Friday, October 30, 2009

Rite Aid on East Broadway in Southie - Shamefully Towing Cars

Parking in Southie is not always an easy endeavor. Between the lack of weeknight parking for non-resident overnight guests, to the space-saving in the winter, there's many rules - written and unwritten - that make things difficult to predict the outcomes (will the city ticket me if I park here, will some angry dude named Sully smash my windshield if I move his cone, etc.)

But sometimes, when the accepted norms are suddenly disrupted, I'm irritated.

Case in point - the parking lot next to Rite Aid on East Broadway (formerly Brooks Pharmacy).

View Larger Map

I've lived here for over 6 years. I have parked in that lot many times - sometimes to patronize Rite Aid, other times to simply run into the bank or grab a bite at the Boston Beer Garden or the Playwright. I never leave my car there overnight.

Apparently, they are now towing cars after Rite Aid closes. Mike mentioned something about it on the walk over last night, and my friend Dan posted something this morning about how all of his friends' cars were towed last night.

Technically, it's a one-hour parking limit for patrons of Rite Aid. I was never sure how they would regulate that during the day while Rite Aid was open (they close at 9 or 10pm), but the signs are posted.

I don't think that I have ever found that lot completely full when I needed to run into the store. Not once.

When I left the Beer Garden last night around 11pm, there were probably about 15 cars parked in the lot that held at least 5-6 times that amount. I remember noticing because of what Mike had mentioned earlier.

This lot is entirely unused after 10pm. Tow cars after 2am if you must, thereby preventing overnight parkers. But it's a given that patrons of those two restaurant/bars need somewhere to park, unless they are local and walking.

I realize that it's private parking. But figure something out.

Do the owners of Boston Beer Garden and The Playwright (which are co-owned) need to pay Rite Aid for the right for patrons to park there safely and not depart to find missing cars? Should Rite Aid simply grin and bear it, and be a neighborly member of Southie?

Either way, if people think that they run the risk of towed cars if they patronize these bars after 10pm, they might stop driving to those establishments.

(# of cars) x (# of people per car) x (# of drinks per person) x (7 nights) = lots and lots of lost revenue for the bars and tax revenue for the city.

The high school atop G St. is neighborly, and those of us who live nearby appreciate it. During the school year, it's explicitly clear that parking from 6:15am-4:30pm is entirely forbidden, and cars will be towed. But on weekends and while school is not in session (holidays, all summer), the lot is fair game. They don't have to do that, but they do. It's a nice gesture to relieve some of our parking woes temporarily.

Again - I realize that this is Rite Aid's rule AND signs are clearly marked. And my car was not towed, nor the vehicles owned by my friends. I'm not personally irritated because I didn't follow a rule and was caught.

I'm saying change the rule. Now, they are actually doing the towing that they threatened.

I'd just think that for the good of those after-hours businesses on East Broadway, and the fact that cars parked there after 10pm do not adversely affect Rite Aid's operations, I think they should change their rule.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stealing Quarters from My Car in NYC

I'm finding it hard to believe that it's been well over three years since I worked for the market research / consulting company that occupied my time from 1997-2006. I look back at that time in my life and wonder how I was able to keep up with the travel schedule. Back then, social media hadn't exploded, the economy hadn't collapsed, and I lived out of my suitcase for 120-150 nights each year.

I went from a childhood of little travel, to a European adventure upon graduation from college, to a world of business travel. From ages 26-31 or 32, I can't even count how many upgrades I received on airplanes. It became a game. An addiction. I still have almost 300,000 frequent flier miles from that period.

Every so often, I am reminded of that past life as if it were only yesterday.

Case in point - my recent trip to NYC. I was in town for my friend's wedding, and had the pleasure of playing tourist during the hours between the ceremony and reception. I sat atop a double-decker bus and enjoyed being driven around midtown Manhattan on a lovely Saturday afternoon.

As we drove up 6th Avenue, we reached 54th St. and The Warwick Hotel, a building where I spent many hours. Function space in Manhattan was always ridiculously expensive, and I somehow found my way to this hotel as a good base from which we could rent space and conduct our surveys when a night in Manhattan was required. I even stayed overnight there a bunch of times, often being upgraded to beautiful suites for some odd reason. They must have associated my name with being the on-site contact for a catering event, and realized that we consistently spent a ton of coin with them.

