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Blake's Notes: Eddy Matzger Inline Skating Blue Ridge Parkway Court Case

roadskater's picture

Some days ago I drove up to Abingdon, Virginia to attend the trial of Eddy Matzger for skating on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was fortunate to have my dad join me, my mom feeling well but not well enough for the journey. I think she preferred to decorate their house interiors for Christmas without us bothering her!

I stayed up late the night before (no surprise) working on holiday web matters including eBay Express, Kretzer scissors, German Kösen handmade stuffed animals and the like. In the morning I felt rather rough, and I started out later than I had wished, as is so often the case.

I went to Best Bagels for their awesome cranberry bagels but unfortunately had quite a wait for a large sweet tea no ice and three unadorned bagels. I knew past experience that I was in trouble from when I heard the young voice instead of the owner's more mature one over the intercom. Alas, I made myself even later. And still later, I discovered they had charged my card twice. Bagels by the minute?

I caught up with dad near the Pinnacle exit of US-52, and we continued together in my car, up toward the wall of mountains we call the Blue Ridge, across Fancy Gap and into the far side, green rolling western Virginia. As much as I love North Carolina, Virginia is a beautiful state and their highways are less cluttered, I think, with advertisements. I like how they let divided highways divide and undulate separately with the original lay of the land, with plenty of trees between in many places.

We made fine time and got to town about when we had planned, Eddy calling us along the way to check in and guide us when we arrived. In the van with Eddy were Bob Flynn, SkateFarm and RoadShow guru from Tampa, and Carol Patch of DC, (the only place in the USA still famous for taxation without representation; is it correct that Puerto Rico has representation without taxation?).

We met over at the Starving Artist, and if you are anywhere within 30 minutes of Abingdon, make the effort to go eat there. We all had unexpectedly great meals there, at a nice cozy spot very near the railroad tracks, whereby passed to my glee a loud and fast train during our time there. The Starving Artist. Worth it and more.

Dad was scoring a bit high on the glucose meter when we arrived, and he also seemed happy to see Eddy again and to meet Carol and Bob. I'm sure it's interesting to meet the other weirdos who love roadskating like I do. Dad balanced the application of food and insulin, and by the end of lunch I felt good about him having an afternoon to go to the library or kick around town, so he took the keys and I walked over to the courthouse.

I got to the courthouse to find no cell phones allowed in the building, and no good way to get back to my car. I took my befuddled carcass outside to find Eddy et. al. just then arriving, so they took my cell back to the car and we all went in the courthouse.

We got to sit outside with five or six National Park Service rangers, only one of which made eye contact as far as I know. Before going Eddy pointed out who he thought was the DA and I said that if he wanted to discuss a plea that this would be the time. They called us in as Eddy had gone over to see what might be arranged if anything.

Not long after sitting down and getting a bit situated, Eddy came into the courtroom saying it didn't seem there was any way to work out anything because nobody there had enough power to make accommodation. I mentioned to Eddy that he could stand up and request a continuance to locate suitable representation, that he could also express his desire to reach an out-of-court arrangement with the Park Service, and that I didn't know what would be best but those were options before getting the show under way.

Eddy surely believes in the ability of people to agree if nothing else, and as the day went along, we saw people with and without representation reaching settlements, making pleas or accepting judgment.

We heard amazing things:

  • a law officer was out riding with a pack of motorcyclists and was in the lead doing 81 on the BRP, which is universally 45 mph. The ranger followed this motorcyclist, or started into the roadway to, noticing only too late that there were additional motorcyclists behind, one of whom crashed into the NPS ranger car. This fellow got the reckless driving charge dropped and took is 81 in a 45 with a $250 fine.
  • a fellow had been caught with prescription drugs with the label either scratched or worn off and he was in such bad shape about all of it that he was willing to stipulate the evidence which the DA had not brought rather than go through a continuance to return at a later date; his charge was waived for agreement to pay the fine I believe.
  • a car was stopped because the occupants were not wearing seat belts. the officer asked the driver (I think) for permission to search the car which was granted; unfortunately for the passenger, that meant the officer searched her purse which contained her meth kit I think it was.
  • a federal employee and also a nurse was caught with a 0.14+ blood alcohol level I think it was, and the officer took it easy with the handcuffs; on the way to the jail or other facility, he wriggled out of the cuffs bloodying his wrists, then told the officer he didn't want to embarrass her about it but she should be careful. Oops. He had been in jail a couple of nights and had an agreement with the DA on fines and charges, but made a plea not to go back for that third night in the agreement. He said he had learned enough in two nights.

