Author Archives: Carl Incognito
Being that I own a bar and restaurant in Portland, Oregon, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission yields significant influence on many aspects of my business. All sales of alcohol in this state, retail or wholesale, fall directly under the jurisdiction of the OLCC, which is a state agency. In short, the state of Oregon is in the liquor business. It sets prices and policy, enforces compliance, and doles out punishment.
Rightly so, the OLCC is concerned with underage drinking. So concerned, that they have implemented a decoy program. They hire 19 and 20 year old kids with valid ID’s to enter bars and try to order alcohol. Agents and police officers hide outside so that if any of these young decoys are actually served, they return service with a violation and fine for both the employee who accepted the ID and the establishment itself. This is expensive for first time offenders and perhaps decimating for repeat offenders.
If your establishment has a spotless record with regards to serving minors, you are awarded entrance into OLCC’s Responsible Vendor Program. I am very proud to say that my bar has been a part of this program for the last 4 years. However, I’m not sure about our status after this last Thursday night. One of my longest tenured employees, a lovely and responsible young mother and wife who has been working for me for over 11 years, got pinched by a decoy.
The summer months are extremely busy for us. Our one bartender serves the entire bar and makes all the drinks for an outdoor patio that can seat 80-100 people. We were not at capacity on Thursday around 8pm, but we were humming for sure. K simply said that the ’92 in the D.O.B section of the ID handed to her by the young customer looked like an ’82 and she accepted it. It was nothing more than an honest mistake at exactly the wrong time.
Within minutes the decoy was gone and replaced by two OLCC agents and two police officers. K was issued paperwork stating she was being charged with a crime, fined $350, and was ordered to appear in court in about 4 weeks. I, as owner, will be fined in the neighborhood of $1,100. For any small business and for any service industry worker, these are no small amounts. Factor in the current state of the economy and things feel even worse.
I’m lucky to say that this fine will not put me out of business. I intend to appear in court with K for support and will help her with the fine in any way I can. The younger man who was me 13 years ago would be arguing and crying foul all day long. The current me knows to pick his battles better than that and only focus on avoiding the same mistake again in the future.
Yet I can’t help but ask: is this decoy program entrapment? And is it an attempt by a government agency to increase revenue in a down economy? Like other government programs or agencies, they can point to good intentions as their cover. But my conservative nature knows better than to blindly accept all the consequences of those intentions when they are executed by a resource-devouring government behemoth.
Stay tuned. There will probably be more to follow on this later.
No political slant needed for this one.
In the neighborhood where my establishment is located, the underworld pulse is strong with drug and criminal activity. The naïve won’t notice it, at least at first. To them this place is a quaint, historical district with lots of character and charming people. Personally, as I approach my 13thyear in this part of Portland, I can almost smell the debauchery. That is, when I can’t see it. The denizens of these streets identify themselves as participants by manner, dress, behavior, and also by a vibe that I’ve learned to pick up on that I really can’t describe. (This is further evidence that I’ve been here too long.) Mark Edward Olson is no different. Although I’ve never met him, I’ve observed enough to not be surprised at what I learned last Sunday morning.
In the apartment building directly across the street from my bar, he was repeatedly stabbed and left for dead around 6am. Death didn’t find him, as of yet, but it’s clear that a lot of other trouble has. I mean, it took no effort at all to find his mug shot. This particular one is for an earlier arrest involving methamphetamine. So, as Mr. Olson lays in the hospital in critical condition, the question that comes to my mind is, are there really any innocent parties here? Sure, there was a victim of horrible violence who may or may not survive. But isn’t it clear that he simply reaped what he sowed? And should they ever get out of jail, isn’t it safe to assume the two arrested for this incident will meet a related kind of fate?
I’ve learned a few truths about this aspect of my underworld. One is that addiction is indeed a disease, but it’s one ignited by bad decision making which is launched by an absence of a moral foundation. This void can usually be placed at the feet of uninvolved parents. Secondly, street justice has a way of evening itself out. Innocence doesn’t exist in the underworld, so each action is an affront to someone with the mentality to exact revenge. The future isn’t often considered. Consequences are never considered. Rather, getting even and getting “rich” while maintaining credibility within peer groups is all that matters.
Of course, this is all relatively short lived. Morgues and prisons put a stop to at least this version existence. It remains to be seen if Mr. Olson will end up in either after this incident. And if he doesn’t, I have no doubt he’ll get another shot soon.
