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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Bang For A Buck

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/15/2024
Posted: 7/5/2007
Page Views: 5776
Topics: #RepublicanCorruption #Arizona
If Libby's sentence hadn't been commuted, he might have been forced to testify against his boss, Dick Cheney.

Yesterday was the 4th of July, of course; so we Americans all spent the day celebrating freedom: Freedom for Scooter Libby, of course, if not for Victor Rita, a man serving a 33-month sentence for the same crime (lying under oath) of which Libby was convicted. The difference between the two men? If Libby's sentence hadn't been commuted, he might have been forced to testify against his boss, Dick Cheney.

I drove my daughter, Karen, to Tempe Town Lake where she would be working for the day at a hot dog concession stand. Afterwards, I continued on to the airport to pick up some friends who'd just arrived back home. Along the way I couldn't help but notice the unusually high police presence, as car after car had been pulled over, presumably for speeding. Yes, in the "land of the free" we are not free to drive 75 mph on a highway engineered for 85.

Before yesterday, I had been to the fireworks display at Tempe Town Lake twice. Once was shortly after the lake had been filled with water. Yes, Tempe Town Lake is a faux lake, where the dry Salt River bed has been dammed east and west and filled. In 2000 Michael and I had only recently moved to the Valley and went with my mom and Michael's sister, Surya, and our friends Barbara and Peter, to see the fireworks there. The park was not yet completed. We brought folding chairs and sat on a hill where the view was unobstructed, sipping sodas and water we'd brought with us—the temperature in Tempe in July can get three-digit-hot, even at night—and enjoyed the view. The place was crowded and it took quite a while to leave the makeshift parking lot (free, on desert floor) when the display was over, but it was fun and we had a good time.

That was in contrast to last year, the second time we experienced the Tempe Town Lake fireworks display. By then, the park was completed and parking was no longer free; but it didn't matter because we arrived just a short time before the display was scheduled to begin and there was no parking anyway, unless you include the fact that the cars in the road were at a standstill because drivers, turned away from the lot in which they'd expected to park, stopped in the street because they had no idea where to go. We got out of the car, looked at the fireworks in the distance (my grandson Zachary on my shoulders), and got back into the car when it was over, where we waited for another hour-and-a-half for the traffic jam to clear.

You won't be surprised to hear that I never intended to go to Tempe for fireworks again. But then Karen found herself spending the day there to work, and Zach wanted to watch the fireworks where she was, and besides even though it would be hot, they now have a splash park within the grounds and there would be inflatable kiddie bounce things and if we got there early enough, there shouldn't be an issue with parking. After all, I could hardly blame the city of Tempe for my not finding parking when arriving late at a major event!

So when I dropped Karen off, I left her with five outdoor chairs to place near the concession stand. That way we'd have a place staked out without actually having to be there from 2 PM to dusk.

It promised to be a hot day. In fact, about 4 PM it hit 116°F. Mary, Zachary's grandmother, decided to watch the fireworks in the air conditioned comfort of her room, on TV. Zach's mom, Jenny, had come down with a virus and besides had a meeting to chair that evening. So it was Zach and Michael and I who went to pick up Surya, and then proceeded to Tempe Town Lake.

We were prepared. We had pre-purchased our tickets at the local Safeway, $6 for each adult. (Kids were free.) The tickets came with a flyer detailing where parking was to be found and pointing out that there would be free, air-conditioned bus service between the parking lots and Tempe Town Lake that day. It all seemed well-planned and we filled an ice chest with soft drinks and watermelon slices and ice, and a bag with potato chips, intending to get hot dogs (which we expected to be overpriced) at a concession stand, presumably the one at which Karen was working.

I was further pleased to learn that the parking lot, which I expected to cost $10, was only $5. This was located a full mile from the Tempe Town Lake Park, but that was okay because of the free bus service, which would take us right to the gate. True, the lot was already filling up and we were directed to park a full quarter of a mile from the entrance to the lot. But Surya had her walker and Michael and I were sharing the load of the ice chest and Zach was carrying the bag of chips, so that wasn't so bad.

