Let’s Talk About Pet Peeves

MR gets tired of my rants when I get started. This will be a forum for Pet Peeves, shared stories of what irritates me, and for you if you care to join in.

Probably the most irritating Pet Peeve for me is someone who launches into a diatribe from a personal bias or prejudice, and cites published works of a nut-case whose statements have been disproved over and over by reliable sources. The anti-vaccination folks are among that crowd. Hans von Sparkovsky is another of note. Partial recitation of information that skews the meaning of the published information is the basis, and used by many who want to instill fear or hatred.

On a milder note, those pesky drivers who roar up behind you on the interstate, hover on your rear bumper for miles when they have many opportunities to pass, then whip around and blast off, pull right in front, only to slow down in your lane so that you have to kick it our of cruise. On our last trip, I passed the same care six (6) times because the driver would slow down until I pulled out to pass, then speed up until I pulled back in behind, only to slow down again. I managed to overtake him in traffic, passed him, then watched as he sped around me again when the traffic cleared. This happened on the dual lane highway 220 south of Asheboro and Rockingham.

Another traffic Pet Peeve is the driver who approaches a semi in the right lane with intention of passing, but hesitates at the left rear corner of the trailer for miles, and then accelerates past in what looks like panic race. And the drivers who insist on staying in the left lane at speeds well below the regular traffic.

Perhaps the most frustrating traffic Pet Peeve for me is the driver who sneaks up on you from behind in what seems like a passing mode, but times it so that you are trapped behind the slower vehicle, and waits just to your left until you have to slow down, trapped by the traffic that backed up behind the idiot.

Another Pet Peeve in traffic is the law officer who does not obey the law he is sworn to uphold, by speeding when not on an emergency call, like transporting prisoners. I have witnessed many times the sheriff deputy travelling at speeds 20+ MPH over the limit with no lights, with prisoners in the car, probably on the way to court. Disrespect of the law breeds disrespect of the lawman.

Last Pet Peeve for today: Political ads that are blatantly spouting falsehoods. Both side are doing it and it is a turn-off. Maybe we can make that illegal? If we can get the money out of politics, maybe?

More Stories From The School Of Hard Knocks

The Radford office was re-staffed just before I was assigned there, because the prior manager had ripped off the company for about $300,000. How he got by with it without getting prosecuted is a story worth telling.

Most of the new loans were made to folks buying worn out used cars, ratty furniture, fake jewelry, and for paying medical bills. The dealers had an agreement with the loan company to finance those sales at interest rates that today look pretty mild. The maximum rate at that time was 18% per year. Today, those rates can go above 100% for payday or title loans, and for overdraft fees. The dealer got the sale closed, made a bundle on the markup, and sometimes a kickback payment called “dealer reserve.” I think that is still the practice in the car business.

There was just a hitch in Radford: the manager liked to play poker, not well, but often. He lost more than he won, and when he lost, he paid his gambling debts with company funds. How did he avoid getting caught by the company auditors? Easy. He made bogus loans to unsuspecting people who never understood that the papers they signed were for a loan, most often for a car that didn’t run more than a week.

The dealer got his gambling winnings, the office got the credit for new business development, and the manager got off the hook. For awhile, that worked pretty well. So well in fact that the manager got a promotion.

He was assigned as a new business development department, and that sent him to Florida to expand the business operations in that state. Only, you didn’t get to open a small loan shop in Florida at that time unless you were related to someone in high office. The only way to get into Florida was to buy an existing license and that was expensive.

The home office issued a cashiers check for $300,000, which was the asking price for the license he was going to buy. In his name.

You can guess the rest of the story, but I will save you the trouble. He moved his family to Florida, cashed the check, bought the license, and opened shop in his own name. When the company asked him how things were going, he replied “Just fine.” Only after a couple of months and no reports of business, they figured out the situation.

It was about that time the new Radford manager discovered that the book of business made up of the phony outstanding loans, were a complete mess, mostly bogus. Which gave the company many bad nights. The court said they gave him the money with no strings, so it was his.

It fell to the staff in Radford to clean up those bad debts, to collect any that had legitimacy, and to close out those that were bogus. Most of that work fell in my lap, and I spent four hard years chasing those debtors all over southwest Virginia. It makes for a lot if interesting stories, some sad tales, and a few funny instances. Mostly, it is about the desperate situations many folks endured resulting from less than honest people in powerful places, and their ignorance of financial matters.

