Category Archives: Government

What is Noise?

I know you’ve been dying to know.
The City of Tallahassee is trying to come up with an anti-noise ordinance. The real reason is that they have erected an amphitheater next to an old, very nice residential area. Dear Old, Very Nice Residential Area People: this will not help you, because that amphitheater has been designated a Special Entertainment Area and will essentially be exempt from the imaginary noise ordinance. So sorry.
But other noises are not protected. Think, driving down the street, the car next to you is blasting some genre of music which makes the whole car vibrate, while the driver bounces up and down so that the whole car bounces. Car dancing. And your windows are rattling too. Is that noise?
Here, for your edification, is the definition of noise: “Any erratic, intermittent, or statistically random sound which causes a disturbance”. Statistically random? What the hell does that mean?
Next question: What is a noise disturbance? “Any sound which disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensibilities and exceeds the sound limit level set forth in this division”. Division? What division? Apparently the sound limit level has something to do with decibels. But how many? For how long? Reasonable people? Normal sensibilities? Give me a break.
This ordinance is doomed.
Noise is like pornography. You know it when you see (hear) it.
The best protection against noise is being deaf. Or wearing earplugs.
But let me say that I’m opposed to noise, whatever it is. When I used to live in New Orleans, there was a bar across the street from me called Dot’s Peppermint Lounge. It was fine when they kept the doors closed, but in summer, they were so packed with people and had such a weak air conditioning system they would open the doors. then I would start calling the police. Eventually I just started calling Dot’s in person saying, close the doors or I’ll call the police. We developed a friendly relationship.
In that case though, I lived just outside the French Quarter, where there is a mixture of residential and commercial everywhere. I could have moved. Not easily, but I could have. So I get that.
By contrast, I now live in an area where despite our best efforts, they built a Walmart. Before that happened, I could sit in my back yard and commune with bats. I love bats, because they eat mosquitoes, but I also love them just because they’re bats. The noise from the construction of Walmart drove them away, and they’ve never returned.
I’m not all empty talk and whining . I participated last week in a meeting between my County Commissioner, the County Administrator, and the head of Planning, and some fellow environmentalist type people. Planning Guy and I got into a little bit of a snit. But when I talked about the bats, he took notes. When I said, this is a wildlife corridor you can’t disrupt, he took notes. When I said, if you disrupt the environmental protections in this area, then you will shoot yourself in the foot. Nobody will want to live on a dead lake. When I said, development has always been allowed here, and whatever future development you envision here, it should enhance the lake, not detract from it. He took notes.
Go me. Go Bats. And go Planning Guy.