Overall the judge let these first-timers off with mostly mild fines and don't do it again or you'll be in heap big trouble with me, and that seemed OK to me. But Bob pointed out how much more expensive these mistakes would have been for folk down in Florida with more extensive and strict first-offense laws, he felt.

I've been in a courtroom only for traffic and custody hearings, except for serving as an alternate jurist in a federal drug ring case alleging employees of the coliseum (think rock concerts) were involved in running drugs as part of a limo service, not to mention improperly benefiting from "working" the tee shirt sales. Unfortunately for local greedyman, big drug dealer had copped a plea and was brought in to drop the story on him.

My experiences in traffic court have been nothing other than infuriating and humiliating for the simplest speeding infractions. The quality of justice has disappointed me quite a bit regarding the custody hearings, with a retired judge trying his best not to do any work, it seemed. The federal court sessions I have attended, including this one on skating, have had much higher quality judges and district attorneys involved, it seemed. (This was a federal case because it was on the ribbon of federal land owned by the Department of the Interior, administered by the National Park Service, designated as the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

All day in every case the judge was nothing short of excellent, balancing a mastery of the issues with a concerned but firm delivery and clear explanation of the defendants rights, risks and responsibilities. The DA was a basic, undramatic, cut to the heart of the matter unemotionally machine of the state as was proper, but not rude, just willing to be that if needed.

So we couldn't have had a better judge or more worthy opponent. And we knew we were not going to change anything with law or policy by being there. In my view, we were there to lose with grace and to represent our love for our sport and our hope to be able to enjoy it merely as cyclists do on the Blue Ridge Parkway...and not all of the Parkway, just the parts we felt capable of safely enjoying, with that choice left to us as it is for cyclists. But we knew that was not what the case was about and we'd have to get in what we could quickly before being shut down quite properly by the judge and the DA.

To kick it off, the DA asked the officer that arresting officer what happened and he relayed his encounter with Eddy. After a basic description that Eddy was on his way to a festival grounds with no other road leading in for access, the first officer was basically finished. Eddy had his chance to speak with this fellow and that went well. Eddy handled it all with courtesy and dignity while still making his points.

Next was the district ranger who has six rangers in his authority. This ranger had warned Eddy twice, then on a day off had seen Eddy a third time, calling the arresting officer to tell him to locate Eddy and ticket him. After this, Eddy had written a letter, which was entered into evidence along with one of Eddy's Charge Card style business cards. Eddy made the point that he had written the officer to ask him to discuss the matter, but had gotten no response. Eddy also had him respond that indeed Eddy had left "six to eight or more" messages seeking a resolution. Eddy had him respond that the letter said in effect if I don't hear from you I will continue to skate assuming you are willing to let it pass or something to that effect. So this was Eddy's strongest moment where he showed good faith effort to reach a resolution out of court.

Eddy also asked if the ranger ever used discretion or "looked the other way," and he said yes, he had done that a couple of times before with Eddy. Of course, Eddy's fondest wish, or close to it, would be that the rangers just look the other way always and forever and that this not need to go to a change in the law necessarily. (If it could go to a change in the law, however, or a change in National Park Service or Department of the Interior and not just Blue Ridge Parkway policy, that would benefit many skaters around the country like us here in Greensboro who would sometimes like to skate through the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, part of the NPS. This would be a long and winding road I am certain.)

A jovial moment ensued as the two continued to talk, and Eddy said something to the effect, "You look like you're in really good shape. What do you...," whereupon the DA objected that this was irrelevant to the facts of the case, but the ranger eagerly indicated, "I work out...," stopping only at the ruling of the judge. The fellow rangers in the court even enjoyed this moment of levity as their boss was mildly surprised at the line of questioning. The ranger seemed to take no offense, but was clearly a bit off balance and at a loss to explain why he had not responded to Eddy's earlier attempts to discuss the matter further. More discomfort ensued for the ranger in the manner of one of the times he stopped Eddy, apparently pulling around cars that were behind Eddy, moving in front of him and applying the brakes. The ranger must have reconsidered at the time as he stated that he went to the bottom of the hill to wait for Eddy. But it was an uncomfortable moment in my perception for this ranger, the district manager.