Portland, Oregon is a notoriously liberal city, in culture, policy, attitude, pretty much you name it. It’s also my hometown. I’ve lived here most of my life and I’ve owned and operated a small business here for the last 13 years. I’ve also been raised as a conservative, by a traditional, nuclear family. I was taught to know the history of the United States of America, to recognize all of it’s unmatched successes in providing freedom and opportunity, and to truthfully admit that making any fundamental changes to any of it would be grossly counter-productive. I mean, in baseball you don’t break up a team that wins 100 games each and every year do you? However, all of this makes me a square peg trying to live in the round hole that is Portland. In my normal, day-to-day activity, there is no one else around me who shares my views on culture and politics. All of my liberal friends are typical in that they’re very good at telling me what they don’t have and who’s fault it is. So, I smile (at best) when I hear such things and remember that I’m a loner and a novelty to those who have learned what I’m about. But being in this minority is something I wouldn’t change. It’s provided great perspective and enhanced my convictions.
So, below are the top 9 reasons I’m the square peg in Portland. 9 is a weird number for a list, but then Portland is a weird city.
#9: I volunteer one hour a week at a local grade school. So many around me lament, every year, how our public schools are starving for funds. No one seems to do anything about it other than say that I should be paying more taxes. They can’t be bothered themselves, but they’re certainly capable of wanting to be generous with other people’s money.
#8: I don’t participate in political protests. However, I did attend two different anti-war rallies several years ago. I wanted first hand experience. I saw President Bush burned in effigy. The lesbian couple directly in front of me knelt down to tell who I assumed was their little girl that her President was a murderer and that she should be frightened of him. But then I also saw a clever young man walking around without a shirt, holding an unmarked bucket asking for cash donations to help end the war. Pockets and purses were reached for and I had to laugh. It is indeed true what they say about fools and their money.
#7: I understand the fundamentals of business and economics. There is money that comes in, and there is money that goes out. I know which one of those figures needs to be greater. The city of Portland, many of its residents, and our current federal government for that matter, needs to figure that out.
#6: I work too much to always be hanging out in coffee shops. It’s no secret that 40% of America pays no income tax. I’m part of the unlucky 60%. And the same Portlanders that I see every day sitting in the same shops reading their books seem uneasy when they realize that they’ve become familiar to me. They remember that I saw them in the same spot yesterday, and likely the day before. That’s when eye contact becomes less and less frequent.
#5: I’m news savvy and skeptical of the media that delivers it to me. Finding in-depth conversation on current events is difficult, and I even work in a very social atmosphere. When I search, most folks tell me about something they heard from a friend or saw on Jon Stewart. But regardless, I can count on hearing things like it’s Bush’s fault, Texas sucks, and rich people are screwing up the works. (Note: In this context, “rich” is a term used to describe anyone who makes more money than the person using that term.)
#4: I’m not an artist. This is not by choice, however. I was just born without artistic talent. But everyone else in Portland seems to be and none of them can seem to understand why the photo they took or the sculpture they made or the painting they painted isn’t selling for the $200 they’re asking. The concepts of disposable income during a recession, and prioritizing when funds are not unlimited, seems to be lost on them.
#3: I did not vote for Barack Obama. When I walked into my establishment that November night of 2008, I was quite literally the only person who couldn’t muster a high five or celebratory hug. I was a buzz kill.
#2: I did vote for George Bush. One day after the 2004 election I saw a group of three that I’d never seen before enter the front door of my business. They found someone they knew, who knew me, and that person pointed directly at me. When they made their way over, one of them asked me, “are you that guy who voted for Bush?!”. As if an entire voting block consisted of just me. Which I guess is possible in this town.
#1: I was born into a loving family and my parents are still together. It’s flat out flabbergasting how everyone around me either never knew their dad, or have parents who hate each other, or have siblings in prison, or who were horribly abused by their fathers, or just plain don’t want to have anything to do with their families. But all of those people have street cred, that’s for sure!
Maybe all of this is just complaining. After all, Portland is a beautiful city. I don’t envision me ever leaving it. But how a stereotypically normal, everyday, traditional American kid like me can be so alien in his home city will forever perplex me. But hell, it sure keeps me on my toes.
Maintaining unemployment benefits is as easy as dialing a phone number, it would seem. I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve answered the phone at my business, only to hear the person on the other end methodically ask me if we’re hiring. Regardless of what I say, an overwhelming majority of those calls ends quickly as they hang up. Now bear in mind, the caller has no idea if I am a hiring authority. If they call in May and the answer happens to be yes, I can count on one hand how many have maintained the call long enough for me to give details. It wasn’t long before such calls really began to annoy me.
