Hero hunting

HEROES, heroes, everyone's looking for heroes -- all the time complaining there aren't any these days. So quit complaining. I give you Dominic Garc'ia, a delivery truck driver in Stockton, Calif., and the judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

Genuine heroes, the both of them -- men who dared challenge one of the worst horrors of the urban jungle, the horror of noise. The stand, furthermore, could very well lead to an attack on the horror of horrors. Yes, I mean double parking.

The inspiring story of courage by men of the road and the bench began on a cold January day in 1983.

Mr. Garc'ia, a Teamster Union activist not beloved by his bosses at United Parcel Service, was making his daily rounds. A supervisor was with him in the cab of his delivery truck.

As he pulled up in front of a residence to deliver a package, Garc'ia told the Court of Appeals, the supervisor ``ordered me to do it.'' But, as Garc'ia recalled, he refused to honk his horn to call out the customer. He got out of the truck and rang the customer's doorbell.

The supervisor's order unfortunately was to be expected. The law in California, as in most states, says drivers of delivery trucks or any other vehicles are not to toot their horns except in emergencies. But somehow, there's always that driver behind you, hooting away should you delay . . . when the light turns green. And there's the guy who comes to call so often on the girl down the street, and who, like Dominic Garc'ia's employeer, prefers the horn to the doorbell.

United Parcel has a policy, in fact, of ordering all its drivers to honk their horns when making home deliveries to save company time that might have to be spent waiting for customers to answer the doorbell.

``It rubbed me the wrong way,'' said Garc'ia, ``that they would order me to violate the law.''

That essentially is what the driver said he told United Parcel's district manager after he was hauled before him for refusing his supervisor's order ``to do it.''

Forget it, the district manager told Garc'ia. The company would pay any fine levied against him from horn tooting. But Garc'ia, a man made of sterner stuff than most, would not relent. So he was fired for insubordination.

The driver filed a grievance through his Teamster local. That won Garc'ia an arbitrator's ruling that his punishment be reduced to a 10-day suspension.

But heroes don't compromise. Garc'ia appealed to the National Labor Relations Board for justice. He was rebuffed there, too. But he and the Teamsters appealed the NLRB decision to the federal appeals court, and in March the court ordered the labor board to reconsider the driver's plea.

``Punishing an employee for refusing to break the law is contrary to public policy,'' the court observed.

So what of that other momentous problem? What about all those delivery truck drivers who are commonly told by employers to pay no more attention to parking than to noise regulations?

I mean, of course, those drivers who treat the traffic lanes nearest the curb as the best of all possible places to park, and who are allowed by the police to do it.

Well, listen to what the court said in noting that anti-noise ordinances are often ignored by the cop on the beat.

That, said the court, is an ``accommodation which serves only to breed or reinforce a cynical view of the operation of law in this society -- that those with enough sophistication, money, and influence are exempt from its requirements. . . . We as a court of law must not reinforce that view.''

If that's to be said of noise regulations, then naturally it must be said of all other laws. Imagine insisting that the law be applied to those with ``sophistication, money, and influence'' exactly as it is applied to us mere citizens.

That's even more than heroic. It's downright revolutionary.

Dick Meister is a San Francisco author who, although never foolish enough to do anything heroic himself, does know a hero when he sees one.

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