Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rich Smith, a British journalism student, spent one Christmas day playing board games. He came across reference to an obscure law in Florida that made it illegal for divorced women to go parachuting on Sundays. Enchanted by this and a treasure trove of other dumb American laws, he decided to spend the summer after graduation driving all across the United States, breaking every outdated or just plain absurd law he could find.
"Tying giraffes to lampposts seemed a funnier way in which to become a felon," than arson or murder, Smith writes in his book about the spree, You Can Get Arrested for That .
Smith and a friend attempt to break two-dozen laws in all, succeeding in most cases. Many of the laws concerned personal behavior. Traveling west from San Francisco, Smith's first successful crime is to peel an orange in a hotel room, which is illegal throughout California.
They drive to Globe, Arizona, where it is illegal to play cards on the street against an American Indian, and Smith does so. He makes sure to order plenty of garlic bread along with his pizza in Indianapolis, because that city makes it illegal to enter a theater within three hours of eating garlic. He also breaks the law by eating watermelon in a cemetery in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and by sleeping on top of a refrigerator in Pennsylvania.
The fashion police have made it illegal to wear a goatee in Massachusetts, so Smith grew one in plenty of time for his visit to that state. He also broke several laws concerning fishing, including his attempt to hunt down marine mammals in a lake in Utah and, of course, his blatant disregard for Chicago's ban on fishing while wearing pajamas. But he lacked sufficient skill to violate Tennessee's stricture against catching a fish with a lasso.
If Smith managed to break numerous laws, several others defeated him. He failed to find a bathtub to carry illegally across the village green in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and couldn't persuade a woman in Iowa to kiss him for longer than five minutes (or at all).
Several of his crimes are witnessed by police or private security guards, but perhaps it's in the nature of "dumb" laws that they aren't rigorously enforced. The only time Smith and his buddy get into serious trouble is when they drive 97 miles-per-hour in a 75-mile zone in Wyoming. Then, they got nailed.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.