Somewhere along the way, the flow of events was interrupted by another judge in a jury trial needing the courtroom, as renovations are under way in the courthouse there. We all went out to the hallway and enjoyed a break, and things were going as well as they could be, given that we knew the issue at hand was really only whether he skated on the BRP or not.

Once the DA had established and Eddy had even conceded in questioning (testifying as he asked questions, ha, even expressing his feelings, ha!) that he was indeed at the place and time stated and in fact skating on the parkway, it was time for us to go through the futile ritual of testifying. (I say futile but I was there because I felt it important to be there as one might be at a funeral, where nothing can be done but togetherness in acceptance, and except for how we might represent roadskating and that we would be seen and thus evaluated by all, including the rangers, as middle aged, mostly reasonable, if strangely touch-feely, adults.)

As I was called up, I fully expected to be stopped very early in the process, so I wanted to establish quickly that Eddy needs to train (and we need to) for long distance events, that this is his livelihood, and that equipment for inline roadskating is far more advanced than old roller skating equipment from the days of my earliest youth when leftover hand-me-down skates were kept on your shoes with leather straps and had metal wheels. Eddy asked if I was an expert on inline skating and I said something to the effect, "as pudgy as I am yes I'm an expert knowledgeable in the field of ultramarathon or long distance roadskating." At one point the judge repeated "roadskating" with a question in the tone, so it seemed she got the distinction that we intend to and in fact do roll the roads and that this is indeed the point.

At the end of that brief statement or soon thereafter, the DA quite properly pointed to the irrelevance of any testimony beyond introduction that does not address the facts of the case, and Eddy knew that we'd not be going anywhere and it was best to go on to Carol Patch and Bob Flynn. I guess I had mentioned that Eddy was one of the best teachers of anything I had ever met and that people come to learn from him at workshops around the world. I hope I didn't cause a problem there, but it was clear in my mind that it was going to come up as a question whether Eddy intended to teach inline skating on the parkway, which of course he is not.

After Eddy finished asking me questions, I got up to leave and was reminded that the DA had a chance to ask questions too! Of course I knew this but was ready to get out of there knowing I was not going to be able to contribute any further. As I recall the DA asked if I had any knowledge that Eddy planned to teach inline skating on the parkway and I said, "No." She made another run at the tree after circling around on the horse and asked me again and I said "you asked if I had any knowledge that he intends to teach inline skating on the Parkway, and I do not."

Once I got down from the stand and went back to the audience, I confess it was a blur. I remember Carol testifying briefly and reinforcing that Eddy was not teaching on the parkway. I don't remember much else! And I recall Bob testifying about his knowledge of Eddy's business affairs, but for all three of us, it was mainly make your points while being introduced because the objections are on the way and they'll be upheld.

At some point during this process, Eddy submitted affidavits which were read by the judge but while kept as exhibits they were not allowed into evidence as I recall it, not bearing on the facts of the case. But she clearly read them. She also included Eddy's MasterCard type business card thingy as well, asking if that was as intended. Ha! Fun!

Another crucial point was when the judge asked and taught at the same time, something I thought excellent all day. The basic question was if Eddy was attacking the constitutionality of the ban on inline skating on the parkway. She said that unless the Code of Federal Regulations provision were deemed either unconstitutional or improperly enacted, that her only choice was to enforce the law. We knew this going in, but perhaps could have been much more prepared (OK definitely I could have studied more about it) constitutionally, especially were we to happen to know a constitutional attorney or perhaps someone in the ACLU legal defense area. The case could perhaps be made that as long as cycling is allowed, so should be inline skating.