The experience was worth a four year advanced degree in social studies. I just didn’t get the sheep skin on the wall.


The Right To Vote . . . The Duty To Vote. Mystery Ballot Amendment

One of the standing rules at the office was that you were urged to vote. It was considered not only a privilege of citizenship, but one of the civic duties of citizenship. The staff was admonished each election to learn about the issues and the positions of the candidates, and to take time to vote. And they were paid for the time it took to vote.

One of the recent media stories was about how a company urged their employees to vote, but in a particular way, for a specific candidate. That was not the way it was done at our office. The staff was urged to vote, as their choice of their private decision. No pressure was brought to direct them, except to get to the polls and vote.

In that neighborhood the votes run almost 90% for GOP/Conservatives regardless of the issues or the candidate’s qualifications. It is a deeply red community. It won’t be changing in any major way this cycle, as the political ads are strident and frequent compared to the DEM’s. Yet the candidate they will likely vote for has stated that he will make changes that will impact them in a negative way, by cutting social security, repealing the ACA health law, and gutting education, and restricting access to abortions. He is running on a anti-Obama platform, which has a strong appeal in the County. Which make no sense, except that it resonates.

It doesn’t seem to make any difference that the jobs are slowing growing, and the promised actions will not bring more jobs. He is suggesting that his election will re-open the coal mines and put thousands back to work. Not likely to happen. But is flies with the public.

We’ll see how many votes go for the incumbent, as a test of the determined Democrats. I don’t expect there will be more than the few percentages of the past.

Mystery ballot amendment?

One important side note: There is a question on a constitutional amendment which is a surprise. Nothing so far has been on the radar about it. Paraphrasing the question: “Do you agree or disagree that the constitution of Virginia be amended to change the tax codes so that the surviving spouse of a soldier killed in a war action be exempted from paying property taxes, as long as they do not remarry and the property is their primary residence?”

Of course I would want to extend that limited benefit to the surviving spouse, as a small repayment for their loss. Who wouldn’t agree? Except, their is already in the constitution of Virginia a provision that provides that benefit. So why the new amendment wording? The ballot does not explain.

But the pamphlet in the registrar’s office does. The new amendment would remove some of the present exemptions those survivors now enjoy. It would take away some of the exemptions already in the constitution, make them pay more taxes. (It is not easy to read and understand the pamphlet. It took four readings before the meaning was clear.)

I can only guess that someone wants to increase the revenue to the counties at the expense of military widows. It will only impact those on the lowest rung of economic society, and that is really a low blow. Who entered this sly amendment change? So far I haven’t been able to dig that out. I wonder if you know? Is that person a vocal supporter of our military families?


GUIGC: The Subject Of Bicycles

I had lunch with Ed and Harry this week, sharing memories of growing up in Grandin Court, as we did some planning for the Rec Center Reunion party on November 2. The talk got around to adventures we had involving bikes. Mostly, they were stories of treks to Salem, Starkey, school, and southeast Roanoke.

One memory sticks in my mind: Ed had a good bike with a big saddle, and strong legs. He rode that bike to Salem to see Ms. Althea Peel, fifth grade teacher at Virginia Heights Elementary school. Ms. Peel called his mother and Ed got heat when he got home. (More stories later about Ms. Peel and her 1937 Chevy.)

That wasn’t the only bike ride to Salem. On one excursion, Ed and I rode his bike to the truck by-pass on old Rt.11 that goes by what is now the Salem Civic Center grounds. At that time, it was a farmer’s field of corn. We went out Lee Highway past Roberts pool, crossed the N&W railroad tracks, the Virginian tracks, and almost to Lakeside amusement park, with me riding on the seat, and Ed doing the pumping. We gathered all the corn silk we could hold, and made smokes when we got back, using toilet paper to roll the silk. I suspect Ed was pretty tired by then.

We rode to Starkey a few times, out Brambleton Ave to Merriman Road to the old Starkey Post Office. There was a small school house there across the road from a small country store. The old school house is still there. Coming back, we went past what is now Tanglewood Mall, and back across Ogden Road to Colonial Ave, across Wright Road to Brambleton, and back home to Montvale. Lots of hills between here and there.

