October 21, 2003

Dude, Where's My Money?

Ever get the feeling you're being cheated?

I pull up at Dupre Library one night to write a fair-and-balanced article for my other newspaper. I see that a crossbar valiantly guards the empty expanse of library parking spots, with a sign that reads “all permits honored after 3 p.m.” put there just for laughs. One car actually sits in the lot; as I hike to the library from my spot in Netherland, I reflect on just how much money the driver must have to bribe the crossbar.

The fun continues as on campus the following afternoon. Usually I take the bus to school, but today I just have to pop in Griffin to pick up my latest bad grade. The spiffy sign on the McNaspy pay lot reads, “Parking: $1 for the first hour, $.25 every 15 minutes afterward.” Before I realize I haven't seen that sign before, I'm already past the crossbar of irrevocable extortion.

But this doesn't cross my mind until I'm in Griffin, deciding which snack will best suit my hunger. Considering how high prices now are in the vending machines, I settle for Certs. Bon appetit.

Naturally, getting out of the lot proves to be the fun experience I was hoping for. Armed only with a single quarter—which had been enough to get me out the lot for the last five years—I hear, “one dollar!”

“What? But I was only here for five minutes.” I say.

“Doesn't matter,” the smiling girl explains, with the glee that can come only from someone who knows they’re screwing you sideways. “It’s $1 for the first hour, even if you park here for two minutes.”

I tell her I didn’t have anything but my quarter on me, and she lets me go for that price. “That’s a very stupid policy, but thanks for understanding,” I say as I drive off.

Seeking relief from these headaches, I meet up with friends to shoot some pool. After much deliberation (considering such things as overcrowding and excessive smoke), we decide to shoot at a bowling alley. We meet up at a restaurant close to Avarice Alley. Even so, one of my friends decides to go to Lucrative Lanes.

“Why?” I ask. “Avarice Alley is right down the street.”

“I used to go there all the time,” she replies. “But now they charge you $10 just to go through the door.”

Reflecting on the extreme tackiness of a cover charge at a bowling alley (and one twice as high as a club), we get to Lucrative Lanes only to find it is the same way there. They call it a “$10 spectator’s fee.” Granted, I’m not one to criticize the business practices of a popular entertainment venue, but that is an incredibly obnoxious and stupid idea. Being that we are not willing to be spectators for anything other than the other side of the entrance, we leave.

Is it the recession that’s turning every inexpensive thing into a trip to Disney World when we can least afford it? Is it a reactive measure because some delinquent once sneaked in two years ago? Or is it pure, unadulterated, 21st-century greed? One thing's for sure: we're paying for nothing.

Whatever it is, institutions seem to care less about losing customers than they do about wringing every last penny they can from the few who stick around. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the fee might actually go toward a tangible service. Think about that next time some politician talks about helping businesses; they seem to be helping themselves just fine.

At least football games are still free. For now.

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