Namaste. It is 5:16 a.m.
High winds and blowing snow (we got a couple of inches last night) are delaying schools around the area; my school system, Howard, remains open. I don’t expect us to have a delayed opening. The storm intensifies as you head north, and Howard County is west and a little south of Baltimore.
I wanted to talk a little more about what happened Wednesday at Starbucks and the dangers of zero tolerance when it comes to enforcing the rules. Also, at the end of this post, I am including the letter that I wrote and sent to the local papers, chamber of commerce, and community organizations. I’m not sure what responses, if any, I might get. At least I shared my views on the problems with Towson, hopefully opening up some kind of discussion about the lack of community spirit in our town.
The dangers of zero tolerance. Cases all around the country are reaching the media spotlight. Just a few weeks ago, a 12-year-old student in New York wrote on her desk, with a green marker, “I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10.” She violated the school system’s graffiti and school-defacing policy and was handcuffed in front of her peers and taken to the police station.
Cases like this are becoming more common, as if the rules and regulations designed out of fear have given us permission to act autonomously, without reason, and without due consideration of the circumstances surrounding the event.
Certainly, Starbucks and other small businesses with exclusive parking lots want to protect themselves against people who use their few parking spaces to go elsewhere. They are kind enough to offer convenient and free parking to its customers. The question is, what constitutes a customer? I spent 90 minutes in our Starbucks, eating and drinking with a friend, before walking across the street to the University to meet my students for about the same amount of time. When I came back, both my Jeep and my friend’s car were being towed. We had violated the Private Property statement, warning people who park in the Starbucks lot must patronize the small coffee shop or have your vehicle towed.
That’s exactly what we did, though. Starbucks was our destination, our anchor, our home for this meeting. I planned on making yet another purchase before leaving for home as well (of course, after giving them $100 in cash for a kill fee to drop my Jeep, I wasn’t in the spirit to spend any more money).
This is the problem with Zero Tolerance. It does not take into consideration any aspects of the bigger picture. To places like Starbucks, the message it sends is clear: We do not care about our contributions to the greater Towson area, nor do we care about what happens to you should you decide to leave our coffee shop. The concept of a neighborly place to stop while doing other things about town is destroyed when aggressive efforts are taken to watch who arrives and when, track where they go after leaving the store, and then punish them should they decide to do anything but leave the store altogether.
Nice message, Starbucks. Nice.
When I met with the Starbucks manager after my Jeep was lowered back to the ground, I suggested that, if this is a problem where people are just parking and running elsewhere, or if you notice that a car is parked in the lot for an extended period (I hardly think 90 minutes is extended; I spend three times that amount in most coffee shops when I’m writing) and you cannot find the owner, offer a warning the first time. Let them know that you appreciate their business, but you like the spaces to be “refreshed” if you plan on leaving the cafe for an extended experience in Towson before returning.
The manager said she would pass that along to her supervisor. We’ll see.
Here’s my letter that I sent last night to the local media and community associations. As I mentioned above, if all it does is create a discussion about this topic that may lead to some rethinking and relaxing about zero tolerance when it comes to parking in Towson, great. I don’t want to sit here and just complain. I’d like to see some of the leaders in our area address this concern, as I am sure I am not alone in being victimized by this effort to keep Towson a friendly-free place to spend a few hours. (Mr. Joyner is the editor of the Towson Times.)
A recent trip to Starbucks on York Road, just across the street from Towson University, turned out to be a costly cup of coffee. After spending about 90 minutes in the cafe with a friend, we walked across Bosley Ave. to meet a few of my students on campus. When we returned about 90 minutes later, both of our cars were being towed away. We each paid about $100 to kill the tow and were grateful that we arrived before they left the parking lot. The message we received, however, was far more significant than to buy our coffee elsewhere.
Unfortunately, Starbucks’ exclusivity in parking rights is not uncommon in Towson. Private Property signs are posted in many parking lots along York and Dulaney Valley roads, stating very clearly that parking is limited to its members, and that those using the parking lots for any other purpose than patronizing that specific business will result in your vehicle being towed. Even in the heart of Towson, if you try to park under the garage between Macy’s and Barnes and Noble to shop at the bookstore, Trader Joe’s, or Pier One Imports, your vehicle will be towed, even if you have some mall shopping to do as well.
The message we get is clear: Towson businesses are concerned only with their own specific customers, and only when they are shopping in their respective stores. Any attempts made by the Towson Business Association to make Towson a more neighborly community will be nothing more than good intentions at best. We park our cars in Towson to stay in our community, spending our money in different establishments that we’d like to keep in town long after this recession subsides. It is unfortunate that we’re being forced to go elsewhere to spend our money and hold on to that community feeling that continues to erode, right in our back yard.