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"Lord, I was born a ramblin' man." Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers Band, 1973
ram-ble \'ram-bel\ 1a: to move aimlessly from place to place. 1b: to explore idly Mirriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
I got out of Dodge last week for the first time since November. Nothing much had changed. People who reside in the Lower 48 still marvel that some of us choose to live "in such a cold place." What was it like when you left, they ask.
Do I tell 'em? Crisp, cool, invigorating, sun reflecting off the snow-capped mountains and the tide-filled channel since 3:45 a.m., the gossip of ravens lending humor to the morning air, every problem smaller and easily put aside as instinct pulls us outside to inhale deeply, to scan our surroundings and to thank God we've lived this long and ended up here.
"Yeah, I just never could stand to live in a place like that."
In the last six months, it seemed much happened but nothing changed. Rain fell from the usual source in the usual amounts. (Another reason not to live in a place like this?) The Legislature offered itself as a living definition of "ramble" then played Beat the Clock, as is its end-of-session custom. The capital stayed put. Bears slept. Tourism did not spoil paradise; environmentalists did not lock it up and throw away the key. Chan's Thai Kitchen did not expand its hours. JDHS wasn't renovated. Teachers did not get a pay raise. I did not win the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and I don't think you did either.
Then I left town for a few days and somebody put the Juneau Assembly on the Nike motto diet. I returned to find among many developments these headlines:
City gets tough on bear bait
Home owners win tax breaks
In a matter of 48 hours, the Assembly gave the appearance it had put teeth into a garbage bear ordinance; agreed to decrease property taxes; blessed a year-round increase in bus service; pledged funds toward construction and operation of an ice hockey rink; and created three firefighter-medic jobs, among many decisions.
I'm momentarily behind the learning curve on some of these developments, but they strike me as positive. I know how tempting it must be for Assembly members and city staff to want the security of a bulging rainy day account. We live in a rain forest, right? But they and we know the refrain: "It's our money."
That said, I want to find out if the Assembly should have done more on behalf of the Juneau Economic Development Council and the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Mostly I want to see if the new garbage bear ordinance proves to be as tough and toothy in practice as on paper. Juneau already has unenforced laws and ordinances. Anybody passed you lately while you were driving 55 mph on Egan? Sixty? Sixty-five? Seen anyone being ticketed? I'm not sure the lack of enforcement resides solely with the police.
If Chief Mel Personett says he doesn't care how fast anyone drives on Egan, he's got some splaining to do. But if he says, "Look, I'm resourced with only so many officers to cover so many square miles 24/7 and those resources are not enough to do everything we should do, so we prioritize and do the best we can within budget," I'll turn my attention back to the Assembly and ask: "Where's the money?"
Same goes for the garbage ordinance.
"Residents to face fines for garbage," read a sub-head on Tuesday's front page.
If this ordinance is enforced, the encounters between bears and people and people's garbage will decrease. If not, they won't. This summer, the Empire will keep an eye on how many garbage ordinance citations are issued. If the monthly total of tickets is fewer than the number of bears shot, we'll let you know.
Tomorrow is a holiday. The Empire won't publish. Most of you will fish, hike, picnic, garden or whatever you do to enjoy our surroundings. The break is made possible by the sacrifices of men and women who cannot be here to join us. Regardless of our occasional complaints to the contrary, we're prosperous and free. Don't take it for granted.
Steve Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.