The Nanny State

In the U.S., our government (federal, state, or local) is often determined to outlaw things for our own good.
Today’s rant is about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), The FDA is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that food and drugs sold to the public are safe. Good idea. How are they doing? Not so well. My guess is they aren’t funded well enough to do the job right. Nobody even remembers who they are until there is some scare, like contaminated spinach. And then who gets blamed? The FDA! Not the growers. The FDA is in a Catch-22 world.
During the recent 16 day government shutdown, all their inspectors were suspended because their jobs were considered “non-essential”. Really?
In any case, the FDA announced about two weeks ago that they are going to start cracking down on Schedule III drugs. Let’s talk about the schedules. Schedule I drugs are those with a very high potential for abuse, have no accepted medical use in the US, and a lack of accepted safety even under medical supervision. This includes things like heroin and LSD, but also marijuana, which is pretty funny since at the state level, marijuana is legal in many states. So the Feds still consider it illegal, but there seems to be a hands-off policy when it comes to prosecuting people in states where it’s been legalized.
There are five schedules, each of which has a declining level of potential abuse, do have accepted medical uses, and have been tested for safety.
Schedule II includes drugs like cocaine, morphine (which is derived from opium) and various synthetic versions of morphine, including the heavy-duty pain killers Percocet, Oxycontin (considered the really big bad boy of the list), Percodan, Dilaudid and Demerol.
Schedule III includes such things as anabolic steroids and Hydrocodone, as long as it’s combined with an NSAID like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Lortab, Vicodin, Vicoprofen).
Schedules IV and V aren’t worth mentioning.
So supposedly there’s a new epidemic of abuse of Schedule II drugs. Nonsense. It isn’t new. Thirty-five years ago I worked in a methadone clinic. I never met one person who was addicted to heroin. Apparently, heroin was pretty hard to come by. They were addicted to Dilaudid. How did they get it? In some cases, doctor shopping, going from doctor to doctor with phony complaints and getting prescriptions from each doctor. In some cases, from sympathetic doctors who knew they were addicts but didn’t want them to suffer. In some cases by breaking into or outright robbing pharmacies. And let me tell you, these people led miserable lives. Going from getting high to going into withdrawal. Always worried about where the next pill was coming from. Even if they didn’t rob pharmacies, they burglarized homes and fenced the take, to get the money to buy drugs. I knew a guy who bought a van, had signs painted on the side that said “Acme Movers” or something like that. He would back the van up to a house where he knew the people weren’t home, and clean it out, in broad daylight.
So the “new” epidemic has been around for a while, and the “cracking down” on Schedule II drugs has also been around, to the point where many doctors are afraid to prescribe them at all. Why? Because if you’re determined by the government to be over-prescribing them, they can revoke your medical license. Never mind if you’re an oncologist or an anesthesiologist (who typically run pain clinics for people with chronic pain) or an orthopedist.
The “cracking down” on Schedule III drugs will now remove the last effective alternative for treatment of pain, in my opinion. Pretty soon, if you, say, break your ankle, the doctor will put it in a cast, tell you to take two aspirin and call him or her in the morning. Not because they don’t think you need it, but because they will be scared.
Recently, the Florida Attorney General has been touting her success at closing down “pill mills”. The amount of Oxycontin prescribed in Florida is down by 20%. In a related story, heroin overdoses are up by 20%. What does that tell you? I seriously fear that this approach will not reduce addiction and overdoses, but will make it much more difficult for people who really need pain drugs for legitimate reasons to get them. A woman on NPR (National Public Radio) last week said she got a prescription for a pain drug, but couldn’t find a pharmacy that would fill it.
When will we ever give up on this ineffective “war on drugs”?
NPR also did a story about the issue, here’s a quote. “The US has about 4% of the world’s population, and we’re consuming more than 80% of the world’s oxycodone supply. We’re also consuming more than 99% of the world’s hydrocodone”. What a misleading statistic. What percentage of the world population has no access to medical care of any kind? What other countries have more lenient laws about drugs, and thus less crime associated with it?
You would think we (the US) would have learned when alcohol was banned in 1920 with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1933, the 18th was repealed by the 21st Amendment. Prohibition did not work then, and it doesn’t work now.

A Short Lesson in U.S. Government

This post is for my non-U.S. friends, and for my U.S. friends who haven’t bothered to learn.   I kind of get Britain, but Canada seriously confuses me.  I can’t even figure out how they arrange their postal zones or geographic divisions, much less their government.

So if you’re as clueless about the U.S. as I am about Canada, here goes.  Ahem.  (Drum roll.)  Long ago and far away, once upon a time, the U.S. was a colony of Britain.  (Wasn’t everything?) Then we fought a war and won.  Now what?

So the so-called Founding Fathers, who have been all but canonized here, came up with this document called the Constitution.  It lays out general guidelines for how we would govern ourselves.  We being new at it and all.

The chief idea is that power would be spread out amongst three separate branches of government, which are supposed to have equal power and act as a system of checks and balances.  The idea was not to concentrate power in the hands of one tyrannical leader, such as the hated George III.

These three branches are the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial.   This means, the President, Vice-President, and Cabinet (Executive), Congress (which consists of two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate–seems to me like the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Britain), and the Judicial Branch, namely, the Supreme Court.  Each of these branches has certain controls over the other.  On the surface, it would appear that Congress has the most power, since they make the laws. But the President can veto them–but Congress can override the veto. There usually isn’t much appetite for that.  But the point is, that’s the first check.  The President can veto a law or sign it.  Nothing becomes law unless the President agrees.