Except, the ground was so uneven where we were parked that Surya had to carry her walker, which kind of defeated the purpose. And when we got to where the shuttle—not a bus; it was a seven-passenger golf cart—was loading, one of the volunteers mentioned to us that ice chests were not allowed in the park.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Terrorists," was the terse reply. "You can carry it to the gate if you want, I don't care. But they won't let you in." As if to prove his point, a couple got off the other, returning shuttle, with their ice chest and rueful expressions.

"This is Arizona," I pointed out. "How can you let people go anywhere without water?"

"You're allowed to bring one gallon of water per person. But it has to be a sealed gallon jug, or they won't let you through the gate with it."

The fact that this whole no-ice-chest rule was not mentioned anywhere in the Tempe Town Lake web site or in the flier we got with our tickets seemed irrelevant.

So Michael and I trudged back to the car and put the ice chest back into it, then trudged back. That 116°F was starting to feel more like 216° every minute. Finally, we made it back to the shuttle or, rather, the next shuttle, since the original one had already left.

"What happened to the air conditioned buses the flyer described?" I asked.

"I don't know anything about that," the driver confessed. "These shuttles are for volunteers and the handicapped. You're lucky your sister has a walker; otherwise you'd have to walk."

Surya only had the walker because her arthritis had been acting up. In fact, my own left foot, where I had suffered a hiking injury some years ago, had started to bother me. I was grateful that Surya's walker meant I wouldn't have to travel the mile to the park on foot.

But at the gate we discovered two things: One, a big (if handmade) sign declared the no-ice-chest rule and described the one-gallon water limit, explaining that this was for our safety from terrorists, as was the fact that Tempe also wouldn't allow the bags of chips we'd brought into the park, even though we had been careful to purchase only non-explosive potato chips. And, two, I had somehow left two of our three adult tickets in the car. By now, I was turning bright red from the heat and lack of water, and the shuttle driver returned me to the parking lot without question. But I still had to walk that quarter mile back to the car, where I drank some of my Diet Rite and ate a slice of watermelon before putting the chips in the back and closing the door. And then another quarter-mile to the parking lot entrance, where no shuttle was to be seen.

"It'll be along shortly," one of the volunteers with a human-powered taxi said. "Or I can take you. I work for tips." But I had to save all my money for the unplanned expense of drinks purchased in the park. So I waited for the shuttle.

Waiting with me was a redhead with a cart filled with guitars and amps. "They wanted us to bring this stuff this morning around 11," he said. "We're not starting to play until 6. I'm supposed to baby-sit the expensive tools of my trade for 7 hours at no pay? I don't think so!" So we stood and waited. That 116°F was starting to feel more like 316°. There was no sign of the shuttle. Finally, the musician began pushing his cart. "I can't wait any longer," he said, adding, "Hmm…I wonder if that would make a good song title?"

"We'll probably pass you on the way," I warned.

"Yeah, but I still gotta be there in time to set up." And off he went.

Finally a shuttle came along, but the driver got out and opened up a burger. "Finally!" he said. "I've been starving since I missed lunch."

The second shuttle pulled in. There were no other passengers waiting, but the driver eyed me. "The shuttles are for volunteers and handicapped persons only."

"There's a handicapped tag in my car," I said. "I'll tell you where it is and you can check. But I've already limped there and back three times, and I'm not going again. I'm pooped."

He didn't bother to check, and allowed me to board. Along the way he slowed and picked up a family of four, struggling to carry their two small children in the heat. That left one seat open next to the driver. He slowed again alongside two teenaged girls laughing as they strolled along the sidewalk. "I can give you a lift if you don't mind squeezing in." They eyed the open seat and the driver next to whom they would have to squeeze, and politely declined.

They didn't look handicapped to me.

We arrived at the gate at exactly the same time as the redheaded musician. He showed the gatekeepers a pass and they allowed him to enter with his guitars and big speaker boxes. "You didn't check him," I pointed out to the girl behind the counter. "What if he had potato chips hidden in one of those speakers?"

She ignored me.

