Graffiti is one of those things you expect to see in any modern city. Madison, Wisconsin is no exception. But on the Capital City Trail it’s disappointing to see these foolish expressions of adolescent anxiety along this paved scenic path designated for bikes and pedestrians. Finishing my run this morning I came across a tag in purple spray paint that bisected the yellow line in clear view of traffic in both directions. An amateur drawing of a space alien was signed in bold letters “Soldier of Fortune.”
I was struck first by the irony. This kid needs an expanded view of the horizon if this is the most exciting thing he or she could come up with in a quest for adventure and glory. But then it occurred to me that my own pursuit of health and fitness would be scared by this selfish act at the end of every bike ride or run. I fumed as I as pace around the block on my cool down.
So I can’t tell you how surprised I was to finish the lap and see a City of Madison maintenance truck parked just a few feet from the purple alien. There in the midmorning sunshine a man in an orange t-shirt and work gloves sprayed the path stained in purple paint with a tag of his own.
“The call it Tagenator,” said Tom Coyle, a city employee and my hero. He held it up for me to see. “It cost about $300 for a drum this size. It’s environmentally friendly and it takes the paint right out.”
In the time it took for me to walk around the block “Solider of Fortune” was no more. And the purple alien was on his way to being wiped off the face of the earth.
“I’ve been doing this for about 2 years now,” Coyle said. “I’m out on this trail every day and I just hate seeing all these tags. So I get rid of them.”
With a great deal of pride in his voice Coyle said he loves his work. “I’ve got the second best job in town,” he said. “The superintendent has the best job. But I like what I do. I’ve lived here my whole life and I want to keep it looking nice.”
I was personally impressed that despite the state of the economy Madison still places a high priority on city maintenance. Though hardly a vital civil service, I believe that removing graffiti tags is a worthwhile investment in the psychological health of our community. Our municipal bike and walking paths are one of the many reasons people love to live in Madison. And there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that dedicated city employees like Tom Coyle are out there to keep the trails tag-free and looking nice on our behalf. It’s a dirty job. But someone has to do it. He’s the Tagenator.