Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who's the biggest threat to small business owners?

I’m now officially more worried about government officials than the thousands of thugs in the area wielding everything from spray paint to AK-47s.

The other night our flagship truck, the “W3,” was “tagged” by someone. The street side of the truck was barely touched – just a few signs (symbols?) The other side was worked over hard, and it looks like the miscreants were interrupted. I discovered the vandalism Sunday morning and tried to make a report around 8:00 AM. It must have happened between 11:30 and 7:30 AM. When I tried to make the report, I was told that someone would call me back. I didn’t expect a call and didn’t receive one.

I stopped by the office Sunday night to check on the trucks just before dusk. Both of the trucks outside the office had tickets on the windshields.

So, to sum up, the cops won’t call you back when your business has been vandalized, but they WILL take every dollar from you they can get in parking violations. ALLEGED parking violations (more on that in a second.)

This was the straw the broke the camel’s back for me. I now fear the guys in police cars more than the gang-bangers who probably tagged my truck. (In fact, I’m thinking about making a deal with the vandals. As long as they can do good work and use my logo somehow, they can use the truck as a canvas. Might even be cool.) As for the authorities? I’m always scanning the road because I’m afraid I’ve forgotten some detail, haven’t gotten some sticker, might be driving six miles over the speed limit, missed a “no trucks” sign, etc. The state nickels-and-dimes my business to the point where I can’t afford necessary expansions or to hire to guys. I’m not even talking about taxes.

I don’t see myself as a victim here, but I know that I don’t have any friends out there. We’ve been robbed at least five times that I know about for sure, and probably many more times that I’m not. Employees have left the trucks unattended for mere minutes only to discover that customer checks, their cash and personal items were stolen. The last time was a few weeks ago. I’ve had big, hard-to-lift equipment stolen right off the deck of the truck. We’ve filed reports but, naturally, never heard anything again.

However, if our bumper is slightly over a crosswalk, some city or country drone will write us a ticket. I once got a ticket while stopped – NOT PARKED – in front of one of my guys’ houses the night before Thanksgiving. I was writing him a check for the day’s work, and the vigilant meter maid wouldn’t give me 30 seconds. Those 30 seconds cost me $75.

A couple of months ago, a girl slammed into the back of our truck and put one of my guys in the hospital. The truck was parked, and the guys were loading it. Jimmy hit the lift gate on the way down. I’m not sure if the cop gave Jimmy the ticket for parking in the “wrong” place as he was lying in a pool of his own blood or if he waited until he was safely in the ambulance, but that was another $50. We were told by the apartment complex to park on the street. The customer said we should park there. A random poll of residents indicated that EVERYONE was told to park on the street. But, because I wasn’t able to get an affidavit to Fairfax County in time, my LEGITIMATE case was completely dismissed by the county. I tried to press it, but like all government functionaries, the gatekeeper just kept repeating whatever lines were on her script. The thing is, THEY SENT ME THE FORM TOO LATE. I even have a recording of the front desk person telling me they tell everyone to park in the street. 

The other day I stopped a meter man from writing a ticket for an “abandoned vehicle.” Someone had complained that one of our trucks was “abandoned,” and out come the authorities. This was for a truck that I use EVERY SINGLE DAY, that had been moved less than 12 hours previously, that was in perfect working order. But with no evidence, the city was going to issue a citation for an abandoned vehicle.
The funny thing is that I was hesitant to call the cops about the tagging that morning. I didn’t want them to show up and cite me for having too small of a DOT number on the side of the truck. (Got a citation for no DOT number the other day even though we have one). But I figured what the heck? Maybe someone at the station will care.

If I’d been thinking clearly, I wouldn’t have bothered. Number of times I’ve been vandalized or ripped off? About a dozen. Number of parking tickets and other citations I’ve gotten? Probably hundreds. Who’s the bigger threat to legitimate business owners? 

This raises all kinds of philosophical questions, but you know what? I’m not sure I even care anymore. I never thought I’d say this, but I think some fights are too big. I think law-abiding citizens have gotten far too used to “living in the city” or have made peace with diminishing civil liberties and crime. “It’s just something we have to live with” or something. Until last weekend, I would have said that’s insane, but I suppose there really is nothing we can do. You almost have to put yourself at risk of jail time just to get past the bored government gatekeepers whose primary duty in life seems to be to keep their days as effortless as possible.

For one reason or another, my wife and I have been talking about Arizona a lot lately. We’ll see how the business does this year, but we seem to be way past the point of diminishing returns. The better the business does, the more we’re ripped off, both from dirtbag passers-by and city officials.

Update: Alright, the “telephone reporting division” of the Alexandria police department finally got back to me. They took my report and said they’d have a unit patrol the area and be on the lookout. Heh, yeah, no doubt. I’m sure we’ll be within five inches of the legal distance from the fire hydrant and they’ll “tag” me for that, too.

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