On the Other Hand...
by Jim Davies
A Tale of Two Cities
Once upon a recent time, a certain Western city installed parking meters so as to punish motorists for daring to do business downtown. There was a shortage of parking space, and quite reasonably the merchants there did not want bureaucrats and others parking in front of their stores all day long; but that problem could easily have been solved by setting a 2-hour limit. There was no need to charge customers money for those two hours.
The effect was of course to drive visitors away to shop elsewhere, for example at the new shopping mall in the suburbs. The downtown storekeepers were not happy campers at all. But what could they do; the voting majority had spoken!
So an acquaintance of mine, knowing what government is like and also being a bright-minded entrepreneur, hit upon a partial solution. He couldn't prevent the city collecting parking fees, but he could and did prevent it levying the draconian fines for daring to exceed the 2 hours available on the meters. In the process, he poured richly deserved ridicule on the heads of the Pols.
What he did was to hire a bunch of smart young ladies to patrol the downtown streets and, when a meter had run out of time, slip in an extra quarter or so. After doing so, a note was placed on the windshield of the rescued car, to say Have a Nice Day, this rescue was performed on behalf of the ABC Hardware Company, just down the road. While you're in town, please stop by for a free screwdriver with our compliments and use it in an appropriate manner.
The experience of being served by someone in uniform who actually wanted to help the much-mugged motorist was so novel that this sales promotion idea (for such it was, of course) was a phenomenal success, wildly popular with everyone except the politicians; who, unfortunately, found a way to hit back.
The way they found is a study in the true nature of Government Man in all his ugliness. Did they tear up the unpopular meters and toss them away? - not a bit of it. When a prominent downtown bank signed up for the Angel Service, the Pols called in the Chief of Police and cooked up the following.
First, the cops rounded up a dozen of the City's most haggard hookers, and offered them a deal. Either (a) they could be busted as usual, or (b) they could cooperate by parading in mid-day in minimal clothing, right outside the elegant portals of the downtown bank.
Whenever a well-dressed gentleman would enter or exit the bank, a hooker would sidle up to him and grab his wallet with one hand and his groin with the other; then, having emptied the wallet of cash, hand it back and walk away.
The indignant bank customer would of course call a nearby patrolman to arrest the marauding hooker, but whaddayaknow, Flatfoot would always allege he had seen nothing untoward whatsoever.
Alas, after a few days the bank was losing so many customers it had to bow out of the Service, though with profound regrets. Round 3 to the Pols.
I was so impressed I decided to try something similar in the Granite State, and chose our capital city, Concord itself. First, of course, I checked out the way they had written their laws, and sure enough, there was no way I could lawfully be stopped doing parkers the favor of buying them a little extra time. I even got the City Attorney to confirm it in writing, and ran my plan by its Police.
So then, in the dead of last Winter, I started pounding the sidewalks of downtown Concord to drum up some business. The idea, as above, was simple: sign up for 100 or more Parker Rescues, pay my fee, and specify the advertisement to be placed on the windshield of the grateful, rescued motorist. In order to find out exactly what the task was like and how fast it could be done (and because I was a bit short of the green stuff) I did the rescue work myself too, planning to bring others in to the project once volumes were building up.
What I found, in the several weeks I tried, was disheartening. A few City retailers said outright that they did not like the plan; fair enough. Perhaps they had relatives in City Hall. Anyway, I didn't need 100%, to make a success of the venture; 10% or even less would have done fine. And I was encouraged that the great majority of those retailers to whom I presented this new idea, this new way to attract grateful customers and spread good will, said that the idea was very good indeed. I got a large amount of very positive feedback.
And one did actually order the Rescue Service: Den Roy Shoes, of Main Street, Concord. Pay them a visit when next you're in town; Mr Roy has the courage of his convictions and deserves your trade. He keeps a fine selection of shoes.
But beyond that? - zippo! Almost everyone liked it, but virtually everyone declined to take part. To me, that was quite a startling discrepancy. In retrospect, it seems that none of them were telling me the whole truth.
Here's what I reckon they didn't tell me: "Jim, your idea is great but I am afraid of the City Government. While they may be unable to stop you doing this, my bet is they really dislike it. Now, I've got to go on living with these people; they control my prop-taxes, they tell me what I can and cannot do with my business, they clean my sidewalks and keep the criminals away, and if I help undermine their parking-meter revenue by buying your advertising service, next time I need some favor from them, guess what they're going to tell me!"
Or words to that effect. It's terribly sad, but it would seem that after two centuries of local government, in this part of New England even these brave entrepreneurs are too afraid of this goose to say Boo! to it. It would seem the slogan "Live Free or Die" doesn't mean much in New Hampshire any more.
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