Today, the vehicle traffic makes such rides very dangerous, and especially so for kids. Heck, its even dangerous in a car today. And we had no helmets, no gears to shift, and big soft balloon tires.

Harry had a few biking tales to share as well, and I will gather those for another telling.

Dottie related stories of bike parades at the Center with playing cards pinned to the spokes with clothes pins for the motor sounds. The bikes were decorated with bunting, crepe paper streamers, flags and balloons. I remember kazoo bands and dish-pan drums that marched along with the bike parade. There may have been a baton twirler in there, too.

Send your adventure tales for the common good, and I’ll put them up here. In the meantime, keep on cranking.


Respect For The Law, Respect For Society

One principle of a successful modern society is a general respect for the laws of that society. For the most part, folks generally honor the laws of their community, at least in the spirit if not in the letter.

For instance, a lot of us will stretch the speed limits a few MPH in the flow of traffic. In many cases, keeping up with the flow is more important as a safety issue than strict observance of the law. In North Carolina, for instance, many drivers expect no problem at ten miles over the limit.

One of my pet peeves is the disrespect of the law by those who are charged with enforcing those laws. When a law officer doesn’t abide by the law, it creates a general disrespect in the public for the laws in general. Take for example the many patrolmen and women who cruise along the highway well over the speed limit, not on an emergency run, but just cruising. As he/she passes others who are following the law, he/she creates the impression of being above the law, and that causes the rest to feel like the laws are not important, not to be respected. It is like the “broken window” theory: one broken window invites more broken windows. One officer disobeying the law, invites others to disrespect the law, and the officer.

One enterprising gentleman in Washington state has a different approach. In a recent story, Gavin Seim in Grant County, Washington, pulled over an unmarked police vehicle, and asked to see the officer’s ID. The law in Washington is specific, that no official vehicle in the State is to be unmarked, unless for the specific purpose of undercover operations. The law is clear, but the office was not aware of the law. Or not respecting the law, more likely. He is on record now.

Unmarked police vehicles used in traffic stops are dangerous, because there is no way to be certain that the occupant is a real officer. The purpose of unmarked cars is to trap offenders, not prevent offenses. It might be a revenue producer?

Observe the traffic response next time you are on the road and see a well marked and visible police vehicle cruising or sitting along the highway. Traffic slows, people obey the laws, drive more carefully, and generally behave as they should. The mere presence of the marked police car controls the highways much more effectively than any hidden or unmarked patrol car can ever do. It just doesn’t generate revenue.

Let’s encourage the officers of the law charged with enforcing those laws to respect those laws. Failure to do so breeds the general disrespect for the law and the officers that undermines our society.


Hard Knocks’ School Lessons, Kids As Victims

As a neophyte just getting his feet wet in reality, I was often shocked by the conditions in which I saw people living.. Just west of Salem, not more than 2 miles from downtown and the cluster of nice  homes in which most folks resided, were a few homes on the side of Ft.Lewis mountain.  These would best be described as shacks. No, maybe “hovels”.

The ones I saw had no running water, and no electricity, possibly a wood fired stove, and a dirt floor. The worst one of these had no toilet inside or out, just a pot in the corner for a family of five children and their parents. The yard was littered with feces, trash, and busted up mystery items, all scattered around the area the children used for their play. If you can call it play.

The best of the worst had a floor, but the spaces between the floor boards were wide enough to see daylight through them. No door closed out the cold, just a flimsy ratty sheet hung with rusty nails. The slab siding covering the old log cabin was splintered, some planks drooping down to the ground, exposing the gaps in the logs.

Moldy bread crusts lay on the small folding table in the kitchen, and rodent droppings were around the floor. Only some plastic plates stacked on the table showed that there had been a meal at one time. How long ago? The kids said two days. That was when the parents left them for a trip somewhere. The kids didn’t know where or when their parents would return. Around the other room were scattered dirty blankets and mats which I suppose was where they slept. I saw one kerosene lamp with a small amount of oil.

The well pump outside was broken, so that the oldest kid, a scrawny girl of about 8, had trouble pumping water. On this day, the pump was frozen. They had not eaten for two days, she said, and now the well was frozen, so nothing to drink.