Then, finally, there is the Supreme Court.  If a law gets past both the President and the Congress and someone challenges it, the Supreme Court decides whether it’s in keeping with the Constitution.  If not, in their opinion, the law is nullified.  Then, Congress can go make a new law and the process starts all over.  In essence, therefore, I’d say the Supreme Court wields the most power.

The people on the Supreme Court are nominated by the President, but must be approved by the Congress, so it’s all interwoven.

This brings me to gun control.  Sorry to sneak that in. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, verbatim, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.   The Supreme Court, most recently in 2010, confirmed that this includes individual ownership of guns, not just as a member of a “militia”. (Whatever that is or was.)

So why are we still talking about it?  I’ll tell you my opinion.  Sheer paranoia.  Because there is a segment of the population in the U.S. which is distrustful of the government, and believes without constant vigilance that we will turn into Nazi Germany tomorrow. That’s a disconnect from reality.

For the umpty jillionth time, let me say that I’m for gun ownership.  Not that anyone believes me, because I think there should be greater control and accountability.  That gets me lumped in with the “Ban Guns” people.  Another disconnect from reality.  But in the U.S., no one is coming to take away your guns.  Perhaps you are anti-hunting, which is your right, but technically you would have to be a vegetarian to be consistent. Ever seen how they kill cows?  Perhaps you’d like to be Ghandi, and die rather than commit violence against another person.  Not me.

The point is that we do live in a nation of laws.  This is not Somalia.  It’s imperfect, but as Winston Churchill pointed out in 1947, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.  And technically, we don’t live in a democracy.  I think of democracy as mob rule.  We live in a Republic, with representative government.  Sometimes those representatives have to go against the wishes of their constituents to do the right thing.  And thank goodness for that. Otherwise we would still have slavery, women couldn’t vote, and we would still be killing Native Americans.


When I was in the 8th grade, I participated in a debate. I was maybe 13 years old.  This was actually an assignment by our English teacher.  Pretty brilliant of her actually.  She was trying to teach the effective use of language. The previous year, we had already gone through grammar, and that was not her job.

So in that vein, we were unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) assigned our “sides”.  This meant you could be assigned to a “side” you didn’t believe in.  The idea was that you had to research your “side”, and present forceful and plausible arguments for it.

As I recall, our debate was about whether or not slavery was wrong.  I don’t even remember which side I was on.  I think I was on the “slavery is wrong” side, which would make it a lot easier to defend your position.  There wasn’t one person in our class who thought slavery was a good idea, but they/we still had to defend it passionately and articulately.  And that was the teacher’s  point.  If you say it well, you can convince anyone of anything.  Not only did we learn debating, but we learned history.  We had to re-fight the Civil War.

Whichever side I was on, I do at least remember that our team won.  Probably I was on the pro-slavery team, because the only thing I remember vividly is having to go to the bathroom and throw up right afterwards.  Maybe that was just nerves.

But this taught me a valuable and lifelong lesson:  you don’t have to actually believe in something to argue persuasively.

This brings me to the first Presidential debate of 2012.  One of the rules of debate is that you must at least include a modicum of accuracy.  (So, for example, you can argue that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about cotton, and trade. )

In this first Presidential debate, almost everyone agrees that Mitt Romney “won”, and that includes me.  Romney did an outstanding job…of debating.  The thing that disappointed me most is that the President was not nearly as aggressive as he is capable of being.  I wanted him to confront Romney on numerous occasions for his blatant lying.  But most of the time when Romncy was speaking, the President was looking down at the podium.  Sometimes you would see him with a little smile on his face, like, Isn’t this amusing?  Well, yes it is.  You should say so.  Out loud, instead of smirking to yourself.

But that is one of Obama’s legendary failings.  He comes across as, for lack of a better word, snooty.  Too intellectual for the hoi polloi.  He treated Romney as beneath his notice, as if he were an annoying flea that he would prefer not to deal with.  Yeah, me too, but that isn’t a good move in a debate.

