Robert Frost questioned the need for fences.
He said: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out." But Frost's neighbor made it very clear that "Good fences make good neighbors."
I couldn't help but think about that idea while participating in two recent St. Patrick's Day parades where new walls are making a big difference.
I rode my antique highwheel in the big parade in Scranton and then in another large parade in Wilkes-Barre.
It's nothing new. I've been doing it for over 10 years. But in that time things have changed.
Truth is, I used to take part in four or five St. Patrick's Day parades every March. But I had to eliminate half of them because many St. Pat's parades went from being safe to dangerous. They went from fun to unpleasant.
The behavior of some parade spectators has deteriorated. Many St. Pat's parade watchers no longer stand on the sidewalk. Instead, they converge onto the street and encroach into the line of march. Some are very drunk. They attempt to high-five parade participants. As a joke, they will grab your hand and not let go. Some will stand directly in front of you and defy you to continue forward. Some will simply want to harass as part of a drunken bravado.
A friend who marches with a bugle corps told me that a drunk jumped into the line of march during a local St. Pat's parade this year and started hitting a musician with a rubber hose.
"You can be glad you're not involved with this parade because it's no place you'd want to be," he said.
Any event that features all-day beer drinking is certain to have issues. Unfortunately, once the parades turned into dangerous affairs, it was time for the highwheelers to drop out. Some other groups have done the same or have been trying to find ways to deal with the issue.
One of the famous string bands from Philadelphia now brings along about eight ushers, or guards, whenever they take part in a St. Pat's parade. The guards have a vital role. They march on both sides of each row of band members, preventing rowdies from accosting the musicians or from pulling at the elaborate Mummer costumes.
It's sad that these precautions are necessary. But the simple truth is, the behavior of some parade goers has gotten way out of control.
Parade organizers in Scranton recognized the problem. This year for the first time, the parade committee and the City of Scranton took decisive action. They not only increased police presence along the line of march, but they installed temporary steel fences on both sides of the street along the entire parade route.
The idea worked to perfection. The fences prevented 'parade crashers' from running into the street. Plus, the fences kept all of the spectators a safe distance from parade floats and vehicles. There were no wandering dogs or loose children. Instead, the parade route was kept clear for marchers and performers. The fences enhanced the parade experience for everyone involved and improved conditions for everybody.
Not to be outdone, Wilkes-Barre jumped on the bandwagon. That city erected steel fences all along South Main Street and around Public Square on both sides of the street. There, too, the idea was a big success and the parade went off without a hitch. Still, I couldn't help but reflect on how things have changed.
Our schools now have security cameras and locked doors. Our airports have barriers, x-rays and pat-downs. And our St. Pat's parades are using steel walls along public streets.
In Robert Frost's day, good fences made good neighbors, even though he didn't know why.
In 2012, we know why.