The youngest kid was in a diaper, which drooped from its bottom. Soiled diaper, and nothing else. She was hefted on her sister’s hip. All the kids were in rags, and blue with the cold. The kids stared at me as if they had not seen another human before, like pictures of native tribes in Brazil in National Geographic.

Did the parents go away like this often, I asked? Sometimes, she answered. How long, I asked? Sometimes for a week or more, but then that was in the summer, she replied. This was different.

Their aunt lived a mile or so down the mountain, in a modest home next to the state road. She advised me to leave and not come back, to forget the kids because their father had threatened to kill anyone who messed with the kids, including her. Do you know where they are, I asked? No, she replied. They go off like this whenever he gets a few dollars from a job or by selling something he picks up. Probably in a motel somewhere drinking.

How could anyone not be moved by these kids’ plight? I went back to town to the Social Services office. They were aware of the kids’ situation, aware that their parents often left them alone for days without food or water, and now no heat. Why had they not acted to protect them? No one had filed a complaint. I did then and there. The lady said it would take several days before a case worker would investigate.

I’m too impatient for that. I went back to the cabin, and gathered those kids in my VW, and took them to the Social Services office. While they warmed up and got some snacks, I went to the court house across the street and visited the judge. He agreed to issue an order to place the kids in foster homes until the case could be processed. They would at least be fed and kept from freezing for awhile.

Case closed, right? Not quite. Their father returned a week later and went ballistic when he discovered the kids were gone. He ranted at the Social services folks, came to my office threatening everybody in sight with bodily harm. His rants fell on deaf ears.

The parents were convicted of child abuse and endangerment and the kids were placed in foster homes. I think there were jail terms for both the parents, at least I hope so.

That was in the winter of 1958-59. I often wonder what became of those kids.


More Lessons At The School Of Hard Knocks

Collecting bad debts is not the glamorous glory job it is made out to be. Long hours in bad social situations, for minimum pay, all while facing hostile debtors who were as ready to fight as to shoot, came with the job. For some reason, I gained the reputation for tracking down the “skips” who had run out on their debt, hoping to avoid repayment. I spent hours turning over rocks to find those who had disappeared down a rat hole. And I got pretty good at it.

Most of my time was spent on the road, going from one account to the next, usually 15 to 20 accounts each day covering over a 200+ mile ride in the greater southwest part of Virginia.  Some of those folks were just having a bad day of it, and with a little help, got back in good graces with the company. We did help many who just didn’t have the monetary skills to understand the rules of finance. Some, of course, were really deadbeats, and it was my job to prod them into submission. In those cases, pushing the limits was the reality, and not pretty. I appeared in a number of court cases suing to collect the unpaid bill.

Sometimes things got ugly. The bad ones could get physical, including assault and battery, using tools as weapons, and knives and guns were always a possibility. In the city, people got angry really fast, but cooled down after awhile. In the rural areas, people stayed cool up to a point, but when they got mad, they stayed mad. And they acted on it.

One family had the reputation of shooting first and asking who it was knocking on their door later. I learned to “hallo the house” before leaving the car, just in case. After several visits, which took crossing the low water bridges across Big Reed creek, in flood stage, the man made it clear he was never going to pay the bill for the furniture he had used the money for. Even though he worked at the Radford Arsenal( making more than triple what I earned). My boss went back the next day, and when the man refused to make any efforts to repay, took all the furniture out into the road and set it on fire. I was a bit nervous over that, but he said if the man wasn’t going to pay for it, he wasn’t going to sit on it.

There was a family of several sons and daughters, their spouses, and children near Riner  in a compound of houses set around a common lawn area. All the houses faced inward, and was over a mile from the paved roads. When I approached the compound, no one was around, not a soul stirred. It was like a scene from an old western movie. Eerie is the best description.

I walked around the lawn area, “hellowed” the house a couple of times when I glimpsed a slight movement in an upstairs window curtain. After a few minutes, the man came out from behind the house, and we talked a bit. He was cool, but determined to not honor his debt. In addition, he told me in plain terms to never return there again, or he would shoot me. That was not a good feeling. A few days later, he did come to the office and paid some on his bill.

Most of the time, I  got folks to start repaying their loans, and even helped a few out of dire circumstances. I’ll tell those stories later.

Four years of knocking on doors was enough.