The Rules Committee

by Jerry Schuster  |  Monday Aug. 31st, 2015

One thing I’ve noticed about new town, aka Bozeman; sure are a lot of rules around here! Problem is, not everyone has to follow them.

Let me explain.
First, a bit of background. During my forty plus years of law practice in old town, aka Wolf Point, there were a lot of rules to observe. Thing is with law, all lawyers have to follow the same ones or sooner or later they will be in trouble. There are rules of procedure, rules of court, rules of ethics, rules of professional conduct, etc. ad infititum. Now, if you break these rules you might have to appear and answer before people who arrive at work in business suits, but actually change into black dresses while at work. Then before returning home, they change back to business suits. Not to worry, since in England these folks embellish the dress with white lace, and top it off with a freshly powdered wig. Very nice.

To be honest, I firmly believe in following the rules. Rules make for order and fairness in society. But, there is something quite unique about rules in Bozeman. Before proceeding, a definition. People who have lived in Bozeman for at least five years, thirteen days, six hours and twelve minutes are known as the “locals.” All other persons are “them” or the “outsiders.” In Bozeman, the rules apply mainly to the outsiders, the tourists or the very benighted. The locals are largely exempt.

Some examples from my own observations:
Rules of the road
Rules of the road are for the benefit of all. Beware: a lot of the common rules do not apply to locals. Say what? Well, here goes:
--speed limits. For locals, speed limit means the very minimum speed to go, plus add 5 to 10 MPH and you are about good. The word “limit” is invisible to locals. Speed limit 25 means you go at least 35-40 MPH. Now, when some old duffer who just retired here from California is going slower than the limit, the best thing to do is to come up quickly behind and honk, then pass with great gusto, hopefully spinning some gravel in the process. Then, when you both get to the next traffic light at the same time, it is required that the local give the outsider a real bumptious stare down.

--U-turns. This is a Bozeman favorite and my absolute most fun observation. If a local, seems you can make a U-turn just about anywhere. There are some preferred spots however. The best place is from the curb downtown on Main. Here is the process. While still parked, check up and down to make sure that one of the sixteen cop cars which usually patrol the two block area of Main are out of sight. Hopefully, they are out on 19th stopping some tourist who was only going 38.5 in a 40 MPH zone, and thus upsetting the traffic flow for the locals. Then, once all is clear, quickly pull from the curb and make the U-turn onto the other traffic lane. Important, make sure you “burn” the tires while doing this, so that the pedestrians on the sidewalk will all look and exclaim: “Wow! Very cool! Very local!” Finish with an efficacious swerve to miss the oncoming traffic by as few of inches as possible. Job well done.

Let’s move on to another:

Lots of dogs here and lots of rules pertaining to dogs.
We all know the basics—keep dogs on leash in town and on trails, and pick up and properly dispose of your dog’s poop. Great rules, but apparently meant for the outsiders. Yes, if a local, your dog can roam at will and poop wherever. My own scientific study reveals that in 98.7458 percent of the time, the loose roaming dog finds a lawn that is scheduled to be mowed in the next 13 minutes, so that the poop is …okay, you get the picture.

There is a product available here which is really neat. It is an invisible leash. Yes, dog walkers will say that their dog is on a leash, but you cannot see a cord or any attachment to the dog. I asked a store owner about checking these out and got a look of bewilderment. However, on further thought, I realized that since these items are invisible, the store owner probably didn’t realize she had some on hand.

Next, a local favorite:

Shooting rules
The actual rules are straight forward. No shooting in town or along the trails near town…ha ha ha, just kidding!

While walking on a trail near Bozeman lately, we came across a sign which read, “No shooting allowed near trail.” I had to look carefully to really read it, since it was riddled with bullet holes. Someone probably thought it was a deer or goat. Got to admit, they do look very much alike.

Another rule “shooting prohibited within city limits.” Now if you want to sleep through the night without waking to sounds of gunfire, just wear ear plugs! I always wondered how all those skunks and gophers (embraced locally as “Richardson ground squirrels”) managed to become deceased overnight.

Finally, my least favorite, but one the locals delight in…

Subdivision rules
Most of us outsiders and retirees have settled into one of the beautiful Bozeman subdivisions. These include my wife Theresa and I from northeastern Montana, a couple from North Dakota (Bakken money I suspect) and the other 15,000 this year alone from California.

When it comes to rules to follow, these mini-communities are the epitome of Orwellian control.

Take one, the need for abatement of “weeds” and noxious plants from your lawn. While it was raining daily early this past spring, the “weed inspector general” sent out a generic sounding e-mail advising that our lawn was in violation of the RULES. Upon further inquiry, I learned that the violation was the apparent presence of tararacum officinale right there in plain sight for all to see. Yes, dandelions on lawns in Montana, (aghast). Well, I figured that IT HAD BEEN A BIT WET, AND YOU CAN’T SPRAY WHEN IT IS RAINING, AND THE City does not want you to spray anyway since there are way too many chemicals going into the system since all those outsiders moved here. The approved solution is to dig up each violating specimen, make sure to get the roots etc.

The strange catch in this process is that the violation notice states that unless you promptly reply, you are… GUILTY AS CHARGED. Yes, to contest the charge, you must send notice and then appear before the dreaded… the feared… …THE RULES COMMITTEE. Now, you don’t want to go there, because on your second, third and fourteenth notice of violation, you just have to send in a bunch of money, and everybody goes away.

Take another, sprinkling requirements for your lawn. Rule:  you must have underground sprinklers and maintain a nice green lawn, unless you are a local, in which case you can just rely on rain for the watering, and we know that the City doesn’t want any more chemicals going into the system, so a natural look for the lot is just fine.

Here’s the kicker: we installed the underground lines and all, but there is not enough water pressure to activate the sprinkler heads. Suggested solution: dig down and find a good spot to blow on the line, and keep blowing until the lawn is watered. Then run out and dig up those nasty dandelions which are sprouting; get the roots too. Oh, and chase the gopher back across the street while you are at it.

That’s It.
Well, I am being very patient and just counting the days to when we will be classified as “locals.” Yes, once we are certified and pay the required fee to the City Treasurer (payable in advance, no checks, take a number), we can safely ignore all these silly rules. I am down to two years, three weeks…and counting. Fun! 

About the Author(s)