You’re an underpaid bureaucrat. You’ve just been given an assignment for which you are woefully inadequate.
And you accept it. Why? Because, what the hell else are you gonna do with your time except surf clandestinely for porn on the computer?
“Now,” continues your super, “We want to write this sign so that we don’t frighten the patrons. We need a sign telling people that they are safe on the bus, but the sign can’t say what they are protected from. Can you manage that?”
Of course you can. You are a bureaucrat. You know double-speak.
So, maybe you are qualified for this job after all.
Thanks to you, anonymous sign writer, your ambiguously comforting message greets me every morning as I step aboard a Transit Authority of River City (TARC) bus, in good ole Louisville, Ky.
And here’s what it says:
“Chapter # 70.50 of the Louisville Metro, Kentucky Code of Ordinances protects bus drivers, passengers, and property of the public transportation system by providing for prosecution of any person convicted of violating this law.”
I asked a fellow passenger, a lawyer, to read this sign and interpret it for me.
He could only smile, nod his head in confusion and offer no explanation.
In the grand tradition of government agency doublespeak, this tortured sentence coils around like a snake eating itself, nealty circling upon itself and devouring itself into oblivion.
It’s the law … but what is “it“?
Or more precisely, what is the law protecting me from? Just what has to occur on the bus before a perpetrator can be prosecuted for violating this law? What would he or she have to perpetrate?
The sign offers no clue.
Does it encompass vandalism, assault, bad breath? What?
And, aren’t there already plenty of laws on the books saying that assault, vandalism and the like are verboten, regardless of where you are? Why does there need to be a special one just for the bus?
That’s assuming, of course, that these crimes are what the law is about.
On top of that, check out the last part of the sentence. The sign seems to say that perpetrators of the undefined deed or deeds will be prosecuted after they’re “convicted” of violating the law. Huh? Sounds a little like a George Bush “Patriot Act/Guantanamo” sort of understanding of how the law works.
But you can’t blame the bureaucrat for doing his job; only the dimwit supervisor who approved this goofy sign.
Seeking answers from my city government, I consulted the Louisville Metro government web site and came up emptyhanded trying to find out what the ordinance actually says. A phone call yielded a friendly, “I don’t know” and the promise of a classic runaround in the form of the phone number of another bureaucrat who had left for the day.
So, I still don’t know exactly what Ordinance number 70.50 actually says.
Maybe I need to ask Bill Clinton. He once pondered the question of semantics during the Monika Lewinsky scandal, wondering aloud what the meaning of “it” is; or was it what ‘is” is? Oh, that’s so long ago now.
Or maybe I’ll call the “It’s” Man from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Maybe he’ll know what “it’s” means.
But I won’t get my hopes up. He’d probably just huff out an exasperating “it’s…” before collapsing to the ground—leaving the mystery tantalizingly unsolved.
Whatever the case, I can feel comforted to know that the magic bus sign on TARC, with it’s forceful message, will keep me safe from harm.
Whatever that may be.