I found out she had also refused to inspect Surya's walker (complete with basket carryall beneath the seat) and had only checked Surya's purse because Surya insisted on it. If they were really worried about terrorists, it seemed they were only concerned about terrorists who might attack with soft drinks or potato chips.

It didn't take long for us to find Karen's concession stand and our chairs, though I had to rout a couple of strangers out of them.

The owners of the stand are friends of mine and I had mixed feelings about the no-ice-chest scam. On the one hand, it clearly was a scam, no matter what the excuse; on the other, they would be the beneficiaries so it was hard to get too mad about it.

Or would they? When I asked Brian about the no-ice-chest rule, he responded loyally, "Ever since 9/11 we've been in danger of terrorist attack. They have to be careful at public gatherings like this."

"But they're not being careful!" I exclaimed. "When I came in the gate I saw them let in a musician with speaker boxes big enough to hold enough C-4 to destroy the whole park and the lake dams besides. No one even asked to see his license. And how about you? Has your concession stand been inspected?" Ryan's "stand" was a trailer, plus tables and two outdoor grills.

"Bomb-sniffing dogs have been by here twice," he assured me.

I stared. "You let dogs go into a place where food is being commercially prepared?" I've worked in restaurants; I know enough about the health codes to know such a thing is not allowed. But Brian was quick to reassure me.

"Of course not," he replied. "They just sniffed around the outside of our area."

"That's not thorough enough to do any good," I pointed out. "And they didn't respond to your propane tanks?" I added. "A suicidal terrorist with a propane tank and a hammer and nail could easily take out as many people as a car bomb. And if you simply closed the windows of the trailer and opened the valves of two or three propane tanks, a timer could spark a huge explosion with no danger to the person who set it up. And yours is not the only concession stand here. How well do you know the owners of the others?"

A panicky look briefly crossed Brian's face.

"Dude, it's not about terrorists. It's not even about paying for the fireworks, which are provided by the advertising budget of US Airways. It's just a cleverly-hidden tax, and a pretty stiff one at that. You have to pay a big fee, I bet, and all this does is make sure you get it back. But the city winds up with it when all is said and done."

Brian stared. "We don't make much," he said. "In fact, I doubt we'll do this next year; it's just not worth it. The concession license was $1500 and we have to turn in 30% of our profit to the city of Tempe."

I laughed a wry and bitter laugh. "So much for free enterprise," I said. "So let's examine this. Justifying it with the fear of terrorist attack, Tempe's city council forbids people to bring in their own ice or drinks, other than a single gallon of water, to the biggest event of the year, on one of the hottest days of the year. They don't advertise this fact, which would undoubtedly keep thousands of people away. Instead, they wait until you're parked and at the gate so that you're committed to attending; and you're therefore forced to buy from concessionaires who then turn over 30% of what they earn to that very same city council. If this isn't a scam, what is?"

Well, our friends refused to accept money for our drinks or dinner; so this subtle tax didn't actually come out of our pockets. But, still: Thousands and thousands of attendees were, simply put, ripped off. Yes, the Tempe city council made out this year. But how many people will show up next year? The Republican approach to government seems to be "take the money and run" and, yes, the Tempe mayor, Hugh Hallman, is a Republican, as is much of the city council.

Making the best of a bad thing (and not wanting to spoil it for him), Zach and I had fun in the splash park and, even with his broken arm, Zach was able to scale a three-story climbing wall in short order. He made me laugh out loud by descending from the top hanging limply from the cable, looking like a corpse being lowered from a scaffold. Our friends' hot dogs were excellent—they explained they intentionally bought high-quality wieners and sausages, knowing that their customers would be paying so dearly for them—and the fireworks were terrific, and we did have excellent seats.

But how sadly ironic, that at this celebration of the day America finally put its collective foot down against overtaxing by the minions of one King George, that we should have found another, even more diabolical, way of extracting an overtax from us by the minions of another.

Bang! Freedom is dead. And for a buck.

As Shakespeare put it:

Beware the leader who bangs the drum of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor. For patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and patriotism, will offer up all of their rights to the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Julius Caesar.

Eventually Julius Caesar paid the ultimate price for hoodwinking the people.