My own view is that the same is true of rollers of all sorts, and that rangers and other enforcers should give tickets for recklessness and such but the law should not ban all skating any more than it bans all cycling. This is particularly true with larger wheels, stronger boots and frames, better brakes for those who need them and improved safety all around in inline equipment compared with when this code was inserted into law. I am not one who believes we have inalienable rights to everything, but I do believe that a ban on skating is unreasonable and arbitrary vis-a-vis the ever-growing acceptance of bicycles on roads and trails and in particularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The judge got our message I believe, and I think it was worth our time to appear in the same venue as the parkway rangers and the DA. The judge continued her remarks by expressing that she has no doubt of our love for the sport and for our passion in upholding our belief that the ban on skating on the parkway (and all other not specifically "designated" areas of Department of Interior land) is unfair. She said, "my decision here today has nothing to do with whether this is a great sport or whether I might even agree" that inline skating should be allowed where cycling is. It was merely based on the law and the fact that Eddy was violating it.

Another light moment came when the judge asked if she had Eddy's correct email address and phone number, and I wondered if that were the last we'd hear from the judge, who mostly checked people's street addresses during the day but left the rest. (One poor soul did not know his address, and his mother was there to explain the address was a street, but the house had no number; I heard "A Horse with No Name.") I had a hunch she might have something to say later off the record that might help advance the cause. Just a hunch.

Perhaps the most important parts of the day were the moments when court was not in session, especially afterward. I spoke to some of the rangers and one asked me whether roller skating or inline skating would be better for him to try. I tried to be even handed as much as I am all inline since disco days were done the first time, but Carol dove in quickly to emphasize inline and I caught up to reinforce our message that these inlines are not the inlines of early days or of the Target specials I first started on. We talked about wearing head and wrist gear and finding a flat place (and your neighborhood is not flat most likely) to start, and I made the point that he could find no better instructor than "the man on trial today" or something like that.

I tried to connect to each of the rangers at least briefly, including the district manager, and we also spoke briefly with the DA, who was cordial and enthusiastically helpful in trying to explain why things went as they did and what we might do going forward. And the district manager handed Eddy the contact info for the person he needed to speak to in order to see if there is a way to have this restriction lifted by making all or part of the Blue Ridge Parkway a "designated area." After all, as I had made the point to Eddy and the ranger had admitted in court, often the area within 500 yards of the ranger residence is stipulated to be one of the "designated areas" where inline skating is allowed.

Did we win? Sure we did! We got together, had a great lunch and spent hours together learning more about the law, the rangers, each other and a nice little town. We showed ourselves to simply want to pursue this particular happiness as others do, and showed that we sought to work with the law officers and the court to find a solution, even if one was not to be had on that day. After a nice mealtime together all of us, Dad back with us after spending the entire afternoon hanging out in the library, we all said our goodbyes and I felt it was one of the most worthwhile defeats I had ever experienced. Eddy seemed in good spirits, and ready to let it be for the winter at least when it comes to the Parkway, as he follows up with those who can either change the designation or assist with changing the code.

Coming back over the gap it was a nice sight looking left down into the valley at Mount Airy. I told stories of the day to dad and to eebee via phone almost all the way home. I should have audiotaped those recollections as I'm sure they were more vivid and complete than my notes! It was a good day to spend riding up and back with dad, and enjoying the company of Carol, Bob and Eddy, and remembering a sweet little Virginia mountain town unseen since my youth, visiting the Barter Theatre on a school excursion. Who knows where it will lead, but on this day, we stood together to say hey, why not let us skate like you let the bikers bike?

Comments

timv's picture

Down by Law

Excellent report, Blake! It sounds like the sport of skating was well represented in federal court, and it's great to hear that the mood remained easy and convivial for the most part. The part about Eddy getting the ranger talking about his workouts was great. like a gag from My Cousin Vinnie or something.

 

Your recollections of the judge's remarks are interesting. It sounds like she was sympathetic to Eddy's case, and might have been dropping some hints on you regarding the constitutionality of the CFR and whether skaters should be afforded the same treatment as cyclists. It seems like I recall reading somewhere that the blanket ban on bicycling on Interstate highways has been overturned in certain areas where the Interstate was the only practical connection between towns, where prohibiting bikes would deny access to constitutional rights such as voting and appearing in court for those who rely on riding for transportation. Not quite the same thing here, but I wonder if she was hinting at something like that.

 

Anway, thanks for the comprehensive write-up. It sounds like you had a reasonably pleasant day there and that the efforts of all involved were helpful to the sport of skating.

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