Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Tourism Tip for Gate City, Virginia

First, let’s explain to unwary travellers: Once long ago, in the mists of urban legend, a driver used really thick, dark window coating, such that nobody could be sure whether he was even in his car while it was moving down the road, to conceal a weapon. Then he proceeded to drive like a maniac and, when a highway patrolman asked him to pull over, he out with his concealed weapon and shot the patrolman in the head.

I don’t remember reading where this actually happened, but in the 1990s Virginia police began taking the legend very very seriously. Thick black window coating is popular in several states, including the contiguous states of Tennessee and Kentucky. It is illegal in Virginia. You can get a ticket for driving a car with excessive window tinting in Virginia, even if the car passed inspection in your own state.

Now, although Virginia is known for (among other things) a tradition of hospitality, there are always a few people who want to defy tradition. Some of them happen to be police officers. They could legally just warn visitors about window tinting or ask them to peel it off, and many do, but some of them seem to like writing tickets.

Around the turn of the century Gate City had a policeman who got into trouble for admitting publicly, “When I see a Tennessee license plate, I start writing a ticket.”Although he is no longer on the force, his memory survives in Tennessee, such that Tennessee residents whose family live in Virginia, or who used to live here themselves, are now wary about shopping and dining in Gate City.

On Wednesday, June 5, Kingsport Times-News columnist Jim Welch wrote about his “legal transgression.” He hadn’t presumed to go into Abingdon, Virginia, just to shop or visit a park or go to a music festival or anything. He had been invited there, by his daughter who lives there, who had just adopted a child. According to him, “I knew my mind was emotionally rac­ing, so I attempted to add additional focus to my driving.” Nevertheless, he was fined $91 for having tinted windows.

This kind of local issue (as distinct from local business promotions, of which they couldn’t get enough) used to be discouraged by Associated Content, and we’ve tried to minimize it at this web site. However, in response to the demands of our sponsors, this web site finds it necessary to take a stand. As Grandma Bonnie observes: this is not right.

We do think the safety concerns about heavy window coating are valid. Most cars come with enough window tinting to make driving in the sun bearable. Individuals who need more shade should wear sunglasses.

We think the laws in Tennessee, Kentucky, and other states should reflect these safety concerns about heavy window coating. Enough to make it hard for passers-by to see that you're going to the lawn mower repair shop in an old work shirt with grass stuck to it is one thing. Enough to conceal how many passengers are in the car is, well, more than enough.

We also think that it will be difficult for any amount of sales, music festivals, horse shows, historical reenactments, or free promotional hotel nights, to bring tourist revenue into Gate City when people are afraid to drive into town.

From a relatively small sample of local voters, taxpayers, and business owners, we have heard quite a solid consensus about the need to ease up on this practice of writing tickets for visitors whose cars are legal at home. We also note that, of the people who have suggested that this web site discuss this topic, about half have proposed the topic immediately upon learning that one of us was associated with this web site.

A business owner said, “Even if you own a building in Weber City, you would make more money renting one in Lynn Garden. Most of your customers will be in Kingsport and they don’t come into Gate City. They are afraid they’ll get a ticket just for being from Tennessee.”

Another business owner said, “Visitors come to our town to spend money. Giving them tickets when they’re not really endangering anybody may get more money out of their pockets faster, but it also makes them less likely to come back and spend more.”

A gas station employee said, “People from Tennessee go to the hospital in Pikeville, or people from Kentucky go to the ones in Kingsport or Knoxville, on Route 23, and they hurry around the bypass. Ask them why they don’t stop in town, they’ll tell you they have heard that they’ll get a ticket if they’re seen in Gate City, for things like window coating. Some of them don’t even have any extra window coating. They have just heard that they’re not welcome in Gate City.”

Many times when I’ve been in Kingsport, someone has said, “I’ll drive you as far as the state line but you’ll have to walk from there. If those Virginia police see me, they’ll give me a hard time.” (Sometimes I’ve asked, “What for?” when someone doesn’t have heavy window tinting. Some people have called my attention to other defects of their vehicle, or admitted that they were trying to avoid some person in Virginia...but in the last year three or four people have told me,“Virginia police just like to write tickets.”)

This web site will not discuss the question of whether we have too many police officers. Gate City, Weber City, Scott County, and the Virginia Highway Patrol all have police cruisers that may be found on Route 23. This makes it easy to find an officer when you need one, and the way they all work together can also be considered a good thing. Nobody would collapse from the heat or cold while waiting for help inside a stranded car around here! However, there is a widespread perception that officers are struggling to justify their employment by writing too many tickets when they ought to issue warnings.

A Kingsport business owner said, “As I was driving home late at night, a light burned out. Within a mile a Virginia cop had pulled me over. I told him the light had just burned out and I’d take it in for repairs in the morning. That did no good. I said that this would be my first ticket in thirty years. He said,‘Then it’s time you paid your share.’”

A Kingsport retiree said, “There is a grocery store across the Virginia border that has better prices as well as a lower sales tax on food, but I’ve heard that Virginia will take it out of Tennessee drivers, so I don’t drive out there. I have to wait for someone from Virginia to come out and get me.”

Jim Welch’s column ended with a question whether Tennessee could start issuing traffic tickets to visitors for having “anything they didn’t like,” such as the colors of a team Tennessee residents love to hate. Welch prudently mentioned Chicago, but in view of the passionate intensity with which Gate City and Sullivan South High School students, parents, and alumni follow football...I wouldn’t think there’d be any serious safety concern that would justify legislation. Nothing comparable to the fear of violent criminals hiding behind blacked-out windows, anyway. But in view of the number of Gate City residents who commute to work in Kingsport, not to mention shopping in Kingsport, it might behoove Gate City to show more hospitality to visitors from Tennessee.