Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Joke's on Boulder

Pranks succeed best when the situation is just plausible enough to be believable, at least until the victim catches-on. And that makes Boulder a practical joker's paradise, since almost anything, no matter how outlandish, is plausible in this notorious bastion of wacko-liberalism.

Does Boulder really have a Clean Sidewalk Cracks Ordinance? Not yet. But because it's the sort of place where such things are possible -- where equally ludicrous rules routinely get handed down by City Hall -- resident Patrick Murphy was prepared to believe it when a notice appeared on his door Thursday, reminding him of his civic duty to keep his sidewalk cracks manicured.

The April Fools Day prank was good enough to earn a write-up in The Boulder Camera:

"When Boulder resident Patrick Murphy stepped outside early Thursday morning to get the newspaper, he found what appeared to be a warning from the city about keeping his sidewalk cracks clear of debris.

According to the door hanger, the 58-year-old resident failed to comply with a municipal code that requires homeowners to “keep cracks in sidewalks free of dust and insect larvae.”

“Such persons shall remove dust and larvae from the full width of the cracks,” the notice read.
The warning went on to say that it's the responsibility of all Boulder residents to clear the cracks by noon the day “following wind,” and that violations could include fines up to $4,620 or the city could choose to clean the cracks and charge for the labor.

Murphy was stunned.

“I thought, wait a second, the cracks on my sidewalk are perfectly clean,” Murphy said.
The man then inspected the cracks in his neighbors' sidewalks, and said his were downright glistening compared to theirs.

“I kept saying, ‘No, no, this can't be true.'”

Murphy suspected a neighbor called in the apparent violation."

That Murphy found the situation so plausible says something funny, but also damning, about the regulatory wonderland (or regulatory madhouse, depending on your perspective) called Boulder. He eventually caught on to the gag, and got a good laugh out of it -- but he refuses to divulge the prankster's identity, for fear that he or she, by counterfeiting a city document, may have broken some other ordinance on the city's voluminous books. And city officials, who take everything (especially themselves) seriously, evidently weren't pleased about being the secondary butt of the joke.

"Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for Boulder police, said the prank probably wasn't illegal.
“We think it was probably done in good fun,” she said.

Still, she said the designer went to “great efforts to make it look official,” and that by including the real contact information for the city, staffers have spent time dealing with the prank instead of city business.

The city issued a statement Thursday afternoon about the prank, saying, "While we recognize this may have been an attempt at humor, the city of Boulder would like to caution residents about making phony documents on behalf of the city and/or impersonating official city personnel."

"This could be a citable offense, in some situations," the statement continues.

"Misunderstandings can result in staff time that could be spent on other city and community priorities."

"Other city and community priorities" like what? Collecting the city's carbon tax, perhaps? Or finding creative ways to spend it? Or finding ingenious new reasons to hassle property owners? With so many ridiculous rules and regulations to enforce, we can't have city staff wasting precious time responding to calls about a phony Sidewalk Crack Ordinance. These April Fools Day pranks are getting way, way out of hand -- something has got to be done about it. Maybe we need . . . . well, maybe we need some kind of Responsible Pranking Ordinance, which would fine instigators of pranks that create distractions for city staff.

That's the Boulder way, after all.

No joke.

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