat when I got home. She wanted to call Mary when she was on her break and couldn’t do it without the phone. I went back down to the restaurant an hour or two later, well before they opened for the day. I walked in through the back door to the dining room. The supervisor said, “Sir, you can’t come in here prior to 10AM. It’s one of our security rules.” I ignored her and handed Lyndsay her phone. The supervisor was pissed. She started in on me again, so as pleasantly as possible, I started telling her a story, smiling hugely and basically wasting her time. Then I left.

Lyndsay said later that the supervisor was seething, but there was little she could do since I was being polite and cheerful, but obstinate. I suppose she could have called the police, but I’d have been gone before they arrived. It’s not a good idea to get between my kids and me. Her supervisor may have learned that.

But this is supposed to be about cycling, isn’t it?

All of us pick and choose what rules or laws to obey. Sometimes those choices are based on reasonable behavior. Other times they’re only rationalizations. For instance, (and please don’t tell Sandra!) I sometimes don’t stop at stop signs. Oh, the horror! I slow down and roll through them at 5 mph or so, just as most motorists do. I do this a lot in the neighborhood, since the city sprinkled a liberal dose of stop signs at almost every intersection. Yield signs would make more sense, and indeed, most road users treat them as yields.

But that’s still breaking the law and I could get a ticket for it. Running stop signs is one of the perennial complaints that motorists have about cyclists, too. On the county roads outside town, sight lines are often half a mile or more. It makes little sense to come to a complete stop, put a foot down, and go again.

What I said to Wade this morning was that I accept the consequences for breaking rules. I don’t evade them, nor do I insist that I’m exempt. But when a rule isn’t reasonable or sensible, don’t expect that I’ll toe the line.


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