Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And Just How Long Will You Be Parking With Us?

It has been a bit of a wait since my last blob. It’s not that I don’t have something to say (just ask Iris!) it’s more like, there are so many things scattered in my head that trying to make some sense of it all becomes challenging. At least once or twice a day I say or think of something which “would make a great blob.” But unlike my dad, Ted Burnett, master of the note written on an envelope, I don’t write these things down, operating under the misplaced assumption that it’s so OBVIOUS, of course I’ll remember that when I have to write. And of course I don’t. Remember that is. But we can catch up just a little bit. I have been musing of late, trying to figure out just what the hell I’m going to say at the upcoming events related to the publication of new book ( 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World) about the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The book was officially published yesterday (hooray! And shout out to all the folks at Contact who really made it happen, inspite of my well-meaning interference!) and last night I did a ‘launch’ event at the Barnes and Noble in Bethesda, Maryland. Being the DC suburb that it is, the most important thing on the mind of the Bethesda elders these days is scrounging every dollar that they can find (and some they can’t) from the poor hapless souls like me and my audience of last night. (Did I mention it was a terrific group of people, and they bought lots of books?)
cr: Chris Usher/BKSC

At the shopping area on Woodmont Avenue, what was once a free parking garage designed to make it attractive for outsiders to come visit (and spend their money) has become a tiered “Public Parking” facility, in the same way that the IRS is a “Public Do Gooder” organization. The tiering is craftily designed to maximize annoyance. The lower levels are all meters which are good for two hours. If you get up to level two, the meters vary between four and five hours (wow, that five hour parking, just what I need), and the meters are the kind that take 10 seconds to determine what coin you have put in, before reading back to you the amount of time you have just purchased. You have to really drive up the levels to find something for a whole day (I didn’t go that far), but even at 620pm when I finally found the place, there was a lone figure wandering like a lost peddler in search of a sell, who turned out to be the enforcement guy, the one who joyfully writes the tickets which bolster the Bethesda town coffers.
Me, in the childrens' section: Of course! cr: Chris Usher/BKSC
Parking is not unlike the ‘dope’ in Tom Lehrer’s classic song “The Old Dope Peddler.” “.. he gives the kids free samples because he knows full well, that today’s young innocent faces, are tomorrow’s clientele….” They built up the area with handy parking ten to 15 years ago, created a demand for the Austin Grill, and Jaleo (both fine cafes..) and the like, and now they just jack those meters up and wait for you to stay a minute longer so that you can be tagged for thirty five bucks. At the B&N event last night, I know of at least two people who fell into the clutches of the Bethesda parking vampire. It turned a nice little evening, bordering on one of culture and history, in to an excruciatingly painful trip to the burbs, and quite like my friends who were tagged last night, I don’t think I’ll be going back for anymore of their hospitality anytime soon. I realize there are pressures in these newly flush areas, to try and keep traffic moving, and keep new people coming in because the first people to arrive eventually spend all their money. And you need to keep the pump churning. But whatever sense of community, and warm and fuzziness might have ever so briefly been illuminated last night was drowned out by the dread of walking back to the car to see, even from a distance, the ticket on the windshield. Yes, in these days of falling housing values and skyrocketing public service costs, you need to find more and more and more. But the truth is that Bethesda, quite like Arlington (where I habitate) felt absolutely no restraint in the last ten years, upping budgets for pet projects every year without ever being reminded of the Alan Greenspan line of a decade ago: “I’m unaware that they have cancelled the business cycle.”

Anyone, especially someone with the power of the purse, should remember that the keys to fiscal management are 1) not spending more than you take in, and 2) get ready for the rainy day. Safe to say that 1 was not really on anyone’s agenda, and 2 wasn’t even a glint in the eye of the community elders. There is no secret to the fact that in walking through Manhattan now you are struck by the new, bold, and very upfront presence of a ‘new’ bank in town. TD bank, building big branches all over the city, re-acquiring wonderful two story, half block long locations in mid-town, has created quite a splash. TD is Toronto Dominion. One of those “Canadian” banks. You know, the ones that didn’t over do it, that didn’t get themselves in way over their cumulative depository heads. It is astonishing to see in this market someone arriving in the banking world who seems to be quite untouched by the last two years debacles. Maybe their geniuses are just a bit smarter, a bit more in control, a bit more reasoned that our own geniuses. Our geniuses didn’t really do such genius work, did they.

I guess I remain in favor of some of the development going on these days, but I wonder whether there is really such a need for the unimpeded onslaught to keep the public treasury full and rich. So much of what municipalities do these days are simply about keeping the money flowing. It doesn’t do much to make one either proud to be a citizen, or pleased to be contributing to such a lousy downturn of the public trust. We’re just sayin’….David


Alastair Bird said...

Re the TD Banks... Nah, our geniuses were, well, lucky, and were hamstrung by Canadian banking regulation that didn't allow them to make as many rash decisions as the US banks did. Not that they didn't want to or try to. Given a bit more time I'm fairly sure the Canadian banks would have figured out a way to start making all kinds of crazy loans to people who couldn't afford them. We just weren't fast enough.

Iris&David said...

Alastair..thanks for the clarification but it still boils down to the headline: "Tortoise Wins!"

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