It was only the next day that the President said, the guy who showed up last night, claiming to be Mitt Romney, is not the same guy we’ve been hearing from for the last 18 months.  Haven’t all been there?  The best comeback is always something you think of later.

Back to Mitt’s win in the debate, and the modicum of accuracy part.  You can argue how many angels will fit on the head of a pin (answer: either none or an infinite number, they don’t have mass.  Presumably.)  And you can argue a completely invalid point and still win a debate.

The loser of the night is really the moderator, Jim Lehrer.  He exercised no control whatsoever.  What is the point of having a moderator?  He might as well have left the stage to the candidates to just duke it out.  He was too overawed.  Gwen Ifill of CNN was far better.  “Your time is up!”.

Looking back, it’s possible that the President “won” after all.   Mitt Romney is a flea, and a lying flea at that.  I think more people got a chance to see it in action.

Regardless of the debate, Mitt Romney will never overcome his remarks about the 47%.  But he tried hard.  E for effort.

Lately I am actually trying to stay away from politics as a topic, if you can believe that.  That’s because I am on the verge of losing friends over it.  But this…I couldn’t resist.

I had to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks to finish watching this debate, but it was worth it.  So I will watch the rest of them too.  Next week is the vice-Presidential debate and I wouldn’t miss that for the world.  In one corner, Paul Ryan, the smart young whippersnapper Ayn Rand devotee.  In the other corner, Joe Biden, the older, experienced guy who cannot be underestimated.   As the T-shirt says, old age and treachery will always overcome youth and enthusiasm.  Note to self:  I gotta get one of those T-shirts.

Green Trash…and Management School

I have previously posted about trash, when the City passed an ordinance that you had to bring your rolling trash containers from the street back to wherever you keep them. within 24 hours of trash pickup.  And you can’t take them to the street until the evening before pickup day.

Fortunately for me, that regulation only applies within the city limits, and I live a happy half-mile outside those limits, in the County.  I tend to think that we are a lot more laissez-faire in the County.  Plus, I live in the kind of neighborhood where no one gives a rat’s ass about where your trash container is.  If you want the front of your house to be advertised by trash, so be it.

So at work, I wanted something to be shredded.  My operation was recently audited by the City, so I’m very sensitized to the need for paper trails.  I wanted shredding, because they will give you an official “Certificate of Destruction”.  I don’t care whether they actually shred it or not.  I still have proof that I did my part.  (Read:  paper trail.)

I’ve used shredding companies before in a different city, and we took all the material to them.  Since that time, mobile shredding companies have appeared.  I see their trucks on the street all the time.  Not terribly surprising when you live in a city full of lawyers.

So I assigned my assistant manager the task of researching mobile shredding companies.  She LOVES this kind of detail.  It was like, Woohoo!  You actually WANT me to Google?  Is this a great job, or what?

There are levels of delegation.  For instance, we needed some landscaping work done at one point, and I said, find a company and just hire them.  Do what you think is best.  In this case I said, find a company you like, pick one, but discuss it with me first.  Primarily because I didn’t know anything about mobile shredding companies and wanted to be educated.  But secondly, there are some times when you have to keep a closer eye on relatively new managers.

She–like my last assistant manager–is so focused on saving money (not that that’s a bad thing)–that she will pinch a penny in the beginning, get shoddy work in return, and then have to spend even more money on someone new to correct it.

But she picked a company and made a recommendation to me.  This is a huge improvement!  I have finally taught her–don’t give me three choices and expect me to make every decision.  I can’t do it, don’t have time for it, etc. The “manager” part of your title means you have to make some decisions, and you have to quit being scared about it.

We went with the company she picked.  The cost was $45 if you take the stuff to them, $55 if they send the mobile truck.  A quick calculation told me that my time and her time was worth more than $10.  I said, send the truck.  And they came the same day!  I made her go with the driver to see the operation.  (Okay, I do care a little about whether they actually shred it or not.)

