Sunday, March 8, 2009

Life Lessons on 'Trash Hoboken' Day

Yesterday was Hoboken's annual St. Patrick's day parade, held a week before the real St Patrick's day presumably to avoid competition with the NYC parade. As in previous years the vast majority of people arriving for the parade are green-clad twenty-somethings not so interested in the parade but looking for a party. And they did not have to look far. As my family walked through the downtown area towards the end of the parade route parties were well underway in countless numbers of houses and apartments. Revelers, already clearly intoxicated, were shouting obscenities at one another from rooftops, open windows and sidewalks. A huge number of people had gathered in our building courtyard and, having discovered the ladder to the roof were also running around up there. After the parade we went to see a concert in New York and upon our return at 5:30 the situation had only gotten worse. People were weaving down the streets, still shouting obscenities. We passed more than one person vomiting in the gutter and from more than one building we saw cups of beer being tossed from open windows onto passers-by below. Returning to our building we discovered the lobby doors open wide to the sidewalk with people wandering in and out from the courtyard to the sidewalk. The building's entry panel was broken, the elevator was broken and heaps of trash and broken glass littered the building. I expect the situation was the same in many other buildings judging by what we saw as we walked through the city. The morning after, the parade route along Washington St. still looks like a trash heap and our building smells like a bar from all the beer-soaked carpets.

My son is eight years old and here is what I had to explain to him as he saw all of this: adults can behave worse than a 5 year old when they drink; that adults are permitted to behave worse than 5 year olds when they drink; that drinking excessively impairs judgement and coordination; that drinking excessively leads to alcohol poisoning which leads to vomiting. Our son was alarmed by the intensity of the 'adult' behavior as they carried on in the hallways and stairwells of our building and the city streets. He worried that they would damage the building (which they, in fact, did) and worried that our own apartment would be damaged (which, thankfully, didn't happen). On one hand I was angry that he had to see and experience all of this. On the other hand, I realized that this was a hard life lesson for him: that adults aren't necessarily role models; that adults can be irresponsible and selfish. Also, that Hoboken City government organizes and sponsors this day; that governments don't always do what's right.

Since we took up residence in Hoboken 7 years ago, my perception is that this day has gotten progressively worse. It's now at the point where my wife and I are seriously considering leaving the city for the weekend. This is most definitely a quality of life issue so responsibility for this lands squarely in the laps of Mayor David Roberts and City Council. How do they feel about all of this? From the perspective of a resident I only see the results. As things have been getting worse for seven years I can only conclude that they are successfully implementing a plan to encourage the situation or they are unsuccessfully implementing a plan to discourage the situation. In either case, they are failing in my opinion. What does the Mayor, a man with a young family, think about all of this? Well he does have a conflict of interest: he owns a local restaurant that had a mob in front of it yesterday attempting to get in for food and drink. So what about the rest of the City Council? I really don't know since they aren't known for their community outreach or transparency. I can only infer from what I see in the city and there are a a couple of things I've noticed. Since last year it's been publicized that the police would have a zero-tolerance policy towards open drinks, fining people $1000 for breaking the rules. And this year I noticed bars posting signs requesting that patrons act civilly, for example stating that "public urination" would not be tolerated. The only place we saw police yesterday was at the train station and along the parade route. I saw no cops walking the beat along the sidewalks where cups of beer were being tossed at passers-by. It seems that Hoboken simply doesn't have enough police to handle the situation they've created. As for sanitation workers: where are they? Why does Washington St. look like a trash heap the day after? The policies established by the Mayor and City Council aren't working at all. In fact, if one wanted to craft a policy designed to drive families out of Hoboken, then sponsoring a 'Trash Hoboken' Day, raising taxes by over 40% and showing contempt for the public school system would seem to do the trick, and that's precisely what the Mayor and City Council are doing.