Last week our family attended an early 4th of July celebration—on July 3. It was sponsored by my daughter’s church and the church property was covered with families picnicking or taking advantage of food trucks on the property. Parking spots on the church property ran out so many people parked in an adjacent parking lot in front of a strip center. (It was after hours, right?) The finale of the evening was to be a great view of fireworks from at a neighboring development. Just before the fireworks were to start, word got around that vehicles parked in the adjoining office building parking lot were being towed. People scattered to make sure their car was not among the ones towed.

Outrage would be a mild description of the mood. Why would the owner of the office building tow the cars of families innocently celebrating the 4th of July in a family friendly environment? After all, this took place after business hours, all the businesses were closed and the next day was a national holiday! I was among the outraged. Cars were towed. My son proclaimed the business owner must “hate America”. I wanted to call the press but fortunately did not.

The rest of the story. I spoke to a developer at the gathering who gave me another prospective. He has vacant property on the beach as well as at other locations. Even though the property is clearly posted “No Trespassing”, his property (the operative word here is “his”) is often used by beach-goers. In addition to the liability issues, the property is usually trashed at the end of the day. Discarded soda and beer cans, paper goods, leftover food and other debris is left haphazardly for my friend’s company to clean up. I got a good lesson in making sure to get both sides of the story before judging.

In a perfect world, we’d stay away from property that is not either public or does not belong to us. We don’t get to occupy a place just because it’s empty. And even when invited to a someone’s private property, respect it. Stay off the grass. Take your own trash away. Don’t leave food around to attract animals. Follow the old Girl Scout rule—always leave a place cleaner than you found it. If we followed this simple formula, maybe there would not be so many “Tow Away Zone” signs.

A few sloppy trespassers may have ruined it for us all. Those who are disrespectful have “trained” business owners to impose more and more rules on us because we don’t seem to be able to restrain ourselves into good behavior. As it turned out, the fireworks display had been announced to the public and many were looking for a place to watch. Some watchers parked on the grass and even the sidewalks, not only harming the property but creating a safety hazard. And while the night’s incident could have probably been handled differently by the property owners, maybe if we practiced better manners—-respecting property and cleaning up after ourselves–business owners would not feel the need to call tow trucks to protect their property.