She was so excited that she took pictures of it on her iPhone.  They have this huge truck that is kind of like a regular trash truck, which lifts the container and dumps it into a bin.  But there is a shredder inside, so you can actually hear it working.

So this was the best of all possible worlds. The job got done.  I got my Certificate of Destruction.   She learned something, and had a lot of fun doing it.  Is this a great job or what?

To Hell in a Handbasket

Judging from the hysteria of my conservative friends, we are already there.  Only they noticed the gradual drop of the handbasket.  The rest of us were blissfully ignorant.

I am of course referring to the confirmation by the Supreme Court of the Allordable Health Care Act.  Of course, what is lost in the hysteria is what the Supreme Court actually ruled.  They didn’t say it was a good idea (although I think it is, in a flawed sort of way).  They said Congress had the power to pass the law under their powers of taxation.

Which is very, very interesting.  I always understood it to be a tax.  But I was surprised to learn that Congress went out of its way to avoid the word “tax”.  The Supreme Court said the govenment’s argument that Congress had the power to enact the law under the Commerce Act did not hold water.  I completely understand that.  The Commerce Act enables the federal government to regulate interstate commerce, not to force people to buy a product.

In what seems like a hair-splitting move, the Supreme Court said Congress can’t force you to buy a product, but they can tax you if you don’t.  What’s the difference?  Congress called this tax a penalty–but it’s paid to the IRS and is based on income.  Chief Justice John Roberts said, if it walks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it’s a tax.

What stuns me is the lack of understanding about what the law is supposed to do.  Perhaps particularly that those who need it and could benefit from it the most are the people who hate it most.  Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, one of my Facebook friends posted “Bend over America.”  One of my employees said, “They will just have to take me to jail, because I can’t afford insurance”.  You have to hand it to the Republicans.  They’ve done an excellent job of mixing up the ideas of personal freedom and patriotism with the idea of personal benefit.

Remember when it used to be a “government takeover of healthcare”? Last week on TV, John Boehner said it’s a “government takeover of the insurance industry”. (Like that would be a bad thing?)  Of course, he’s still wrong.  It’s regulation of the insurance industry.  It amazes me that Republicans have been able to convince people with no insurance to rally around the insurance industry, in the name of personal freedom and patriotism.  Neat trick.  Government and regulation are four-letter words.  First they will go after the insurance companies.  Next step:  they will be at your door trying to take away your guns.  Please.

It’s hard to even have a semi-logical conversation about this.  I didn’t even try until yesterday, and it fairly quickly devolved into “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” (From him to me.)

To some extent, both sides start with a philosophy.  His is: whatever you get takes away from what I get.  I talked myself blue in the face about how he is already paying for other people’s health care, and this is at least an attempt to even it out.

Back to the employee who said they would have to take her to jail. So, my take on that is that as far as she’s concerned, things are just fine the way they are.  She does get health care.  It’s just that I’m paying for it.

I’m not entirely a bleeding heart liberal on this.  Because it slays me that rather than pay a miniscule amount to contribute to her own health care, she is willing for me to keep paying for it.  How fair is that?

And I am rapidly approaching the inability to pay for both of us.

I don’t know if the AHCA is the answer.  But something has to change.

Gay Marriage…or Not

Last week was a milestone (or not) in the issue. For the umpty-gajillionth time, a judge–or in this case, a panel of three judges of the 9th District Court of Appeals–has said that banning gay marriage is discriminatory, at least in California, thus killing the passage of Proposition 8.  Prop 8, aka the “Protection of Marriage Act” defines marriage as existing only between a man and a woman.  And that always works out so well.

Prop 8 passed by 52% to 48%, which is in itself confusing.  It’s like a double negative.  In other words, 52% of voters were for the ban.

But what was interesting to me was that I saw a story about it on CBS News this week.  They interviewed one of the supporters of the ban (See?  There we go again.)  He said, “We aren’t trying to deny gay people any rights.  We just don’t want them to call it marriage”.  Or something to that effect.  And I just wanted to scream, like I have for years, What do you care?  Do you hear yourself?  You are drawing a line in the sand over a WORD.  ONE word.