Life on the road involved lots of waiting punctuated with bouts of sheer frenzy. Our 2 1/2 hour surveys barely had time for five minute breaks, but I was dead-set on finishing on time at all costs. Driving to airports with reckless abandon, scurrying around to find FedEx-owned shipping centers, trying to hunt down dinner at 11:30 pm - a life of glamour, it was not.

I always preferred the "local" work - anything from DC to Boston when I lived in NJ, and anything within the NYC-Albany-Burlington VT-Boston area when I lived in Boston. All of that was drivable. Whereas my colleagues almost always had to fly everywhere, I got to spend lots of time in my personal car, conveying a minor sense of normalcy within a crazy road-based job.

When in NYC and conducting events at The Warwick Hotel, I used to park at this garage. The hotel did not own the facility, but had an arrangement with them for hotel guests. I don't know how many times it took me to figure this out, but there was a period where I would retrieve my car only to discover that ALL of my quarters had been stolen.

I knew this because I always kept my coin holder full, coins heads-up (of course). And the coins were gone every time.

I'll admit to having a temper at times.

After one particularly stressful evening, I decided that I had enough of this.

I picked up my car, drove up the ramp, turned onto the one-way 54th St., saw the missing quarters, double-parked my car, and marched right back into the parking garage to scream at anyone who would listen. I called them all thieves and warned the other patrons who were standing around that they stole from people who parked there.

I didn't care that it was a handful of change. That wasn't the point. If they were slimy enough to steal 10 quarters from me every time I parked there, they were pathetic in my book.

After the attendant finally walked away from me after a few minutes of my angry screaming and accusations, I walked back into The Warwick, still flustered, and recounted my story to the hotel manager. He apologized profusely, and while he told me that they did not own the garage, he somehow placated me to the point that I appreciated whatever gesture he extended. I don't remember if it was free parking or a free room, but either way, I was happy he listened and responded.

To this day, I always check my quarters after I valet my car. It's not the money. It's the principle and the integrity of the establishment that are in question.

I did none of this to receive anything. But when I'm wronged, I feel the need to speak up. This was pre-blogs, pre-Yelp, pre-Twitter. Rest assured, if I had those tools back then, I would have utilized them with fervor.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Deathwish?

Should I have the misery of going missing for a few days, folks might want to check local emergency rooms. I'm about to head to a local Southie bar here in Boston, wearing a Yankees cap.

After all, it is the World Series.

But, this could be the end of me...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dead Car Battery

I have been driving around Jeep Grand Cherokees since 1996. Over 13 years with one car company and brand. During that time frame, I have owned a whopping two different vehicles.

My philosophy with cars is practicality and utilitarian. I realize that they are financial strains that depreciate in value the moment you sign the papers and exhale. I drive them until they drop.

My current Jeep is sitting at just over 77,000 miles and has dents and dings adorning the bumper and chassis. The interior is in great condition, my radio and speakers sound great, and I have heated leather seats. It's comfortable and fully paid off - the perfect car to park on the city streets of Boston.

At this point in my vehicle's life, I need to anticipate problems.

Case in point, Saturday night.

I was headed to a friend's poker night in Cambridge, and was instructed to bring "good beer." So I parked illegally on the side of Mass Ave (in a "spot" marked "No Parking Here to Corner") and threw on my 4-way flashers. I ran through the pouring rain into the corner store, bought a six pack, and returned to my car to learn that it would not restart.

I turned the key, the gauges flickered and freaked out a bit, and the engine would not even attempt to turn over. Immediately, I expected the worst, but figured, in the back of my mind, that my battery was dead.

Cambridge isn't super far from my home in Southie, and since I was parked somewhere that would likely get me towed, I needed to figure something out. So I called AAA for assistance.

About 40 minutes later, a tow truck showed up with another vehicle already attached, making me hope that what I needed was a jump and not a tow, which obviously would have forced me to wait a bit longer.

This would have been a scene from a horror movie if I was stranded somewhere along a dark, desolate road - driving rain, dead battery, no cell service, vulnerable passenger. But I was pretty good-to-go with my GPS, iPhone, and beer.

We got the car started, and I was on my way (nervously) back to Southie, fully expecting to stall out in the I-93 tunnel. But that never happened. I limped into a parking spot, turned the car off, and tried to restart it just to see what would happen. Dead.

Sunday morning, I employed Mike to bring my to AutoZone and help change the battery. I must admit, the process of unscrewing rusted bolts underneath a car hood that wouldn't stay open on its own (without holding it or lodging a wrench in it) was not easy. But Mike is far handier than I, even without full use of his dominant left hand (broken pinkie still healing).

