349: You Can Get Arrested For That by Rich Smith

by Gerard


349.73: Smith, Rich. You Can Get Arrested for That: 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd American Crime Spree. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. 237 pp. ISBN 978-0-307-33942-3.

Dewey Construction:

  • 300: Social Science
  • 340: Law
  • 349: Law of specific jurisdictions, areas, socioeconomic regions, and regional intergovernmental organizations
  • 349.73: Laws of the United States (in general)

During a Christmas holiday with his family, Cornish journalist Rich Smith was playing a trivia game and asked the question “What is illegal for a divorced woman to do in Florida on Sundays?” The answer, to everyone’s astonishment was: parachuting. After that, he wanted to find out what other silly acts were illegal in the US. Once the plan was in mind, he hoodwinked his buddy Bateman into driving him around for the summer and the race was on.

Smith and Bateman drive from San Francisco to New York, encountering fun folks and incredulous motel owners. Here’s just a sampling of the laws he’s out to break (but I won’t spoil the win-loss record):

  • It is illegal to kiss for more than five minutes in Iowa.
  • It is illegal to drive around the town square more than one hundred times in Oxford, Mississippi.
  • It is illegal to offer whiskey or cigarettes to a monkey in New Jersey.
  • It is illegal to sleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota
  • It is illegal to play cards against a Native American outside in Globe, Arizona.

In total, the duo are out to break 25 laws. As a secondary goal, they are simply out to travel more and experience the American culture. His notion of American gun culture and homelessness are put to the test as they make their way across the US.

As for the writing and the attitude, it’s a little disjointed. The writing’s fun and quick, but Smith and Bateman are easily discouraged at times. It seems at times just to be a vacation where they drink a lot and just happen to break some laws in the meantime. There’s a sense of laziness that pervades the excursion. For instance, with just a little bit of planning they could have easily notched a few more victories. Also, many of the laws aren’t explained very well. But, if you’ve got a free afternoon, this will pass the time pretty well as a combination travelogue/bar story.