Ah, but hold on there for a minute.  Then they interviewed an opponent (you know, someone who was against the For people.)  She’s a gay woman who got married during the short window of time when it was legal.  She said, in essence, that marriage is important because it has such emotional significance.  And I wanted to say, Do you hear yourself?  You are…well, never mind.  Re-read the end of the previous paragraph.

But that, of course, is the answer:  it has emotional significance on both sides.

I don’t know enough about the provisions in states where “civil unions” but not “marriage” is permitted to know whether or not you really do have all the same rights as if you’re married.  Somehow I doubt it, but if it’s really true, we are back to that ONE WORD.

In the end, marriage is really a legal contract, which if you boil it down to its essence is about property and inheritance.  It’s also good for (theoretically) determining which offspring are yours, if you’re a man, and for breeding a) farm workers and b) soldiers who have to be on your side.  We imbue it with emotional significance, particularly in the West.

Here are two examples:  a history of the British monarchy.  Osama bin Laden.  None of them got married for “love”.  That’s a new thing, relatively speaking.

The origins of marriage are a hot topic in anthropology.  But humans and societies have changed.  I’d say the majority of people today who marry do so for “love”, even if they are driven in some cases by motivations they don’t fully understand, and which may be biological in nature.

Today, the next step in California’s legal battle is an appeal to the Supreme Court.  Which both sides were itching for anyway, no matter who won or lost.  And it’s about time.  It’s time for the Supreme Court to step up to the plate…although they may not.  They’ve refused to hear similar cases in the past.

I hope they do, so we can start on the beginning of the end of arguing over one word.

Important News about Trash (Cans)

At least if you live in Tallahassee.  I started to call this post “Excessive Government Regulation” but I figured no one would read it.  Never fear, however, it isn’t really about excessive government regulation, it’s about one tiny regulation having to do with…trash cans. 

Here in Tallahassee and its surrounding county (Leon–as in Ponce de…), Waste Management picks up our trash.  They provide each household with a large gray rolling trash container.  As far as I know, you’ve always been permitted to roll those containers to the street on the evening before the day of pickup, or for an additional fee, they will come get them for you.  The new regulation is related to how long you can leave them there.  Now you must roll them back to wherever you keep them within 24 hours. 

When I read about this in the newspaper, I was like What?  We had to make a law?  What really got me, however, was that one particular woman, a member of a neighborhood association and possibly its president, led the impassioned plea for such a regulation.  She talked primarily about how unsightly they were (I could just hear her saying, “It’s bringing down the property values!”).  Either she or someone else pointed out that they are something of a traffic hazard.  In most cases, the containers are placed in the street, and Waste Management is none too careful about leaving them in an out-of-the-way position after emptying them.  And I can’t say I haven’t noticed this.  Especially on narrow streets or very busily traveled streets, it can sometimes be like negotiating an obstacle course.   But it’s normally short-lived, and in the great scheme of things, a lot less worrisome than being run down by a semi on your commute home. 

What I suspect this woman is really upset about is the riff-raff in her neighborhood (i.e., the dreaded “renters”).  Who are of dubious character and ethnicity.  (I’m reminded of Clint Eastwood’s  great movie Gran Torino).  Like me and Clint, this woman lives in an older neighborhood, the character of which is changing, like older neighborhoods everywhere in the country.  And it’s distressing to her.  The trash container issue is just a symbol. 

One effect this has had on me is to make me more aware.  I have sometimes been lax about returning the container, but not often, because frankly, it’s a lot more convenient to have the container near the house than it would be to take your trash to the street.  But I’m not worried about it.  The ordinance only applies to people within the City limits.  I tend to think that we in the County are a little more lenient than folks in the City, which may be my imagination, but certainly it’s true in my neighborhood.  Plus, I don’t have to put my container in the street.  I have a double-wide driveway (not to be confused with a double-wide trailer) and put the container at the end of the driveway.  I still have enough room to get my car out.  But most people in either the City or the County don’t have that “luxury”.