My new battery looks fancy, and I'm expecting it to last me until the Jeep kicks it, whenever that happens. I'm hoping to get at least another 40,000 miles out of it, and at the rate I'm adding miles these days, that puts be in late 2013.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween in New Hampshire

Last weekend, Mike, Jeff, and I headed north to New Hampshire for a Halloween party thrown by Mike's aunt.

I will admit that living the single life in Boston, I'm not amid children all that often these days. There aren't that many kids in my extended family yet, and my career doesn't put me in front of youth all that much.

So going from zero to thirty screaming eight year olds is like skipping a season or two, and having a beach day after a snowfall.

Either way, it was a great way to spend the afternoon and evening. I'm not sure if Mike invited me for the company or for my photo snapping skills. Probably a bit of both :) Either way, I knew that I had a responsibility to capture the precious moments.

Mike's aunt goes all out for Halloween - nothing like I had even seen in a residential setting. Decorations EVERYWHERE, themed food, drinks, and games, and even a haunted house in the basement. The kids loved it. As they lined up to enter the haunted basement, an impromptu "you're gonna die" chant broke out (which I found a bit disturbing), but it soon died down as the first few kids emerged, thrilled expressions that they survived the underground darkness.

While Mike played with his nieces, Jeff and I surveyed the children and wondered where they resided in their cliques at school. Who were the cool kids? Who were the nerds? Who were the quiet ones? Who was popular? We picked out our favorite Halloween costumes of the bunch. I think he preferred the Chinese Take Out container to Paula Abdul (my favorite), but don't remember for sure. Actually, I don't know if she was supposed to be Paula, but that's what I called her behind her back.

Mike has a terrible sweet tooth - put him in a room with a bowl of candy, and it will be gone within minutes. Me, on the other hand...I can usually resist. However, in true Halloween fashion, I consumed far more candy than was necessary.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Failed Ticket Broker

For some strange reason, I thought I would give buying and reselling event tickets on StubHub a shot. I did some investigation into the legality of such activity here in Massachusetts, and learned that as long as I'm not selling tickets for other events in Mass, I should be in the clear.

So, I checked online for some forthcoming concert tours that might lend to quick sellouts and high demand for secondary-market tickets. I zeroed in on one artist.

Kelly Clarkson.

I figured she was still pretty hot, and was playing venues that weren't enormous.

My strategy was picking some large markets or unique venues, and going for it. On the list were Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC, Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, and - in a why not decision - Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.

I searched for presale codes, and managed to score many of the ticket in presale or right when they went on sale. Before I knew it, I had 5 pairs of tickets, and was in the hole about $900.

I registered with StubHub and posted all of the tickets for sale, pricing them accordingly as to how the market appeared to be setting itself. My calculations projected about $1,400 in revenue after StubHub fees, posting a tidy 55% profit in just a month or two.

Or so I thought.

Weeks went buy, and the tickets languished there on StubHub. I lowered the price once.

Then again.

And again.

We're quickly approaching the event dates, and I'm still holding all 5 of these pairs. Grrr.

Mentally, at this point, I have already written the cash off. The tickets were bought and paid for, and I had paid my credit card bill. Anything I could recoup would simply be found money, I figured.

It was time to salvage something. Anything.

So I started slashing prices and turned to the murky waters of Craiglist to find buyers. Thankfully, I managed to unload the Portland tickets (first, actually), followed by the NYC ones. Each buyer essentially received a 2-for-1 deal.

The Mohegan Sun tickets - where I bought two pairs - went unsold. I doubled down and ended up with a measly 14 against the dealer's 20. Yuck. I sent the tickets to my friend Stacey and told her to have fun, which she did.

That left the Las Vegas tickets. One final pair for a show in early November. Somehow, I got lucky, and a buyer snatched them up on StubHub. Oddly enough, I think I even managed a small profit (10%) after fees and shipping charges. I FedEx'ed those tickets away yesterday, and am now thankfully without any remaining inventory.

So, my life as a ticket broker was a short, unprofitable one. I ended up in the hole about $500, or about half the cost of the new kitchen table I'm eyeing. But, I'll chalk it up as a lesson that I won't likely attempt again.

I'm now receiving a ton of emails from Ticketmaster. They must think I'm Kelly's biggest fan.