The frequency picked up as the recession worsened. Of course, as employment levels suffer, unemployment benefit claims rise. It then occurred to me that those calls were not sincere attempts to gain employment at my establishment, but rather they were required activity in order to maintain their state unemployment benefits. Calling me, asking that question, then hanging up constituted a job search, which is the key requirement to receiving the weekly check from the state.
Like every business, I pay taxes to the state. Part of that sum is put aside by the state of Oregon into an employment account. My contribution is specified and when someone becomes involuntarily unemployed and they file for benefits, my account is charged if my business was one of the last three to employ them. That is to say, should I terminate someone who then goes on to get another job somewhere else and they then get laid off there, when they file for unemployment my account is charged. Due to extensions granted by the state, this can go on for a very long time as long as that person is “looking for work.” A five second call to me, or to any business that answers the phone, satisfies this requirement.
Although I firmly believe that safety nets of some kind need to exist, I resent that the state behemoth can be so lax in knowing or understanding how so many can manipulate them into free money at no cost, other than to businesses. Being that I typically employ a younger person, it makes sense to me that a 23 year old just out of a job would be tempted to receive a weekly pay check from the state in return for nothing more than a brief phone call. Especially when that can go on indefinitely. Why work when a check just shows up in the mail every week?
Clearly, such a scenario only burdens the private sector even more and certainly does nothing to help that individual in the long run. A sense of entitlement with no effort sets in, and that can have long term, damaging results to our state and country. Although I’m unsure how to fix this specifically, I’d start by perhaps requiring that job search efforts be more substantial and that anyone receiving unemployment benefits needs to be required to work for the state in some capacity. That seems fair and is a good way to at least decrease the burden on the private sector.
I’m amazed at the clarity I gained from taking so many five second calls
Yeah, soccer and the Timbers work in Portland, but there’s a reason soccer doesn’t work in the US.
The Portland Timbers are the newest MLS team. They are thriving in their first season in my home city. Their new stadium is filled every game and I see Timbers gear being worn by the folks all over the place. It’s actually quite cool, to see a community rally behind a sports team. As an avid sports fan, I love it. But Portland is a weird city. Weird is our slogan. (I’m only half kidding.) And you wouldn’t find this love affair going on in almost any other part of America. We as a country just don’t embrace soccer like the rest of the world does. Here, it’s a niche sport and nothing more. And I understand why. As a person who played for nine seasons in my childhood, I feel my insight is valid.
In America, baseball, basketball, and football are king. Sure, they have the benefit of having almost a monopoly on media exposure. They do well in having their seasons neatly cover our calendar year. But most of all, they are sports with scoring, that have rules in place to avoid ties, have a clock or check down of game remaining for everyone to see, and are played by big, strong athletes that use their hands.
Soccer is a waste of good athletes. America is savvy enough to know this. The rest of the world simply is not. 90 minutes of ebb and flow producing a 1-0 score, or worse, a tie(?!) is not what our country wants to see. A clock that counts up and never stops leaves way too much room for corruption on the part of the officials (see several of the Euro leagues circa 2009 and 2010), and manipulation on the part of the players. I mean, why not fake an injury when your team is losing? The ref will just add a few minutes to the game, giving your team a chance to score and maybe at least tie the game. There is something inherently wrong with a sporting event being played in a stadium of sixty thousand people and only one person in the whole place knows when the game will be over.
Soccer has it’s place here. It’s a good child’s sport in which our youngest can learn the value of teamwork, commitment, and exercise. But it is no more than a vehicle to better sports with rules and formats more suited to the national audience. I for one am proud that my country tends to reject a sport with so many flaws. Let the kids play it. Then, when they become the greatest athletes in the world, let them play the American sports.
In my small business, offering perks to my employees is next to impossible. On the top of my wish list would be the opportunity to offer them health insurance. Many would say that as of recently, that became a possibility. That is sadly not so. I consider President Obama’s national healthcare bill to be perhaps the very worst piece of legislation passed in our country in my lifetime.
Health insurance and health care are two different things. And the president’s effort to extend the former to everyone has in turn driven up it’s cost while reducing the quality of the latter. Because providing opportunity through the free market runs contrary to them, this is a classic example of the liberal mindset of instead wanting to evenly spread misery across a population in the name of fairness.
