Amid Gates Hoopla, D.O.T. Sign Takes A Walk

Christo’s The Gates may have survived its visit to New York without significant loss or vandalism-although there were several incidents involving visitors trying to take home a piece of it. Alas, the same can’t be said for a sign warning motorists of Gates-related park closings, which mysteriously went missing from its station at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street on Feb. 16.

This wasn’t the sort of sign you can fold up and put in your pocket, mind you: It was a big-a really big-electronic orange sign (“Don’t call it saffron,” cautioned one art wag) that belonged to the New York City Department of Transportation. In fact, the sign was so big that it had a V.I.N., or vehicle identification number, just like a Hummer or a truck. It was also worth $17,000.

After a D.O.T. employee discovered, sometime around 3 p.m., that the sign had vanished, he canvassed the area in case someone had moved it-Jenny Holzer, perhaps, for one of her cryptic text installations-but still it was nowhere to be found. He then called his office, but none of his co-workers had taken the sign for a walk; neither had they given anyone else permission to do so.

Even amid the pleasant commotion caused by The Gates, one would think there might be witnesses to the theft of a Day-Glo sign the size of a billboard-especially since it had been chained to the spot with a quarter-inch steel cable.

Calls were made to the Department of Transportation’s director of equipment to see if he knew anything about the fugitive message board. One theory had it that it might have been moved to Astoria. “It went missing the same day as the water-main break,” said a police official. “It might have been taken to help out. I’m still convinced it was moved as opposed to stolen.”

But they couldn’t find the sign in Astoria, either. A police official also nixed the theory that the sign might have been taken by a frustrated foreign tourist who wanted a better souvenir of The Gates than the schlocky Gates-related T-shirts, caps and key chains that Christo and Jeanne-Claude are hawking to help defray the project’s costs.

However, the cop couldn’t help observing that more literal-minded art lovers might actually have preferred the D.O.T. sign to The Gates. “It was a Gates with a message,” he said.

Caged Car Rage

If you’ve ever wondered why the back seats of police cars look like prison cells, complete with steel-mesh barriers separating the front and back seats, it’s for perps like the one caught by cops on Feb. 21.

At around 6:30 p.m., a suspect who fit the description of a male who’d just stolen jeans from a nearby store was detained by officers from “Operation Impact” (an NYPD program that assigns rookie cops en masse to particular precincts). The Impact rookies spotted the man at the 86th Street and Lexington Avenue subway station and escorted him up to street level. The reaction of the prisoner after a “show-up” was conducted and a witness to the shoplifting positively identified him certainly was impactful. He started to resist after he was handcuffed, requiring the concerted effort of several cops to subdue him. And after he was successfully placed in the back of the patrol car-usually down time given over to quiet reflection-the handcuffed man kicked out the rear passenger window. This turned out to be not the shrewdest thing to do; he was charged with resisting arrest and criminal mischief in addition to petty larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. Nor did it earn him his freedom.

“If you’ve seen the back of the car, it’s like a cage,” said Inspector James Rogers, the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct. “He’s not going anywhere.”

The suspect’s antisocial behavior, it turns out, may have had less to do with trying to escape than giving some expression to his frustration-not only at the cage in which he found himself confined, but at the prospect of the slightly larger one that awaited him on Rikers Island. The police said the crook had a rather extensive rap sheet, as well as an outstanding warrant, the details of which they were trying to ascertain at the time a crime report addressing the incident was submitted.

Ralph Gardner can be reached at RGard135@aol.com.