Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good Deeds Punished III

by Jim Reed

Listen to an audio version of this article

[In two previous columns, I presented transcriptions of secret meetings held in the city by employees L.G. and G.L., whose sole purpose is to attract additional revenue to the city through the imposition of SHOPPING PENALTIES and VISITORS PENALTIES without the annoyance of putting forth public relations, goodwill, good manners and the like. The following is a third transcript.]

Read Part I
Read Part II

L.G. is sitting in the empty conference room, mopping up coffee that has dripped from his pastry. He is startled at the abrupt entrance of fellow employee G.L.

“Hey, sorry I’m late. I forgot to pay my parking meter and had to cough up a $15.00 penalty,” says G.L.

L.G. is amazed. “Why did you park at a meter? Your parking is covered here at City Hall, in the deck.”

“Oh, I had to stop at Goodyear Shoe Hospital to pick up my wife’s slippers—usually I’m in and out so fast, the meter maids don’t catch me,” G.L. is annoyed that he’s had to pay a fine that he originally helped impose, better known as Birmingham’s SHOPPING PENALTY aimed at discouraging Downtown retail. But the annoyance doesn’t last long. G.L. is basically an optimist, just trying to please his employers.

“Okay,” L.G. pulls out his dog-eared legal pad. “What do you have for me today?”

G.L. consults a napkin upon which notes are scrawled. “Well, I’m trying to figure out more ways to penalize all the different categories of people who come through Downtown each day.”

“Wait a minute,” L.G. is starting a column. “Exactly which groups of people are you addressing?”

“It’s quite a list,” says G.L. “Each week, we have an amazing variety of visitors.” He begins calling them out:

1. Shoppers
2. Professionals in town to meet with clients
3. Layovers (that includes accidental visitors who come through via bus, train, airplane, tour bus...and are trying to entertain themselves while they’re waiting for their connections)
4. Tourists
5. Loft dwellers’ families and guests
6. Customers who patronize retail and professional businesses
7. Students who are attending classes (Birmingham School of Law and various company and non-profit seminars, for instance)
8. Vendors who are selling services to everybody who works, lives or visits Downtown
9. Drive-bys, people who are on their way someplace else and want to take a break
10. Jurors on break from the courts
11. Museum patrons who want to see what else is Downtown (museums include Sports Hall of Fame, Civil Rights Institute, Jazz Hall of Fame, Museum of Art, Museum of Fond Memories, Central Library Archives, History Museum)
12. Attractions attendees (McWane Center, Alabama Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Imax Theatre, Carver Theatre, etc.)
13. Suburbanites who are touring the Downtown area as part of their civic club excursions (Shepherd Centers, church groups, etc.)
14. Explorers (people who want to visit the icons and landmarks they’ve heard about, such as the Peanut Depot, hot dog stands, shops such as Reed Books and Sojourns and Charm and What’s on Second, Railroad Park, etc.)
15. Walking tours (architectural, historical, civil rights, urban studies, school groups, etc.)
16. Foreign visitors who are here on tour or as exchange students, etc.
17. Conventioneers who take long breaks to explore the town

“Okay, okay. What’s the point?” L.G. blurts out.

G.L. explains, “Well, we usually try to see what kinds of penalties we can extract from shoppers and people who live and work here, but this list proves that there are a lot more folks to consider.” G.L. knows that L.G. needs to have it spelled out. “My point is, these people basically slip through the cracks—they aren’t just citizens of Birmingham, they come from all over the world.”

“So, how does this apply to our job—which is to please the Big Bosses with more ways to bring in revenue?”

G.L. is trying to be patient. “Our main plan has always been to fine people who stay too long—you know, overtime parkers, jaywalkers, folks who turn the wrong way on a one-way street, panhandlers, public nuisances, etc. But the categories on this new list are mostly people who can’t pay a fine—they just won’t be available to send a ticket to. They don’t live here, and they don’t park where we can ticket them (they walk, take a cab or a tour bus or a shuttle, are dropped off, etc!)”

L.G. is beginning to feel the warmth of a light bulb floating above his bald head. “Oh, man! I hadn’t thought about that. We usually pick the easy marks—folks who have to pay a penalty for breaking a rule they aren’t aware of.” His brow wrinkles all the way to his pate.

There is silence while L.G. tries to think and G.L. fiddles with his pencil.

At last, L.G. is ready to pronounce. “Hmm…we can’t catch most of these people, so we’ll either have to make up new rules they can break…OR we can do something else…”

G.L. has an epiphany: “We can charge ADMISSION to Birmingham!”

L.G.’s jaw drops. “Way cool!” he shouts. “If we charge admission to Downtown, we won’t have to worry about chasing tickets, we’ll just collect up front…AND we can keep on penalizing for parking and the usual activities we already raise revenue from.”

In the heat of the moment, both G.L. and L.G. have forgotten to stay calm and carefully analyze what they’ve just invented. Both men are breathing heavily as they try to calculate how much fundraising they can report to the Big Bosses.

L.G.’s first goal is to survive and maintain his job, so he finally flips back to basic instinct. “Okay, I think we have something here. But don’t tell anyone else about it!” L.G. means to take full credit wherever and whenever he can.

G.L. needs direction. “So what do you want me to do?”

“Just keep adding groups and categories to that list—the longer the better,” L.G. concludes. “And bring it back to next Friday’s meeting. I’m sure we’ll be able to come up with effective ways to implement our plan.”

G.L. is hungry and ready to break up the meeting. “Sounds like a winner. I’ll bring an updated list.”

The meeting is adjourned amid L.G.’s visions of Big Bosses’ approval dancing in his head.

Stay tuned next time for PART FOUR…GOOD DEEDS PUNISHED

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