Cost of healthcare is the issue here. What has been termed Obamacare doesn’t lower the cost of providing the health care. Rather, it expands the pool of those who drive up the costs and extends to the government the power to oversee it. And we all know the government doesn’t ever do things within budget.
How is forcing my employees to buy insurance they can’t afford helping them? How will fining them when they don’t buy it help? Why does a family of 4 making $88,200 a year need a government subsidy for their health insurance? Why do registered sex offenders need access to Viagra on the public dime? And I won’t even go into the publicly funded abortion issue for fear of smashing this keyboard.
I know the attitudes when debating topics such as this are partisan to a fault. I’m guilty as anyone. But to anyone who has ever been passionate about government spending, this ponzi scheme should enrage them. That, and the overt power grab in the assuming of 1/6 of our economy while mimicking the Eruo social democracies does me.
If we really want to make health insurance more affordable to my employees, as I do, then this isn’t the way. Rather, it’s the work of blatant ideologues. There are more affordable, and I’d say effective, things we could try first (say, eliminating state boundaries for the insurance market. Or tort reform, maybe.) They are not interested in those things. They don’t want them getting in the way of their frightening agenda.
This is Big Brother, but in real life. Ignorance, or a complete rejection of the American way, are the only reasons anyone would believe him when he says he’s got good intentions.
The lending market: the ins and outs are complex, but I do know that I can’t get an equity loan for my business.
As I write this, we are two days away, supposedly, to the deadline when our nation must raise our debt limit or default on our debt. Those last four words are nothing more than a ridiculous scare tactic. Avoiding default is done by making interest payments on debt, which can be done with relative ease regardless of what happens. Now that’s not saying we shouldn’t raise the debt limit anyways, but I bring this up only to say that scare tactic or not, markets, including lending markets, can and will react to whatever action takes place as the network of participants decipher the situation in their own ways.
This brings me to my main point, which is far from strictly related to the current fiscal issue making the headlines. Small businesses all over the country, who are charged with maintaining the lion’s share of private sector employment, are finding it next to impossible to get a business loan. The reasons are many, but they all center around the uncertainty swirling around our country’s economy and recently imposed federal regulations on what exactly a bank’s balance sheet is supposed to look like. What is certain, and I speak from direct experience as a small business owner, is that the unavailability of capital makes it next to impossible for businesses to expand or improve in any way, and that makes employment and the economy as a whole unlikely to improve any time soon.
I am lucky enough to own the building in which I do business. Based on current commercial real estate estimates, I have in the neighborhood of $650-750 thousand dollars of equity in that building. (Sadly, based on figures obtained in 2007, that number would be closer to $900k-$1million. Oh if only I knew then what I know now.) However, despite having such an asset on which to secure a loan, I have been turned down repeatedly by many banks on my application to tap some of that equity for capital improvements in the building and business. Having proof of being able to cash flow the required payments on such a loan has proven worthless.
Our floors need to be redone. Our coolers need to be updated. Our products need to be refined. All of these things would make us more competitive in the local market and further able to offer jobs to the community. Without these things getting done, my company stands on shakier ground when it comes to our immediate survival and there lingers the possibility that my employees will enter the unemployment line, worsening the already dire economic situation. And their own lives, of course.
Why is this lending market so bad? There are many reasons. Complex ones, too. But they all have to do with uncertainty and inconsistent regulation. Will our country default on it’s debt? Are taxes going to increase? Will we have to play by new rules imposed on us? What are a banks balance sheets supposed to look like exactly? Why make business loans to local communities when a bank can make more money trading securities?
The availability of capital to the credit worthy is paramount to a healthy business environment. A healthy business environment is paramount to a healthy employment rate. A healthy employment rate is paramount to a healthy economy. A healthy economy is paramount to a healthy quality of life for our country’s citizens. The best way for our government to iron this out is to eliminate the uncertainty of it’s fiscal agenda and be clear and consistent in any regulations they make on a lending market. Until that happens, and I don’t see it happening under this President and this Congress, I’m going to have to keep looking at my beat up floors and hoping that I can hold on long enough for relief to eventually come. And the next chance of that is most likely the fall of 2012.
Clyde Drexler is traded from the Portland Trail Blazers in a classic If You Love Something Set It Free way, and my ability to ever again be emotionally involved in professional sports is lost.
