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7 Bizarre American Laws (That Are Actually Enforced)

Prison Gangs: Chained inmates make their way to the library at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, near the California-Oregon border. This is the only time rival gang members are chained together since none wants to lose his library privileges. Not disclosing inmates' identities was a condition of access to the prison.

Outdated and odd statutes and ordinances are common in every state and often act as a history lesson: at some point, it made sense to prohibit anyone from playing pinball in Oakland, California. Some local laws, however, are not only strange but regularly enforced. Expect fines, a stern lecture or worse if you should ever attempt to.

1. Enjoy an alcoholic drink while standing (Woburn, Mass.)

Woburn simply will not tolerate vertical intoxication. According to the city’s License Commission [PDF], no restaurant is allowed to serve an alcoholic beverage to a person who isn’t seated; patrons are not permitted to carry booze or consume it unless they’re firmly rooted to a chair. Exceptions are made for businesses that are granted a special “Approved Standing License.”

2. Buy a car or t-shirt on Sundays (Penn., Bergen County, N.J.)

So-called “Blue Laws,” a remnant of Puritan oversight, remain on the books in several states. Pennsylvania and other states prohibit the sales of motor vehicles on Sundays unless it’s a private transaction. (Shoppers can and do enjoy browsing in salesperson-free lots.) In Bergen County, New Jersey, the retail sale of books, clothes, furniture, and housewares is against the law. Try to score some socks and you might get slapped with a $250 fine [PDF].

3. Open a chain restaurant (Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.)

The oceanside city of Carmel-by-the-Sea—best known for Clint Eastwood’s mayoral stint in the 1980s—has cultivated a reputation for strange ordinances. Until Eastwood had it repealed, it was illegal to sell ice cream on public streets; high heels over two inches are prohibited, though that law isn’t enforced. But if you wanted to build a franchise empire there, you’re out of luck: the city doesn’t allow chain businesses within its one-mile radius, preferring visitors frequent one of the locally-owned storefronts.

4. Pick up trash too early (Sandy Springs, Ga.)

The wheezing, clunky sound of garbage collection is a necessary evil—but lawmakers in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs were so annoyed with it that they declared any attempt to collect trash before 7 a.m. a violation of the city’s noise ordinance. CNN reported sanitation worker Kevin McGill started his route at 5 a.m. last March and was quickly slapped with a 30-day jail sentence. (He wound up serving two weekends.)

5. Get drunk in a bar (Alaska)

Places where it’s not OK to be drunk: day care centers, operating rooms, shooting range. Places where getting drunk is encouraged: bars, weddings, school plays. Unfortunately for adult-beverage enthusiasts, Alaska isn’t on board. In 2012, the state sent undercover police to locate and arrest people who were publicly intoxicated in bars. Anchorage police told ABC News that officers target “drunk-plus” lushes, not just people “out having a good time.” Bartenders can also be penalized for serving to an overly-liquored patron.

6. Own pet ducks (West Lafayette, Ohio)

The village of West Lafayette got its feathers ruffled when Iraq War veteran Darin Welker insisted on keeping over a dozen pet ducks at his residence. Welker claimed the animals helped him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder; CBS News reported some of them would occasionally take up residence on his recliner. Welker paid $50 for the minor misdemeanor of keeping farm animals within village limits.

7. Dangle fake testicles from your truck (Bonneau, S.C.)

Owing to a South Carolina law that prohibits obscene or indecent bumper stickers, 65-year-old Virginia Tice was ticketed $445 for sporting a pair of plastic testicles that hung from her vehicle’s trailer hitch. According to the Post and Courier, Tice declined to pay and requested a jury trial. If only Oakland’s pinball enthusiasts had been as determined.

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