Archive for January, 2015

Jacksonville, Florida: a nice place to spend New Years’ Eve. The Jacksonville Landing downtown is an excellent public space for festivities, as it links two sides of waterfront promenade by bridge and water taxi. There is a music stage and giant christmas tree, and bars and restaurants. There are public docks along the entire run, most of which are free for 24 hours, in order to encourage boaters to stop by, bring their guests, and engage in commerce there.

I arrived around 10pm by boat, but I was too late to get a good spot to tie up; most of the other boaters had probably come in way early and had been partying for hours. I spied a spot right under the giant christmas tree, which I figured was not taken because of the proximity to the sound stage and the noise and music, and started to pull up.

A guy came up and shouted to me that I can’t tie up there. I couldn’t hear him so I popped my head outside the cockpit for clarification, and he pointed to something. “You can’t tie up here,” he shouted.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s for public service boats only,” he shouted, “Read the sign.” That’s what he was pointing to. So I looked more closely, and indeed there was a sign. Hidden behind a large pile of trash. And so would be my first encounter that evening with Paul Blart.

So I took a spot near the end, at an area that had signs, “30 minute zone” for loading and unloading passengers. OK, I’ll tie up here, and if anyone gives me trouble, I can just move. Everyone seems in a festive mood, I’m not hurting anyone, there’s no shortage of space here on this end of the dock, I’m not blocking anything, and so I tied up around 10:30. It’s all good. Or so I thought. Paul Blart was on the prowl.

I headed out with a fine cigar and a vodka cranberry, and prowled the promenade for a while. Came back to help some other boaters tie up to the dock, have some drinks and conversation with them, and generally have a good time. Forgot about the 30 minute limit, but there was still space at the dock, cops were everywhere and hadn’t said anything about it, and everyone was enjoying themselves in a peaceful fashion.

Around 11:30, Paul Blart showed up and started shouting at me and the other boaters, simply saying, “You can’t stay here, you have to leave.” No explanation, nothing, just an absolutist authoritarian attitude.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because the sign there says you can’t stay here,” he answered.

“Wait, the sign there says 30 minute zone, that’s it,” I told him.

He immediately put space between us and loudly called into his radio, “I have some boaters here who don’t believe me about the loading zone. Can you send someone?”

“Hey, wait a minute…” but he kept backing up and calling frantically into his radio for people to come out.

So I shrugged and returned to my boat to listen to the radio, chill with my cigar, and people-watch. A few minutes later some real cops showed up.

“Is this your boat?” they asked.

“Yes.”

“OK, what’s the problem here?” they asked.

Paul Blart came up and, avoiding eye contact with everyone, started in on his routine about how this area is for loading passengers only and that I did not have permission to be here.

“But it says I can be here for 30 minutes, yes?” I asked.

“You’ve been here longer than that.” he answered. He was right, but then I asked him:

“What time did you mark me down for when I came in?” to which he had no answer. And so, in a vain attempt to fill the void in his lonely soul, I offered a solution: “Tell you what… the fireworks start in 30 minutes. When they are over, I will pull out and leave anyways, and so now that you know I am here, and that 30 minutes are starting, now you have a valid excuse to write me a ticket if I stay too long. Is that OK?”

To this, he backed up again to avoid listening to me, continuing to call to other units on his radio. The cops that were there shrugged and said it sounded reasonable to them. They were normal sheriffs, and said that the marine patrol had jurisdiction over the boat parking.

Paul Blart came back and started badgering everyone at that point, telling the 5 boats at this particular dock that we all had to go. At this point it was 15 minutes until the fireworks started. I tried to reason with him, but he was clearly not interested in hearing anything any of us had to say. The cops could have cared less about him; they had better things to do. I was clearly not being a belligerent threat, and they all knew it. I think it made Paul Blart mad that I was keeping a level head and not yelling at him, but clearly I had no respect for his lack of authority and it was just what he needed to go postal.

After receiving no word on his radio (at this point Marine Patrol was out in the river keeping boat traffic clear of the two barges which served as launch platforms for the fireworks show), Paul Blart came back and shouted that we all had to leave, now. We were to all leave and go anchor out on the other side of the bridge, or Marine Patrol would come and arrest us all. I turned to the cops, and Paul Blart, and explained that leaving now would be a major safety issue:

With congested boat traffic, in the dark, 5 boats untying with 10 minutes to go to the fireworks show, full tide current pushing us towards the barges, and marine patrol already cordoning off the area we had to pass through. Let alone anchoring in the dark in an unfamiliar area. We could not, even if we organized it well, at this point, orchestrate it all before the fireworks started. Then moving these boats during the fireworks show?

“Look, man, I don’t want you to feel like I’m stepping on your shoes here, but I believe that to be completely unsafe. Look up there, they have closed the bridges to traffic because of this, and you want to send us out into the river right this moment? I’ll stay here and take my chances.” I told them, “I think it’s best for everyone that we just stay here until the fireworks are over.”

The beat cops agreed. Paul Blart was furious.

“Hey, if it would calm you down and make you feel better, just write me the parking ticket. Cheaper than paying for damage to my boat.” I told him. Which made him even more angry. It would seem he didn’t have that power either. And so he called even more furiously on his radio to Marine Patrol’s deaf ears. He stalked off somewhere, never to be seen again.

I joked with the cops for a few minutes and then went back to my boat.

The fireworks went up, everyone had a peaceful time without wrecking anything, and once the show was over we all untied in an orderly fashion and went where we had to go. Nobody got hurt, nobody collided.

I’ve seen the same sort of Paul Blart behavior in abused, frightened dogs– they bark and snarl on their leash at anything that goes by, and the moment you try to be reasonable with them they back up towards their masters unsure what to do. You try to mind your own business and go past them, and sometimes they still try to take a chunk out of your ankle. It’s a sad, sad thing. Thankfully I didn’t get stuck with other Paul Blart cops with any real power, because I know there are a lot of them out there.