Still my primary reaction was to think, in the face of wars, genocide, natural disasters, and the threat of worldwide economic collapse, etc., this woman is passionate about what time people bring in their trash containers?  Sheesh.  I shake my head in wonder. 

And like I said, we had to make a law?  I guess shunning and harassment haven’t worked. 

And all that said, I don’t really have a problem with regulation of how people must behave in certain instances.  I myself am about to begin serving on a citizen committee to hopefully strengthen one aspect of the Animal Control ordinance.  I’d like to regulate the hell out of how people are permitted to treat their animals.  If that’s Fascism, then so be it.

More Tales From the Parking World

Most of us in this “niche” business at one time or another say, “I should write a book”.  While I say “niche”, it’s a niche that brings in millions and millions of dollars.  You want niche?  I once went to a kite store.  A kite store!  I thought, March and April are pretty good months for you I’ll bet, but what are you doing in December?  Seems like it would be like having an ice cream shop in Maine. 

I imagine everyone has stories to tell about the business they’ve been in, but I don’t know.  There just seems to be something about parking that brings out the worst in people.  And Tallahassee is the worst of the worst. 

Before I got here, I was involved in municpal parking in three other cities, and this is…different.  For one thing,  the City of Tallahassee is way more sensitive and complaint-phobic.  Each city has a different character. 

One of those cities was Norfolk.  They were building a giant mall in the middle of the city, and they built the parking garages for them first–which was why I was there.  The construction people who were building it often hung out in my office during breaks.  (I don’t kid myself that it was my scintillating personality and good looks–my office was air-conditioned.)

One day a guy came in and said, when we’ve finished this thing, I am never coming back.  Why not, I asked?  He said, because you’re going to charge for parking.  That is completely ridiculous!  I can go to any other mall in this city and parking is free.  Okay, true I said.  But this mall is going to have stores you can’t find at any other mall.  Rainforest Cafe.  Nordstrom.  Ha!, he scoffed.  And who in this City can afford to shop at Nordstrom?  Okay, he had a point.  I can’t, I said, but there are people here who do, and the closest one is 200 miles north, in D.C.   Plus, I said, the cost is going to be $1.00 for the first 3 hours.  (That was decided on after several knock-down, dragout fights between the City and the private developer.  Three hours was determined to be the average length of time a person spends in a mall.)  If you can’t afford a dollar, you probably shouldn’t be at the mall in the first place. 

That isn’t the point, he said!  It’s the principle of the thing!  (Isn’t it always?)  Paying for parking is like going to Home Depot to buy dirt!  Parking, he said, should be free, like dirt!  Once I recovered from practically choking to death, I said, well, my guess is that you’ll come here at least once, for curiosity if nothing else.  He said, unfortunately, you’re right.  My wife cruises around the site at least once a day.  She can’t wait for it to open.  She’s like a buzzard circling a carcass.  So yes, unfortunately, I will be here. 

The first story I remember in Tallahassee was a woman who was picking up her child from the museum upstairs.  At the time, the first 30 minutes was free, and after that, it was $1.00 for the rest of the hour.  Are you following me?  ONE.  DOLLAR.  She had exceeded that time limit, and said the only reason she did was that she stopped to help another child, whose mother wasn’t there yet, go to the bathroom.  Very nice of you, I said.  $1.00. 

That’s also the fascinating thing about parking.  People act as if the cost is negotiable.  It’s like picking a $500 dress off the rack at say, Nordstrom, taking it to the counter, and saying, I’d like to buy this dress, but it’s too expensive.  I’ll give you $250 for it. 

So this woman says, OK, I’m going to pay it, but I’ll have you know that my daughter goes to school with the mayor’s daughter.  And as soon as I get home, I’m going to call him and tell him what you did to me.  “Please do”, I said.  You really want to be a fly on the wall sometimes.  I would like to have seen the expression on the mayor’s face when she called him and said, “You won’t believe what happened!”

That of course was just the first of many, many such incidents.  Everybody here knows the mayor, the governor, or one of their cousins. 