Growing up in Portland, we have but one major sports franchise, the Trail Blazers. If you’re a kid here and you love sports, that’s your team. When you start young, like most of us do, it’s easy to build a history with a team. With use of my walkman, the TV, and the sports page, I was a seasoned fan by the time 1983 rolled around, though I was only 12 years old.
In the two years before, I had taken notice of an exciting player at the University of Houston named Clyde Drexler. He experienced great success, was as athletic a player as I had ever seen, and played with a group known around the country as Phi Slamma Jamma. Trust me, there was no way any kid my age wouldn’t think that was about the coolest thing ever.
So when the spring of 1983 rolled around and my Blazers drafted Clyde, a sports love affair unlike any I’d known before or since began.
The years that followed that draft brought excitement, national recognition, steady improvement, and great pride. Those are all things a boy going through the troubles of adolescence can easily get with. Clyde was the franchise corner stone of a team that over the course of 11 years went to two NBA Finals, and he himself was named one of the 50 greatest players of all time, and was also included in the original Olympic Dream Team of 1992, which by most accounts is the greatest basketball team ever assembled.
Off the court, Clyde’s reputation matched or exceeded his athletic prowess. He was always making appearances at schools and camps. He signed autographs whenever asked, (my Mom got me one when I was 14, and I’m looking at a basketball he signed as I type this), and his charitable involvement was as impressive as any athlete ever to call Portland home. In short, he was a superstar that made his community proud in every way.
Then, in 1995, when I was 24 years old and in graduate school, Clyde was in his 12th season in the NBA. The team wasn’t what it used to be. The Blazers were of no real threat to win a championship, even with a great player like him at the helm. And to his credit, a championship was all he wanted. All he played for. And it was abundantly clear that all the individual accolades he received would be immediately swapped for one. Those two Finals appearances he took us too? We lost both. Before he even came to Portland, he lost two Final Fours while at the University of Houston. Clyde was a truly great player who had come up short on a title too many times. And his time was running out. He couldn’t play forever.
There’s an old adage that states, if you love something, set it free. I had no personal experience with that until 1995. Clyde Drexler was born in Houston, Texas. He grew up there. He played high school ball there. He went to college there. All of his extended family was there. And in that year, the Houston Rockets, lead by Clyde’s best friend and college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, were much closer to winning a title than the Blazers. They needed just one more good player, and a championship could be had. They came calling on the Blazers to explore the possibility of trading for Clyde to be that player. Of course, as a fan I wasn’t privy to this. Until.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1995 while driving to class, I heard on the radio that Clyde had been traded. He was being sent home, to Houston, for one last chance to finally earn his championship ring. He was not on my team anymore, and he wasn’t coming back. I pulled over and listened intently, and I distinctly remember fighting back tears. Of course, there are far worse things that can happen in a day, but as I sat there contemplating the news I felt perhaps the last part of my childhood ending, and that wasn’t coming back, either.
I watched with great interest the second half of that season. Clyde and his new Rockets earned the 6th seed in the playoffs and the chemistry he showed with his old teammate Hakeem would make one think they had never been apart. As things progressed, and they kept winning series, before game 4 of their championship matchup with the Orlando Magic, I told my most influential professor that I was going to be unable to attend class the next night. Houston needed just one more win, which I knew in my bones they would get that night, and there was no way on earth that I was going to miss Clyde Drexler finally, after all I childishly felt we had been through together, get his championship. Dr. Feldman warned me of consequences, but I simply told him I had no choice in the matter.
The Rockets did indeed win that night. Clyde’s incredible joy was unmistakable. He had finally won, and for the only town he’d ever really called home. Or at least that’s what I thought.
In 2004, Clyde Drexler was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame. By his own choosing, he elected to go in as a Portland Trail Blazer, rather than a Houston Rocket. He stated that he simply owed it to the fans of Portland, to people like me, who stuck by him for those glorious 11 ½ years. And that gesture made everything all right with me. Clyde Drexler is by far and away my favorite professional athlete of all time. Especially now that I’m all grown up, he will never relinquish that status.
But his leaving Portland was a brutal reality check that pro sports are a business. Assets can be moved. And that wake up permanently severed my emotional involvement in professional athletics. I still watch them with great interest, but strictly for entertainment. I’m over a win, or a loss, in minutes. If I wanted sports to touch my soul, the way Clyde did when I was young, I’d have to look elsewhere. Hello collegiate athletics.
But thank you, Clyde. You were a great way to finish that part of my childhood.