Just one more story.  The State Legislature meets here every year during the months of March and April.  It’s an excitng and nerve-wracking time.  When the garage begins to fill up, we have to deny daily customers entry because we guarantee that if you have a monthly access card, you will have a space.  One day this guy comes up to the gate and can’t get in, and he’s laying on the intercom and screaming.  (Oh P.S., there’s a sign that says “Full”.)  So I went outside to talk to him in person.  Sometimes that helps.  He said, I have a meeting with the governor in FIVE MINUTES!  You need to let me in RIGHT NOW!  Sir…I can’t.  There is no space.  (This was my first mistake.  People reach a certain point  where logic fails them.  You can’t, by definition, reason with them.) Well, let me in and I’ll take my chances.  No, I said. 

Then he got out of his car.  It’s a little crowded there at the entry lane.  He’s towering over me, which really isn’t that hard to do, and seriously invading my space.  I thought, this guy is going to hit me.  I looked around for my maintenance guy.  I looked in my office hoping someone was paying attention.  I looked for anyone, another customer even.  I was on my own.  At that point what I did was step forward rather than back, which is your natural inclination.  I said, Sir, here is what I need you to do.  Get back in your car, RIGHT NOW, and back up.  If you don’t, I’m calling the police, and we’ll let you explain yourself to them.  Amazingly enough, he did. 

Normally, though, my job is not that hazardous.  People behave only like mild lunatics.

People of Wal-Mart

This is the name of a website ( which features both photos and videos taken of Wal-Mart shoppers, mostly surreptitiously.  It’s a little mean-spirited, in that it doesn’t seem fair to do this to people who have no idea you’re doing it.  It’s like the paparrazzi who are so fond of taking pictures of sex goddess movie stars without makeup, slimy looking hair, and cellulite. 

On the other hand, here’s my take on it:  if you don’t want someone to take a picture of you looking like that, don’t go out looking like that.  Celebrity or not.  If you don’t care, then you’re home-free.  Go any way you like.  So that would be me–I don’t care. 

Therefore today, I think I might have made a good Person of Wal-Mart.  T-shirt, gym shorts, flip-flops, no makeup.  But not a very good one.  First of all, I would have had to weigh at least double what I do.  But you don’t always have to be fat to be a Person of Wal-Mart.  There was one photo I saw where a woman is walking her poodle in the parking lot, between giant piles of banked-up snow.  You can’t see her face, but she has nice-looking long blonde hair, is thin, and is wearing pajamas and socks and bedroom slippers.  You get the point.  There is a certain mind-set to being a Wal-Mart person. 

So, you might ask, what the hell was I doing at Wal-Mart?  The short answer is, I needed a newspaper.  Today marks exacty the third time I’ve been there since it opened four years ago.  The first two times were for emergency purchases of Ibuprofen.  By my calculations, I’ve now spent around $7.00 there.  It’s an empty protest to be sure, but it makes me happy.   

I do a lot of empty protesting now that I think about it.  Probably it’s because I’m too realistic.  I don’t kid myself that I can change anything substantially.  But I still do believe that I might say something  that plants a seed that might eventually sprout.  Really, it can, and sometimes does.  It’s such a more hopeful way to live than simply giving up and saying nothing you do makes a difference. 

So I tried not to go to Wal-Mart.  I went first to my corner convenience store, where my favorite weekend Rwandan engineering student was on duty, but they were out.  He said, go to Wal-Mart.  So I blame him. 

The reason I needed a paper was that today, an op-ed came out by a former dog rescue person regarding certain changes the County is trying to make to its Animal Control ordinance.  I was there the last time they did it, I will be there again.  You have three minutes to comment before the County Commission.  I need to make it work.  So I needed to see what was already said–no need to repeat it.  The Commissioners all read the paper. 

The big issue is tethering.  The County is proposing minor changes to it which mostly involve the type of tether that can be used.  But there needs to be a sweeping change.  As long as we tolerate dogs being tethered outdoors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, tweaking the kind of tether is like arguing about what color to paint the walls of Hell.  Which I plan to say.